Out of the many cultural trends in contemporary society, one is the rejection of organized religion and the elevation of personal spirituality. Church researchers estimate that 80 percent of churches in America are either in stagnation or in decline in average attendance numbers. But why is there such a tendency to substitute personal spirituality for church attendance?
There are many reasons why some professing Christians do not seek to attend church anymore. Some love Jesus, but they simply don’t like the church. That is, they are fed up with the indwelling issues, barriers, conflicts and bureaucratic structures. Some have misaligned priorities. Youth sporting events on Sunday mornings have hijacked families. Busy schedules have convinced people that sleeping in is a better option.
Misunderstandings have led some to believe that experiencing nature is an appropriate substitute for going to church. Still, some think that church is all together unnecessary to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, many of our modern technologies can feed into these decisions. Television, Internet and MP3s can foster the idea that “church” can be anytime and anywhere. It can even delude some into thinking that nationally popular preachers are “better” than local ones simply because they have a large, multi-platform ministry.
God’s word, however, instructs Christians that being part of a local church isn’t an option. There doesn’t appear to be a concept in the New Testament that separates a Christian from a local body of believers that meets together regularly. And the reason for this is surprising to many in our culture: going to church is not about you.
First, it’s about others. In Colossians 3:16, Paul tells us that we meet together to “teach and admonish one another.” The author of the letter to the Hebrews says that when we meet, we are to “stir up one another to love and good works,” and to “encourage one another” (10:24, 25).
Second, it’s about Jesus. Jesus created the church in such a way that it is so intertwined with him that he calls it his “body.” In Acts, Chapter 9 when Jesus confronts Saul’s persecution of the church, he says, “Saul, why are you persecuting me” (9:4). Jesus connects mistreatment of the church as mistreating him personally. When we disregard church we are, by extension, disregarding Jesus.
Further, many instances in the New Testament call the church Jesus’ “bride.” It is so precious to Christ that he compares it to the most intimate relationship humans can have. Imagine if a friend of yours said to you, “I really love you, but I really don’t like your spouse.” Such a statement would be not only an insult, but you would rightly question whether the person actually loves you. Many Christians, however, say this exact thing in regard to Jesus and the church.
Third, it’s about God. In the church, God has called out a group of people to praise his glorious grace (Eph 1:6). They are to praise him corporately “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in their hearts” (Col. 3:16). If “from him and through him and to him are all things,” then that expression must reach its height locally in the church.
If you are a Christian, do you need to go to a local church? Yes. Granted, there are no perfect churches. You will never find a church that you agree with 100 percent. But we cannot “neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Heb 10:25). Therefore, find a church, get involved and serve to the glory of God.