“I don’t need to go to church. I can listen to sermons on my iPod and listen worship music all week.” Perhaps you’ve heard it. Worship is, after all, a life style, isn’t it?
Many Sunday mornings, I make my way to a coffee shop in my town, Sierra Madre, CA., before coming into church. It’s easy to notice that not everyone attends church on Sunday mornings.
We know that on average, over 60% of folks don’t attend a Sunday morning gathering; and even of that 40 % that does attend, the average Christian attends church 1-2 times a month.
But first, let’s clear the air: Church, of course, is the people – the ekklesia – the people of God in Christ. But for the purpose of this article, when I say “attend church”, I mean the Sunday morning gathering. Of course, we are the church even when we aren’t together on Sundays.
It’s a radical thing to do in today’s culture – gathering, that is. Not only is it radical; not only is it meaningful, but it matters – more than you might realize.
Of course, it’s not a new phenomenon that pastors are talking about this. This has been a central practice since the birth of the early church. (1 Timothy 4:13-14; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:18-20; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:22-25).
But still, I can think of a few good reasons why not to attend church.
1. Don't attend church if you're looking for an exclusive club.
Don’t come to church if you’re looking for an exclusive club where everyone talks alike, looks alike, and dresses alike. Don’t come to church if you’re looking for a dominant culture or socio-economic status. Don’t come to church if you’re looking for an exclusive club that rejects anyone who doesn’t fit the profile. When you come to church, look in the eyes of someone who isn’t like you, who doesn’t look like you, and comes from a different walk of life.
2. Don't attend church if you're looking for easy answers.
Life happens. Life is complex. We wrestle with theology. The reality is, not a single Christian has all the answers – and especially not the easy or oversimplified answers.” Instead, when you come to church, be open to new things – challenging things. Be open to new ideas; come with an open heart and mind, and know that you may not walk away with all of life’s answers figured out.
3. Don't attend church if you're looking for a place to always and only be filled up, and never pour out.
If you’re coming to only consume, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Don’t attend church if you’re looking for entertainment. When you gather together, you might get pastor who minces words now and then, or sometimes preaches a sermon that doesn’t move you like it did the week before. You might see worship leaders who may not always get the exact note. Some Sundays the music might be too loud, too quiet, too many hymns, or not enough hymns. Instead, come to church to bless someone else. Come to use your gifts of teaching, preaching, leading, encouraging, praying, admonishing, caring, and edifying. Come to bless, and while you’re at it, you too will be blessed.
4. Don't attend church if you don't want to be stretched and pushed.
Don’t attend the worship gathering if you want to stay comfortable. When you come, you’re going to hear things that you don’t like. Don’t come if you’re hoping you’re going to agree with every single thing, or if you’re looking to maintain status quo. If you don’t want to be stretched or pushed, don’t come. The demands of discipleship are costly, and Christians tend to hold one another accountable. The Holy Spirit convicts us and makes us uncomfortable. Pastors preach about living the mission of God. The pushing, convicting, and piercing words of Jesus are often read out loud. Don’t come to church if you don’t want to be stretched or pushed.
While I could continue to give you plenty of reasons why not to attend church, I will tell you this, dear sister. To be propelled into our ultimate purpose, we must never give up meeting together. You need church more than you might realize.
The gospel – that is, the life, fulfillment, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension of King Jesus wasn’t so you could be propelled into an exceptionally individual life, but the gospel propels into life together, as a holy people.
And when we gather together, we share that common commitment and confession: God is love; Jesus is alive; Jesus is King; the Spirit of God has been poured out for all!
When we gather, we are making a countercultural declaration of the counter-cultural values of the kingdom of God – that is, Jesus is Lord; Ceasar is not. We are declaring that in a world of death, decay, destruction, pain, and violence that the shalom of God is bursting forth.
When we gather, we are declaring and professing in the God who makes all things new – that is,
The God who brings dead bones to life.
The God who turns decay into resurrection.
The God who takes a marriage in shambles and brings healing and life.
The God who reconciles all races.
The God who declares victory for the marginalized.
The God who sets the captives free.
Finally, dear sisters, it’s a tough world out there. Even as you are propelled into your purpose, life can tear you down. We need a place where we can reorient our minds and be reminded of what actually matters. We need a place where others can hold us accountable to living into the purposes of God. Without church I am absolutely convinced that we cannot stay faithful to the purposes of God. As I always say to my precious congregation in Southern California, “I need you; you need me; we need you; you need us.” We need Jesus above all else, yes, and we need one another to be pushed and propelled closer to our King.
Tara Beth Leach is senior pastor of First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena (“PazNaz”) in Southern California. She is a graduate of Olivet Nazarene University (BA, youth ministry) and Northern Theological Seminary (MDiv). She is a regular writer for Missio Alliance and has contributed to other publications such as Christianity Today, Christian Week, and Jesus Creed. She is the author of Kingdom Culture and a contributor to The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life. She has two beautiful and rambunctious sons, and has been married to the love of her life, Jeff, since 2006.