The Ministry of Presence

Sunday’s coming! Many of the people reading these words already know they’ll be going to church on Sunday—it’s their habit, it’s their pattern, it’s their joy, and nothing short of illness or natural disaster will hold them back. A few of the people reading these words already know they won’t be going to church this Sunday. There are some very valid reasons not to attend church on a given week, and we understand that God’s love for us does not waver when we’re sick or on the road or otherwise unable.

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There are a lot of people between those two categories—people who plan to go to church on Sunday, but won’t actually get there. As they read these words, they have every intention of going. When the weekend begins, they’ll be looking forward to it. By Saturday evening they will still intend to go. If you call them they’ll say, with all honestly, they plan to be there. But they won’t have done much to prepare for it—to stop their tiring and distracting activities, to remind the family to make sure they’ve got something to wear, to get to bed at a reasonable hour, to set an alarm. By the time Sunday morning rolls around and the service begins, they will be nowhere to be seen.

It’s these people I want to speak to—the many people who genuinely intend to get to church each week, but who fail to show. To you, I want to speak of the outsized value of the ministry of presence. The ministry of presence is the ministry of being there—of simply gathering with the church on Sunday. This may seem like a little thing, but it matters. It matters a lot. It’s genuinely a ministry. It’s genuinely a means of serving other Christians.

Grace Fellowship Church recently had the privilege of stepping in to help a nearby church that had diminished in attendance and was uncertain how it could keep going. Membership had shrunk through the years and, though they owned a building in a great neighborhood, they had only a handful of people in it on Sunday mornings. We were able to send them one of our pastors and about 40 of our people. Overnight this church went from shrinking to growing, from a church with a past to a church with a future. It was a joy—a sad and difficult joy—for our church to play a role in this.

Among the people who went to bring new life to this church were several who were known among us for their ministry of presence. Many of these people never led from the front of the room and never headed key ministries in the church. I don’t think they ever wanted to. They made a different, but no less important contribution to the church. They were there—always there. On Sunday mornings they arrived early and stayed late, welcoming, talking, and meeting others. They returned on Sunday evenings to worship, to pray, to fellowship. Wednesday nights they showed up whether the schedule included Bible studies, men’s or women’s fellowships, or prayer meetings. They believed in the church.

I don’t mean they believed in the church as an organization or institution and were blindly following the demands of the pastors. Rather, they believed in the church as a fellowship of precious brothers and sisters in the Lord, and were committed to serving it. They knew they could only serve the church if they were with the church, if they were present when the church gathered. They knew they could only carry out all those “one another” commands if they were with the others. And so they were.

I am convinced every church needs more of these people—more people who see their presence as a great contribution to their church. The local church doesn’t need people of outsized talents or rare abilities as much as it needs normal people with full-out commitment. Your church and my church can thrive only when there is a dedicated core who make it their mission to be there, to make their main ministry the ministry of presence.