Posted on the Isaiah 53:5 Project
I have better things to do than go to church. Do I have to go to be a Christian?
Church attendance in the West, even among Christians, is falling. According to a recent study, attendance at church services in any given week has declined among Christians by 9 percent since 1991. Now only a minority of Christians (47 percent) can be found at church during a typical week.1
In a culture that sees independence and self-reliance as hallmarks of a truly successful person, church can feel like an imposition on our time and energy. We ask if we have to go to church in the same reluctant way we might ask, “Do I have to go to the dentist?”
But what if followers of Jesus only truly flourished when in community with other like-minded believers? What if true fulfillment could only be found in serving them rather than ourselves?
Church in the Bible
The Bible certainly makes a strong case for being at church regularly. Jesus himself assumes that his followers will gather together habitually in self-governing “churches.”2 The writer of the book of Hebrews is explicit: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”3
According to the Bible, believers should meet together regularly so that they can
- hear God’s Word taught faithfully;4
- pray together;5
- be accountable to one another;6
- encourage one another;7
- use God-given spiritual gifts for the benefit of fellow believers;8
- exercise church discipline with the aim of restoring a person who is caught in a particular sin;9
- support one another in suffering;10
- rejoice with each other;11
- commemorate Jesus’ death and resurrection;12
- serve one another;13
- bear with one another;14
- offer hospitality to one another;15
- love one another;16 and
- demonstrate the power and goodness of Jesus to a watching world.17
This list is far from exhaustive. As you read the New Testament, it’s hard to miss how many commands contain the phrase “one another.”
The New Testament describes each gathered group of believers as “the body of Christ.” Just as with a human body, each part of the body of Christ needs the others.18 Each believer is a “hand” or an “eye” or a “foot,” and just as it would be self-defeating for the foot to say, “I don’t like this leg; I’m leaving,” so it is when a believer stops attending church or refuses to settle in one church. The church suffers and so does the believer.