This is not a licentious apologetic for giving up on the discipline and commitment of being part of a church. In fact, look out for my twin article – Five good reasons to go to church on holiday. But for those of you away from your home church on a Sunday morning over the summer, here are some reasons why being gracious and creative about the opportunity might actually mean not going to visit a local congregation.
We live under grace
Church attendance is not a way for us to earn favour with God. If we miss a couple of weeks, He does not love us any less. Likewise, if we manage to go to church three times on a Sunday, He does not love us any more. For some of us, our role in church is so central to our Christian identity that we have become addicted to the buzz or significance it gives us. And so for some of us, taking a rest from the role and responsibility we have in our congregations can be a helpful way to remind ourselves that it is by grace that we are adopted into God's family. We do not earn our acceptance at a weekly rate – not going to church on holiday could, ironically, be considered a Sabbath break.
We are the church
Turning up for a 90 minute church service once a week for some singing, sacraments and scripture teaching is not what it means to be part of a church. We are called to be a family – the body of Christ and the people of God – not just attenders and receivers. Dipping in and out of an alien church does not by itself constitute being part of it. Some people may holiday in the same place several times a year and successfully manage to be part of two congregations, but the majority of us still need help to be committed to one congregation, or to contribute to one local church family.
We are rooted
I have the opportunity to travel to many churches across the UK because of my work. Although I find it highly rewarding and really exciting to experience so many different styles of church and meet so many different people, I miss my home church when I am away. My family don't come with me because they have their roots in our congregation: my wife and my children have friends, roles and responsibilities in our local church and so don't need to be dragged around from church to church. In fact, as mainly introverts, going to other churches, even on holiday, is awkward for them – saying pleasantries to people they may never meet again this side of the return of Christ and learning the unspoken rules that exist in each different congregation. Although it could give us insight into how it feels for non-Christians attending church for the first time, visiting churches abroad could also be little more than a stressful spectator sport.
We are flexible
How about instead of taking the time to go and visit another church, you use the time with the people you are holidaying with differently? What if instead of just spending an hour in church on the Sunday, you make your faith a regular part of each day of your holiday? Ironically, the word holiday of course derives from the term "Holy Days" because in the middle ages the celebration of the Christian festivals were the primary reason to take rest from work. So rather than taking a rest from faith, how about we invest more? If you are holidaying with others, how about offering the opportunity for prayer around meal times? If you are vacationing as a family, why not give a regular family devotional time a go – perhaps over hot chocolate at the end of the day or hot croissants in the morning? If you are travelling alone, why not attempt writing a spiritual journal for the trip? Some Christian holiday makers offer to run a church service on their campsite, or pray outdoors inviting passers-by to join them. I have written recently about Nicolas Winton, who while holidaying in Czechoslavakia in 1939 discovered that Jewish children were in need of rescue from the Nazis. This altered the entire course of his life, saved the lives of 669 children, and touched countless more. Why not pray that God might use you on holiday for his purposes and be open to where he leads you – whether that means you end up at a local church service or helping your waiter, courier or landlord to come to faith.
We are blessed
Sometimes the places we visit on holiday have no churches to go to at all. This may be because we are staying in a very rural location, a particularly secular country, or visiting places that are steeped in other religions or traditions. Perhaps this should give us pause to reflect on how blessed we are that most of us reading this will have a choice of good local churches back home. The lack of church at your holiday destination may have the same effect on us as fasting – causing us to hunger for what is good and intercede on behalf of the spiritually starved people around us, not only while we are on holiday, but when we return.