Statistics say (and we know statistics can be manipulated) the average church attendance in America is just less than two times per month. Now I don’t know how you could attend 1.7 times but I understand it is an average of the behavior of millions. Keeping in mind that many attend church almost every weekend and many others attend mid-week services and special events every month, the number is shocking. Statistics also indicate many only attend when convenient, or at Christmas and Easter, or a friend is being baptized or receiving some recognition; they are among those who attend church less than ten times a year.
So the question really is, “Does someone who claims to be a Christian have to attend church at all?” The biblical answer is, “Why would they NOT want to?” Some claim they don’t trust institutions or they’re not “joiners”! So I want to do some defining. Is a church an institution? The biblical answer is no and yes. The early church gathered in homes and other places every day. In the Bible the phrase “body of Christ” is really the name for the church. The church is a gathering of people who believe in Jesus Christ by faith for their eternal salvation. The Bible teaches that the Spirit of God gives gifts to those who confess Jesus as their Savior and Lord and other Christians become brothers and sisters. We receive gifts so we can serve one another, love one another, and bear one another’s burdens as we continue to live for Jesus until our lives end here and we arrive home where Jesus has prepared a place for us. God made humans to need each other. Part of the consequences of sin is that we live self-centered lives and want to be left alone to do what we want. When someone becomes a follower of Jesus their personality is impacted by the Holy Spirit, who changes their life to get rid of selfishness, teaching us to love and encourage one another. We each have different gifts so we can blend together and be a stronger, greater witness to the world for the salvation Jesus offers everyone through us.
The idea that we don’t make church attendance a top priority makes no sense if we understand our purpose as members of the family of God. Staying away from church gatherings is like being married and having children but living in separate houses so you are never inconvenienced, only getting together if you are going to benefit. Obviously that is ridiculous and no one really lives like that, except for millions of people who no longer attend church except when it’s convenient.
I read an article that suggested wandering from the church leads to wandering from faith. Through many decades of experience I can attest that is true. It is close to impossible to stop attending church gatherings and still maintain an authentic and attractive witness for Jesus. The article made three points that I will happily plagiarize.
Point 1: When we leave the church, we stop being reminded. C. S. Lewis said, “people need to be reminded more than instructed.” I am sure Lewis would agree that instruction is also necessary. I had lunch with some fellow believers who remarked how helpful my teaching on Romans was even though they heard me teach through Romans before. In other words, the reminders they were hearing were encouraging their faith. We all need reminding.
Point 2: When we leave the church we embrace self-reliance. I have often said that one of the big problems in the church today is individualism. We have forgotten how much we need each other. A quote from the article, “When we stop going to church, we are saying, ‘I don’t need this. I don’t need you. I only need me.’ And there we find ourselves on the slippery slope of pride, which inevitably leads us not only to neglect the church but to neglect the authority of God. When there is only me then I’m the only one I have to obey.”
Point 3: When we leave the church, we create a gap. For me this is a very important point. I often say we are all needed and important to the church, no one is unnecessary. To not participate in a local expression of the universal church is to make a hole. Paul used the analogy of the human body. Thinking about that analogy, what if your leg decided it didn’t want to support you anymore? Now that would be difficult but you could still hop along on a crutch. The reality is we are all crutches for each other and others are crutches for us. God has made us to need one another.
The Book of Hebrews has as a theme of the exhortation of perseverance. We need help to persevere and not give up when hard times hit or when we are so comfortable that selfishness goes sepsis in our lives. Sepsis in the human body can kill you, sepsis in the church can cripple and eventually derail a church. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT)
Now my motive is not to make anyone feel guilty. My motive is to cause us to think of the local church as a great gift to us from God. The church helps us to persevere, and encourages us and holds us up when we are down. Alone, we are weak spiritually but together we can overcome any of the schemes of the devil.
~ Pastor Carl 1947-20??