Attendance record

Why some believers attend services faithfully, and others do not.

This section is divided into the following parts:
  1. How individual believers benefit from regular attendance.

  2. The religious organisation benefits as well.

  3. Reasons why sometimes believers do not feel like going.

  4. How believers push themselves to attend against their will.

How individual believers benefit from regular attendance.
Believers are often encouraged to attend religious ceremonies and services on a regular basis. (See the section on Community, for more details about the benefits gained specifically by attending services, rather than the benefits of frequent attendance.)

The most commonly cited reasons tend to highlight the benefits accrued to the follower:
  • Frequent encounters with the religious institution imply frequent encounters with God. Tenets of the religion are refreshed in one’s mind.

  • Regular attendance indicates that the believer is committed to the faith, enthusiastic, disciplined, and dedicated. One takes pleasure in the knowledge that this demonstration of faith is pleasing to God.

  • As with all other rituals, once believers get into the habit of attending services at a set time for a set duration each week, they find it easier to maintain the behavioural pattern.

  • Contact with fellow believers increases one’s loyalty to the religious institution and to God, through peer pressure.

  • Other people tend to think that when someone’s attendance record is good, then that person’s relationship with God and other people is probably going well. When all the members of a biological family or a group of friends attend services regularly, for example, others perceive the group as being close-knit and God-fearing. On the other hand, lapses in attendance are typically associated with a weakening of one’s relationship with God and others.

  • The religious community offers believers support and guidance during services.

The religious organisation benefits when its believers attend regularly.
Benefits to the community and the institution as a whole include:
  • The setting of an example to all members, when people expect each other to turn up frequently and, in fact, do. This is sometimes referred to as ‘accountability’- members are accountable to one another for their actions, and responsibilities include encouraging each other to stay rooted in the community.

  • When followers provide others with spiritual support, they contribute valuable resources in the form of time and energy.

  • There’s a boost in the number of active members, which makes the community appear more vibrant and attractive to existing and potential members. The success of a religious organisation and its leaders is commonly measured in terms of size of membership.

  • There’s an increase in donations and funding for the institution, which results in further improvements in the services provided.

Reasons why sometimes believers do not feel like going.
Believers and institutions vary in their opinion about the level of importance of regular attendance. It may depend, for example, on whether the religion states that direct connections can exist between God and an individual, without mediation from a religious institution and its leaders, or otherwise.

Believers may feel reluctant to attend services, for various reasons:
  • They find services boring and repetitive, and dislike performing rituals that seem arbitrary and unnecessary. They may believe that a personal relationship with God is sufficient.

  • The sermons and teachings are not mentally stimulating and their content is outdated.

  • They would rather be spending that time thinking about and doing other things.

  • They may disagree with or dislike some religious doctrines, such as the idea that certain people will be sent to hell, that certain activities are sinful, or that they need to repent and ask God for forgiveness.

  • They may dislike members of their institution (their peers, their leaders, the staff members), or the institution itself, due to differences in personality, negative experiences, and so on, and wish to avoid contact with them.

  • They may be unwilling to participate in certain rituals, such as singing religious songs and chants, dancing, speaking in tongues, joining in communion, fasting, kneeling down, tithing, praying, listening to sermons, and proselytising. They may dislike having to listen to exhortations to engage in these activities.

  • They may be inclined to use non-attendance as a form of rebellion, against God or others.

  • They may think themselves unworthy to be part of the community.

  • They may be afraid of judgement, punishment, or ridicule, from God or from other people.
(Read more about the personal reasons that the founder of Help Shed the Faith had, for feeling dissatisfied with religion.)
How believers push themselves to attend against their will.
Many believers think it necessary, or optimal, to participate in organised events once a week, if not more often. Others are satisfied with attendance rates of once a year, or several times a lifetime.

Let’s examine the reasons people sometimes have for attending services more frequently than they’d like, rather than less frequently:
  1. Peer pressure from friends, family, and acquaintances compels them to participate for social reasons, rather than strictly God-centred reasons.

  2. While they dislike certain rituals, they enjoy others, and that enjoyment manages to compensate for temporary discomfort.

  3. They have formed the habit of attending an activity that they secretly dislike.

  4. The difficulty of reducing participation outweighs the benefits.

  5. Fear of God or spiritual retribution prevents them from altering their behaviour.

  6. Other believers might interpret a decrease in levels of involvement as a decline in faith.

  7. A decrease in involvement may stem from a decline in faith, which the believer is trying to hide.
Let's examine each of these points in greater detail:
Peer pressure compels people to participate for social reasons, rather than strictly God-centred reasons.
Sometimes people promise a loved one that they will keep attending services. Their desire to honour the promise may persist even after the person is no longer around.

