If a recently married man told me, “Give me a few good reasons why I should move in with my wife,” I supposed I would be dumbstruck at first. After I got over my initial shock, instead of giving him a list of reasons, I would ask him a question, “Well, do you love her?”
My response would be similar if someone told me “Give me a few good reasons why I should go to church.”
Yes, I get it—joining a local church is not on the same level of getting married. If that were true, visiting another church would be on the level of adultery. So please don’t misunderstand. The point of the comparison is this: As it is natural that a married couple will be committed to living together, so it is natural that a Christian will be committed to a local church.
So why is it easy to think that church attendance is optional, unimportant, or even inferior? I can think of many reasons. You can probably think of even more. Let me summarize some reasons in the following categories:
- Technology: “I can get good (even better!) preaching from online sources.”
- Smorgasbord: “There are several different churches, and I get different things from different churches for different needs at different times for different reasons for the different people in my family.
- Spirituality: “Worship doesn’t happen at church only. I can worship God anywhere, anytime—often even better than I can worship God at church on a Sunday morning.”
- Family: “I need to choose the best for my family. My kids haven’t been able to fit in anywhere. Sunday mornings are our only time to relax as a family. My wife/husband hasn’t been able to connect. My spouse and I can’t agree on the kind of church we both want.”
- Safety: “Churches are dangerous places. Sexual predators lurk in children’s ministries. Power-hungry pastors use their influence to manipulate their followers. Snoopy legalists inspect and judge me.”
None of these statements are false. It is true—you can get better preaching from online sources. Your community may offer a smorgasbord of church ministries. Worship should be done all the time, not just when the church gathers. You should place a high priority on your family’s needs. Yes, tragically, many churches have been havens for sexual predators, power-hungry pastors, and judgmental legalists.
However, none of these are a sufficient reason for a Christian to opt out of consistently attending any church whatsoever, or to float sporadically from church to church. Why? In order to draw the connection from any of these reasons to non-church attendance, you have to misunderstand something essential about the Christian life: that the Christian life is a communal thing. It is a thing we Christians do together. And this togetherness is not fluid and malleable. It takes a very specific form: a regularly gathered local church, organized and led under the authority of Jesus Christ, and according to the teaching of Scripture.
Flip through the epistles of your New Testament, and see how many exhortations are applicable only to people who are part of a local church. Here is a small sampling from Romans and 1 Corinthians alone:
- “Having gifts that differ according to the grace give to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6).
- “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him” (Romans 14:1).
- “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another” (Romans 15:5).
- “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
- “Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (1 Corinthians 15:2, also 3-5).
- “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13).
- “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat [the Lord’s supper], wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home” (1 Corinthians 11:33).
- “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
- “All things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:29).
If we think that the purpose of going to church is merely to receive Biblical instruction, spiritual inspiration or Christian interaction, our commitment to a local church will become as optional as a gym membership or our preference for a particular local restaurant. But if we view church attendance as an integral part of what it means live the Christian life, then we will make whatever arrangements are necessary to be there, to serve there, and to be served there.
Am I saying that our eternal destiny depends on how faithfully we attend church? No more than a couple’s being married depends on their living together. But we can all agree that in both cases, it shows that the relationship isn’t what it should be.