Personally, I feel that in order for a person to get the most out of their Christian experience, regular church attendance is essential. It’s important to know that Christianity is more than just a religion. It’s about perfecting our relationship with God and man. This is why the symbol of the cross is so appropriate. Not only does it draw attention to the awesome sacrifice that Jesus made when he shed his blood and died for our sins, but it also draws attention to a vertical and horizontal relationship (The vertical, which is our relationship with God and the horizontal, which is our relationship with one another).
First of all, what is the purpose of going to church? Most Christians would say that church is a place where they go to learn about God’s Word so that they can become spiritually mature. But, today, there are many different outlets that provide spiritual nourishment. We can watch a televised service, we can listen to a radio ministry, we can listen to CDs, we can enjoy a message via the internet, or we can study the bible on our own. Now, these methods have their benefits. They do a lot to nurture one’s relationship with God, but they do nothing about the need for Christian fellowship, which is a very fundamental value in the faith.
The bible says, in Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” But, many (including myself) have been guilty of doing this. In fact, with each passing generation, church attendance has been on the decline. There are many reasons people stop going to church. Some rationalize that they don’t need church because a person’s faith and salvation is a personal thing. Some have been burned, bitter, and discouraged from past church experiences and they just give up on church all together. Some go to a different church every week, because they like the pastor, but don’t like the music or visa versa. Some people have grown up in the church and by the time they reach adulthood, can no longer find the relevance between its teachings and reality (Basically, they have become bored). Some will leave the church because of growing unbiblical teachings. All of these issues can be addressed, but if one sincerely wishes to apply Hebrews 10:25, giving up on church should not be an option.
Ok, let’s talk about the first popular reason. “I don’t need to go to church because my relationship with God is personal.” Yes, it is true that church membership is not a requirement for salvation and it is true that a person’s relationship with God is personal. But, when you become saved you are not only accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, but you are also becoming a part of a family. So, even if you have not found a church building to call home, you automatically become a part of the Body of Christ, which is comprised of believers worldwide. Several verses in the New Testament give reference to the family nature of the Christian faith, especially in Romans 12. Romans 12:5 states, “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” As members of the Body of Christ we are encouraged to serve one another with our gifts, contribute generously to those in need, practice hospitality, be devoted in brotherly love, rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn and live in harmony with one another. I know that there are many good works that can be done as individuals and that is a very powerful witness, but how much more powerful would it be if Christians would unite in numbers to reach out to those in need? So, while it’s true that our faith is personal, it is also relational and church is an environment that provides the greatest opportunity to put our faith in action.
Some might even argue that they don’t need church in order to experience Christian fellowship, because they experience it when hanging out with their Christian friends. Now this may sound good at first glance, because it is very important for Christians to choose their friends wisely. The Bible says in I Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.” So, it’s important for Christians to pursue friendships with people who share their beliefs and values. Positive and spirit-filled people help to encourage us when we are having a crisis of faith. But, I have learned from first hand experience that spending time with Christian friends is not a substitute for going to church.
About 5 or 6 years ago, my husband and I discontinued our membership from a church we had been attending for about 8 years. We stopped attending this church because we were noticing more and more that some of the things the pastor was saying were not lining up with the bible. So, we could not in good conscience continue going. So, for a while we did a lot of “church hopping” as they say, in order to find a more suitable church. It was hard because we were finding that so many churches were preaching the same false doctrines.
So, we were fed up and for a while we stopped looking and tried to find other ways to supplement our lack of a church. Two of our other friends were also in the same position, so we all decided to form a group bible study. We would open up with prayer and listen to a taped message by Charles Stanley. Afterward, we would discuss the things we learned, talk about personal concerns, and close with prayer.
The bible study did well for a while, but I still felt that I was missing out on opportunities that a church home would have provided such as, access to the leadership of a qualified pastor, a place to praise and worship God in the assembly of believers, a place to partake of Communion, a place to invite new converts, a place to financially invest toward the kingdom, a place to receive counseling, advice, and prayer, a place to network and find one’s calling and a way to participate in community outreach with other believers. So, the bible study eventually came to an end, and my husband and I continued our search for a church and thankfully, we were able to find Strictly Biblical Teaching Ministries, where we have been attending for about 3 years.
Now, a lot of people have given up on going to church because of negative past experiences. They are burned and bitter, because of mistreatment by church members or the misconduct of a pastor. They say that the church is full of hypocrisy and they may as well do things on their own. I can understand this. If you are attending a church that is out of control with all kinds of immorality, and full of gossip and strife, I strongly recommend leaving this church and finding one where God is taken more seriously. But, at the same time, it’s important to realize, that there is no such thing as a perfect church. If there was one, we would ruin it as soon as we walked in, because no one is perfect. Anyway, we should not be looking at people for examples of holiness. We should “fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2).” Besides, wouldn’t it also be hypocritical to leave a church because of annoying church members but, not leave your job because of the annoying co-worker that keeps trying to shake your hand after digging up his nose? There are ignorant, irritating, annoying people everywhere you go. You can’t escape them not even in church.
Church hopping is another habit that Christians fall into because they don’t want to commit to membership at any one church. Church hopping is an expression used when people visit a different church every other week because they are unsatisfied with some superficial aspect of the ministry. For example, the choir is not good enough, the seats are not comfortable, the congregations’ too big, the congregations too small, the service is too long, the service is too short, they don’t serve chicken or coffee at the end of the service. Okay, the list can go on and on! As I said, there is no such thing as a perfect church. So, there’s no sense in being a “Goldy Locks,” picky about every little thing.
Now, there is a difference between church hopping for superficial reasons and visiting different churches in order to determine if they meet your spiritual needs. For example, the main things that should be considered when choosing a church are: 1) Is the doctrine biblically sound? 2) Are you being spiritually fed? 3) What kind of ministries can members become involved in (outreach, hospitality, choir, etc.? 4) Are there age appropriate bible studies? 5) Are you welcomed with love? It’s important to do your research and visit a few times in order to make sure the church has all the right stuff.
Okay, now, about the issue of relevance. A lot of people stop going to church because it’s boring and no longer relevant to their lives. I can relate. I’ve been going to church for as long as I can remember and I’m thankful for these roots. At church, I learned all the wonderful stories about Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc. But, by the time I was 16, I felt like the messages were becoming repetitive and irrelevant, not really addressing my questions and concerns at the time. They were very simple and general, kind of like a hallmark card. Now, there was nothing erroneous about the teachings, but I was hungry to know and understand more. Also, I’m not saying that I was finding the Bible irrelevant, just the presentation. So again, it’s important to get settled in a church home, not just any church, but one where the Word is presented in a way that is relevant to everyday life.
So, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There’s no real excuse for giving up on church all together. Again, Christianity is more than just a religion. The symbol of this religion is the cross which reminds us of the sacrifice that Jesus made when he shed his blood for the world. It also reminds us to strive toward perfection in our relationship with God (vertical) and with man (horizontal). This spiritual journey was not meant to be done in isolation. We need to be accountable to one another and keep each other strong in the faith. Are you feeling bitter, burned and discouraged? Practice forgiveness and continue to fix your eyes on Christ. Don’t be a superficial church hopper, but look for substance in a church, do your research and become actively involved. Yes, it’s personal, but it’s also relational. So, get alone with God in prayer and have your quiet time in the Word, but don’t forget to practice Hebrews 10:25 and get with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t be a black sheep of the family. Be blessed and be a blessing. The Body of Christ is not complete without you.