“It is hard to get people to attend church services these days. People today have so many other things to enjoy: ball games, movies, and music. Besides, a lot of churches offer entertainment. These things are hard to compete with.”
Many of us voice the above concerns. But is our time different from the early years of the church? When you read the New Testament, remember that people then had:
1. Sports. Greeks and Romans enjoyed athletic contests. They built huge gymnasiums and stadiums for sports events. Thousands flocked to watch foot races, discus throwing, boxing, wrestling, chariot races, and javelin throwing. Crowds came to see gladiators fight with wild animals and with each other. Some of these athletes were paid. Spectators often placed bets on a favorite competitor. New Testament writers knew about these games. Hebrews 12:1 says the Christian life is like a footrace. Paul said the struggle of Christian living is like boxing (I Cor. 9:26-27). Yes, people in Paul’s day loved sports. Many, including no doubt some members of the church, were more interested in sports than they were in God.
2. Drama. Greeks and Romans also enjoyed the stage. They built enormous theaters that seated thousands who came to watch plays and listen to poets and orators. They did not have recorded movies: but they had live performances. The ruins of some of these ancient ampitheaters remain to this day. One theater in ancient Ephesus seated twenty-five thousand people and may be visited today. This was the “theater” mentioned in Acts 19:29. People then loved to watch live plays as much as people today enjoy watching movies.
3. Music. Long before New Testament times, Solomon enjoyed “men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts” (Ecc. 2:8). In New Testament times people enjoyed musical performances in ampitheaters. Musicians had no shortage of instruments: percussion, wind, and stringed instruments of all types were used. Today we can listen to music almost anytime and anywhere. Music can be good recreation; but some are so absorbed with music that they have little interest in spiritual things.
4. Easy religion. In the ancient Roman world “the different varieties of religions were tolerant and on good terms with each other. The same man might be initiated into the mysteries of half a dozen divinities. The same man might even be priest of two or more gods” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, pp. 2603-2604). Idolatry at Corinth promoted sexual immorality; the Nicolaitans in Revelation 2 were probable spiritualists who did not believe in laws against sins of the flesh. Today people look for churches that will make them feel good in spite of how they live.
The early church competed with these allurements the same as we are challenged by them today. But there were good and honest hearts then just as there are today, and the gospel has the same power today as it had in New Testament times. The Word of God will bring forth fruit in spite of these things ( Isa. 55:10-11). Our job is to teach it.