From time to time, someone objects to the need to attend church regularly. They say they can be good Christians without participating in church. I don't agree.
The Bible encourages church attendance. The letter to the Hebrews states: "And 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, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25).
We see in the Bible the example of the apostles and disciples meeting together in worship and fellowship regularly.
But why do people skip church? I read recently an interesting anecdote at sermonillustrations.com, where a pastor asked in effect, What if we treated going to church like going to sports events? With tongue-in-check, the pastor declared he's had it with sports:
"Want to know why? ....
"Every time I went, they asked me for money.
"The people with whom I had to sit didn't seem very friendly.
"The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable.
"I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me.
"The referee made a decision with which I could not agree.
"I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites---they came to see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game.
"Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.
"The band played some numbers that I had never heard before.
"It seems that the games are scheduled when I want to do other things.
"I was taken to too many games by my parents when I was growing up.
"I don't want to take my children to any games, because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best."
In short, if you're looking for an excuse to miss church, virtually anything will do.
Dr. D. James Kennedy made an interesting comment about attending church or the lack thereof.
He said, "Though reared in Sunday school and church as a child, as soon as able, in my early teens, I squawked loudly enough that my parents quit sending me (note well: 'sending' me), and for ten years I had nothing to do with Christ. Oh, I sought my pleasures, my fulfillment, my joy, the meaning in my life in all of the things of this world and found, I thought, some little satisfaction in it all. But I could go day after day, week after week, month after month, without ever giving Christ one single thought, and yet, if you were to ask me if I were a Christian, believe it or not, I would have said yes."
Kennedy did not go to church because he did not want to go to church. When he got converted and his heart was changed, God changed his "wanter" (his term), and now he wanted to go to church...to hear God's Word, to praise Him, to be with God's people.
There's an old statement among the nominal parishioners of the Church of England that the role of the Church is to help people get "hatched, matched, dispatched." That is, they get baptized when born. They get married in the church. They have their funerals in the church. But in the meantime, the church has little relevance to them. How sad.
I have found many personal benefits from attending church, from participating in corporate worship, including many encouraging messages.
I find the music very uplifting. The church where I serve uses traditional and classical music. It also makes a difference to be a part of a corporate body of believers to hold each other up in prayer and accountability.
We don't go to church per se for the benefits it may cause us. But I have mentioned in this column before that researcher Dr. Byron Johnson from Baylor University has found that on average, when a white American attends church on a regular basis, he adds seven years to his life. When an African-American attends church on a regular basis, he adds 14 years to his life.
But most importantly, there's no indication in the Bible that one can truly be a Christian while regularly separating from God's people—the church. The church is where all of the "one anothers" of Scripture (e.g., "Love one another," "pray for one another," "bear with one another") are lived out. And the Apostle John warns that we cannot claim to love God if we reject each other, adding, "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12).
Church attendance and participation is a good thing all around—and it's not optional for the Christian.