I’ve often heard the statement, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian,” or “I don’t need to go to church to have a relationship with God.” Indeed, even pop culture idol Justin Bieber made small waves last year when he interviewed with for V Magazine saying, “A lot of people who are religious, I think they get lost. They go to church just to go to church. I’m not trying to disrespect them … but for me, I focus more on praying and talking to Him. I don’t have to go to church.” An influential blog suggested that less than 20 percent of Millennials (those born in the early 80s) attend church more than once per month. In Christian circles, author Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) recently wrote that he no longer needs to have church via going to church.
The thing is, both Bieber and Miller are correct, but both are also very wrong. They are correct in that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. Some of the most godless people I’ve ever encountered had perfect church attendance. Not going to church doesn’t necessarily indicate that you are not a Christian. But, both Beiber and Miller err in that they miss the bigger point that Christians are expected to gather regularly with other Christians. This isn’t to make them “good Christians,” but rather, it’s simply what Christians do. We were meant for community. Christians were meant to gather.
The Greek word for ‘church’ is ekklesia. It simply means “those called out” or “the called ones.” In secular Greek culture it referred to a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into a public place for the purpose of deliberation. Interesting that the Holy Spirit would choose this word to describe what we now know as church, but it makes perfect sense: the church of God is the people of God called together to take care of business, so to speak. What type of business? 1 Corinthians 14 gives us a snapshot of the gatherings of the early church and mentions things like singing together, employing the spiritual gifts, instructing, and teaching. All of these things are to take place within to gathered assembly for the purpose of “strengthening the church” (v. 26). Does this mean Christians can’t sing, teach, or use their spiritual gifts outside the church gathering? No. But that isn’t the point. It does indicate that Christians gather for a purpose. That purpose is the strengthening of one another. On the flipside, not gathering regularly with the church would assume a Christian who is not being strengthened, but is actually being weakened.
In every place in scripture that we find Christians, we find them gathering with fellow Christians. Indeed, there are warnings to believers who neglect the corporate gatherings of the church. One of the most well-known is found in Hebrews 10:25 —
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
In other words, failure to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ often is not something that’s indicative of a true believer. Coming together to enjoy community, to serve and be served, to exercise our spiritual gifts, and to sing and be taught the Word are all things meant to encourage us, and they are part and parcel of the nornal Christian experience. Too often I’ve had people tell me they weren’t coming to church because they were discouraged; not necessarily with the church, but with something in their life. My answer is always ‘Why add discouragement on top of discouragement?’ Why isolate yourself to become weak and even more susceptible to our Enemy? The church gathered is where we go for encouragement and strength. It’s where we go to meet with Jesus together as his church. There is safety in numbers. There is accountability. (I wrote more about the church and accountability here.) Lone Ranger Christians never last for long. I’ve been to that place where I stopped gathering with the church for a long time. I can tell you from experience, it did me no good. I was miserable. It won’t do you any good either.
I realize there are factors such as work, sickness, disability, etc. that might keep us from attending church gatherings regularly. But, for those who are able and simply refuse to gather, or find something deemed more important (sporting events and laziness come to mind), I would ask that you reconsider your thinking.
One simply and biblically cannot be a good an obedient Christian and not go to church.