In the face of church attendance decline, division, and moral failure, the eucharist should become more central
Written by Matt V. Unger
How will church gatherings, services, and the Church as a whole change in the next few decades? As we move forward and try to discover what life will be like post lockdowns and post-pandemic the question of what’s next presses in—for pastors, church leaders, and attendees alike.
Churches must continue to gather because that is what church truly is, but what will those gatherings look like? And if we believe the words of Jesus that the Church will always persevere and nothing will overtake it, how will it keep going into the future?
As we look at churches across North America, we see division on multiple levels. With leaders failing morally and the overall health of the Church being in decline, we know we need some sort of change. Before the pandemic even started, there was a steady decline in Canadians being regularly involved in religious activity.
By 2019, only 23 percent of Canadians participated in religious activity at least once a month, compared to 43 per cent in 1985. Statistics Canada reported that number dipping to 19 per cent once the pandemic started in 2020. We know there are many causes of this, but we need to ask ourselves, how can we change our gatherings to bring people back to looking at Jesus?
If we are the gathered community of Christ, we must gather around something. In the future of the Church, I believe communion will take a larger role in our gatherings.
Depending on your church tradition, communion may already play a large and central part in your worship experience. But for some Evangelical churches, the sacrament of communion has become a checklist experience once a month or less. Something that takes up more time in our service, so we need to cut something else out.
This has been my experience. Growing up in church, I never really knew what the purpose of communion was. I knew the scriptures that were read, and things that were done and said, but it never registered with me. I didn’t understand fully what the purpose of this practice was, and it seemed like everyone else was running through the motions.
This is not what Jesus intended communion to be, and it was not how the early Church celebrated it. Jesus wanted their taking of communion to be a time of remembrance.
First, we remember what Jesus has done for us, with the words so often repeated before we take the bread and the cup: “This is my body, this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me.” We remember what Jesus has done for us and others. Remember His broken body, His new covenant with us, and that we need that redemption that He offers.
That cannot become a checkmark-type celebration for us. If we are called to be Christ’s followers we must remember what has made us followers of Him. It is the new life that He gives us. Having spent time serving in various churches, the temptation is there to rush through Communion because there are so many things to do and all of it seems important. We must change our mindset in how we view it, though.
Communion is not a to-do item; it is a celebration.
Second, we remember that He is coming back. We take part in the Lord’s Supper until He returns. Remembering that Jesus is coming back is our great hope. Though leaders fail and the Church faces hardship, our God is still the Lord of all. He has risen from the dead and is returning one day to bring about a new heaven and new earth. That is what we look forward to. We cannot forget this because it helps us to move forward no matter what hardship we face here and now.
Third, we remember that we are a part of one body. Communion connects us as equals, all people in need of the redemption of Jesus and looking forward to His great hope. Gathering around the Lord’s table is not a solo activity. It must be done together, in unity.
That is why the Apostle Paul was so adamant about church unity when meeting together to take communion. In 1 Corinthians 11 he describes a group of people—likely wealthier, more connected people—who were meeting together before everyone else, to celebrate, while the other believers were left with scraps. Paul wanted them to be all together and take part together because when we gather and remember through the shared act of eating and drinking, our differences and divisions can start to melt away.
So as we move forward as the church, leaders will likely continue to fail, divisions in churches will continue, and we will still struggle with what the Church must do, but may we never forget Jesus. Jesus called us to continue the ceremony of communion until He returns, and because of that, we keep doing it. Not out of vain repetition or as something that just takes up time, but rather as a sacred time of remembering Him. And in all of that, may we never forget what He has done, what He will do, and how He unites us all together.