It’s hard to get people to go to church these days. Some argue that there are just too many activities to choose from—church can’t compete with sports, homework, and, you know, sleep. Others blame technology and convenience. Why go to church when you can get the sermon online and listen at your leisure?
Despite these challenges, time crunch and technology are not the root causes for a dwindling attendance. People have been avoiding their family members—both earthly and heavenly—for ages. Long before social media and inconvenient sports schedules, the author of Hebrews wrote: “let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (10:25, emphasis added).
The Hebrews author was explaining how to persevere in the faith, how we can keep from falling back into old, sinful routines. It appears that even in the early days of the church people had a tendency to drift away from the fold. They found their own reasons to not meet up. I’m sure they were seemingly good ones, like travel, health, family concerns, money problems, etc. But their absenteeism correlated with losing their way, prompting the author to included “attendance” as a strongly suggested factor for maintaining a steadfast faith.
As humans with a sinful nature, we have a natural inclination to burn bridges. We tend to neglect one another, and cause dissention and division. The New Testament writers were constantly admonishing their readers to get along and play nice. Maybe they sound like your mother: “Love one another” (1 John 3:11). “Look after each other” (Acts 2:45-46; James 1:27). “Forgive” (Ephesians 4:32). “Don’t cause trouble” (Galatians 5:19-20).
Sin has a way of really messing things up—not just because it makes it hard to get along, but because we don’t want anyone else’s indwelling of the Holy Spirit pointing out our faults. We don’t want to face the spirit of God when we’re knee deep in our failures. In the Garden, Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned, and we’re no different. Maybe we don’t want to admit it to ourselves. Perhaps we fear the repercussions. We would rather keep our heads in the proverbial sand than face the realities of our bad decisions. We stay ignorant because we prefer it that way. We shun personal responsibility and make up a story to suit ourselves: We don’t have time. We can just listen online. The church has too many problems. We weren’t being ministered to… the list goes on and on. But in the end, we are like Jonah, running from God’s calling and then wondering why we end up in a gigantic mess.
As Christians indwelt by the Holy Spirit, our faith should bring us together—not tear us apart. God intentionally built His church with the power of relationship, and it’s how His church continues to grow today: I invite you, you invite him, he invites her. It’s a delicate chain of human interactions that calls for our participation and compassion.
It’s not a mandate, though. There’s no participation requirement to make the grade as a Christian. We don’t have to go to church. But think, how can we love our neighbors—Christian or otherwise—if we are never in their presence? How do we accomplish the local, Jerusalem piece of the Great Commission puzzle without meeting together in some form or fashion? We cannot use our spiritual gifts in isolation. We are family, and we cannot love one another—much less anyone else—well from afar.
Of course, there will be times when life prohibits faithful attendance—health and other circumstances may leave us stranded for a season. They can be challenging times, and local brothers and sisters in Christ ought to be vigilant in caring for their church family members in extenuating circumstances. But as much as it depends on us, we need to get out the door and go.
But what do I know? Maybe one day society will be so different, so changed, that “going to church” will involve us all sitting in front of virtual reality devices, staring at avatars and profile pics, singing to ourselves in empty rooms. But until that’s the case, go to church. Talk to somebody. And then do it again next week.
Get to know other believers in the family of God from around the world on the 2018 In Touch Alaska Cruise. Find out more at intouch.org/alaska.