One out of every eight people who call themselves a “born again” Christians do not attend church. Almost half of Americans have come to the conclusion that “the Bible does not command people to attend church; that is a man-made requirement.”
Is this correct? Are Christians wasting their time going to church every Sunday when they could be doing a number of other things? While most people in the previous generation went to church because it was the thing to do, less people today see it as necessary. Many attend but get bored because it feels like there is nowhere to be involved. The nursery is full and they don’t feel qualified to lead or teach a Bible study.
What the Bible Says
While the culture may scream that attending church on Sunday is a man-made concept, the Scriptures do actually speak of it.
Most of the letters in the New Testament are written to either churches or pastors of churches. Romans, Ephesians, and Philippians are written to the church at Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi. Revelation is written to seven churches throughout Asia. The letters of the New Testament were not written to generally all Christians, or “the church universal”, though they certainly have application to all Christians. The letters were written to specific churches in specific cities that met together.
It likely didn’t look exactly as meetings today look with pews, a pulpit, the Lord’s table, and such things, but the Scriptures do speak of the church assembling together. Paul mentions the church coming together four times in 1 Corinthians. (5:4; 11:18; 14:23; 26). James gives instruction to the church about how to treat rich people when they come into their worship gathering. (Jas 2:1) The book of Acts is filled with believers meeting together for worship. To assert that meeting together for worship was man-made later is to ignore the church of the New Testament.
The key command in Scripture to go to church is found in Heb 10:23-25,
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The writer of Hebrews commands to not neglect meeting together as Christians. What is the purpose of this? There are two primary reasons he gives.
First, it is that Christians can faithfully hold to the hope they confess. The writer says “Let us hold fast…” It’s not an individual matter. Many say they have a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our relationship is very personal, but it is not private. It is to be shared with other people. Christians cannot grow to full maturity in Christ without interacting with other Christians who can help them continue believing what they believe.
Secondly, the writer says to not stop meeting together so that Christians can continually encourage each other to participate in love and good works. What good works is he speaking of? The writer is not talking about what the world perceives as good works. It’s not simply about Christians helping each other recycle better or protect the environment. It’s about Christians participating in good works that are going to expand God’s kingdom, help each Christian grow, and ultimately glorify God.
A Model Church
Since the Bible does include a church that regularly meets together, it is that church that must be examined to see what these good works look like. At the beginning of the Christian movement, Luke gives us a concise picture of what the early church looked like:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Within this passage, there are seven characteristics of what it looks like for a church to operate and for Christians to faithfully gather and encourage each other toward good works.
- Preaching and Teaching
It is crucial for Christians to read the Bible on their own throughout the week. But this does not suffice for proper diet of the word of God. Along with personal Bible reading, Christians need to regularly be sitting under someone preaching and teaching God’s word to them. The early church was “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”
It is not enough to listen to podcast sermons. Doing this is good for Christians, but podcasts allow the Christian to listen to whatever topic they want instead of getting a steady diet decided by a shepherd and it allows Christians to stop listening when they get bored or uncomfortable.
Attending church means Christians are listening to preaching and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform them through the work of the Word.
People often speak of this aspect as “fellowship”. But fellowship is different. Fellowship will be discussed later. The believers in the early church were best friends. They were eating meals in each others’ houses every day. The closest friends of a Christian should be those in the church. When a believer begins to be led into flawed thinking such as believing a false doctrine, ending their marriage, living in sin, and such, it is their friends who can best correct them and they need godly friends who can.
The word “fellowship” comes from the greek “Koinonia.” Koinonia is a relationship that goes far beyond two people eating at Chick-Fil-A together. It is used for Christian fellowship, but it’s also used for sexual intercourse.
Fellowship is more than socializing. It is when two or more people are partnered together with the same vision and goal in mind and headed relentlessly toward that. For Christians to have fellowship means that they are striving together for the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom and seeing fellow believers reach full maturity in Christ. (Eph 4:13)
The church must be praying together. Prayer fuels all of the Christian’s work. It must be more than Christians praying for the healing of Uncle Frank in the hospital. Those things must be prayed for, but the church’s prayers must be laser focused on the mission of the church which is to spread the Kingdom of God on earth.
The early church sold their property and possessions to help one another out. They did way more than drop a check in an offering plate. The early church had a generosity that allowed them to be sacrificial for the benefit of each other. God expects the church today to have this same kind of generosity.
Many people quote Rom 12:1 and say that worship is not about singing a song, but is about offering your life as a sacrifice. While that is true, the early church was daily praising God in the temple. Worshipping through song was a regular part of their Christian lives and it should be the same with Christians today.
Finally, the mission of the church is that more and more Christians will be created through its work. The church is supposed to be about helping the poor and reaching the outcast, but if that is done apart from the Gospel being proclaimed and people coming to Christ, it is not functioning right. A good sign of a faithful church is if God is adding to their numbers daily of those who are being saved.
It is absolutely crucial that Christians go to church. Christ left the church on earth to make disciples of all the nations. (Matt 28:19) This best takes place as local churches gather every week to encourage one another to love and good works. So go to church. Begin to serve in the church. Fall in love with the church.
 Whitney, Donald S. “Why Go to Church.” Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, 15-17. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1996.