In a religious community, as with all other communities, people-centred relationships exert great influence over our behaviour and our interactions with God. It is natural and often commendable to behave in ways that please our companions and inspire admiration, confidence, and trust.

The difficulty lies in maintaining a balance between one’s individual wants and needs, and those of others. If you feel that the sacrifices you make are small in comparison to the joy you bring to others through your continued participation, it might be best to maintain current levels of involvement.

If, on the other hand, the activities are a burden and you’re suffering cumulative negative effects, then it might be time to reconsider your priorities. If you persist in inflicting damage on yourself, your ability to contribute and use time wisely may be impaired, and that wouldn’t serve anyone well.
While followers dislike certain rituals, they enjoy others.
For example, some people greatly enjoy periods of worship and dislike sermons, whereas others like the opposite.

Again, as with the previous point, attendance involves a trade-off, and it may not be possible to reap the benefits while avoiding the disadvantages. If the sacrifices are worth it, then persist, by all means. You should maintain an awareness of what your motives are, and re-evaluate your actions periodically, as the balance between the pros and cons keeps changing, sometimes almost imperceptibly, with time.

Ask yourself why you dislike certain aspects of religious practise. Find out whether those around you have similar objections, and whether something can be done about it. Find out if you can be excused from participation, or explore ways to decrease your aversion to the ritual.
Believers have formed the habit of attending.
We naturally derive a sense of satisfaction from participating in activities that we think of as ‘right.’ Unpleasant activities are no exception- they may result in an elevated sense of piety and self-satisfaction, because their execution requires more discipline and self-sacrifice.

However, one should not get fixated on this sense of piety, and fail to consider the value of what one's doing. It'd be unfortunate to spend your life performing inconsequential rituals just for the sake of performing them, when there're so many ways in which you could be genuinely enriching the lives of others.
The disapproval received is too daunting.
If you reduce your levels of involvement, you've to explain your reasons for doing so.

You've to remove yourself from event-planning committees and volunteer lists, rearrange schedules, and so on. The potential for eliciting disapproval from other members is fairly significant.

Once again, this is a tricky position and you have to rely on your judgement. If you feel unable to make a change at present, then do not merely ignore the issue and suppress your feelings without giving yourself the opportunity to assess the situation periodically.

Unresolved issues tend to breed resentment and may lead to greater repercussions down the road. You might want to consider making gradual adjustments to your behaviour, with the aim of eventually effecting a complete change.

Try to keep an open mind and stay positive. There’s always the chance that people will be less disapproving than you expect.
Fear of God or spiritual retribution keeps believers in check.
I'd like to put forward the idea that although fear of punishment is a common source of motivation, in numerous aspects of life, for many of us, it should not be the sole, or main, reason behind our actions.

Activities should ideally be carried out for their intrinsic good, and if one is performing an action for no purpose other than to avoid perceived negative repercussions, then there might be something wrong with the picture, or one’s understanding of it.

If this is the situation you’re in, try evaluating the underlying reasons for your apprehension. Ask yourself if they’re legitimate.

It could be that you’ve always assumed that certain rituals would be pleasing to God or to members of the religious community, but never really understood why they should be considered so. Or maybe you understand the reasons, but find them insufficient.

Believers have to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions- sticking to prior beliefs just because one previously did not know any better is not going aid spiritual and mental development.

People continue to mature throughout their lifetimes, and should always seek to improve themselves and their understanding of religion and God.
Other believers interpret a decrease in levels of involvement as a decline in faith.
To some extent, we’re all concerned about what others think. We’re social creatures and live amongst companions- it’s perfectly natural to be influenced by others’ perceptions of us.

If you believe in God, then your concern over what God may think is sometimes sufficient to override pressures from others, and allows you to go ahead regardless of how the situation may look to others.

Similarly, if you’re confident in your judgement and are quite ambivalent about what other people think, then you’ve more freedom to act independently.
The believer is trying to hide a decline in faith.
Waning faith, although often unpleasant and guilt- and anxiety-inducing, is very common, and experienced by followers of all faiths. Many people who have adhered to their religion for long periods of their life find that their beliefs change, and they go through a period of uncertainty.

For many, their initial doubts about religion are reaffirmed with each new experience and mental discovery. They realise that earlier beliefs were based on questionable assumptions, and many have to be discarded outright. Some muster the courage to acknowledge their growing concern over discrepancies in prior beliefs, and tackle debatable issues with vigour.

Others are hesitant to explore the boundaries of their belief system, and avoid examining the reasons for their faith, or questioning their participation in rituals. Many realise that the differences between their current beliefs and the doctrines of their religion are irreconcilable, and eventually mature out of religion altogether.
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