In recent years and decades there has been an alarming decline in church attendance. Leaving the unconverted aside, why do we see so many professing believers rejecting the idea that regular church attendance is God’s will for the believer? There are probably a few different categories of Christians who do not prioritize regular church participation, but lets tackle a couple of them.
First, let’s look at the “Someday Individual,” I mean that person who thinks that someday they will get involved in a church. When they reach a certain milestone then they will start taking their responsibility to the body seriously. Young people are notorious for this. There seems to be some sort of fumble during the hand off between youth group participation and participation in the church at large. Maybe this is the problem with the way many of us do youth ministry. Also I suspect that this is just human nature. How many of you are planning to start that diet, or to get into shape, or to start reading that book, or you name it. Many of us have good intentions, but never actually get started beyond one or two half hearted attempts. When it comes to church commitment and participation I believe it looks like this for many young people: “I need to focus on schooling, I’ll take church seriously when I graduate.” Then they graduate and this is what they tell themselves: “I’ll take church seriously when I settle down and get married.” After marriage: “When we have kids we’ll find a church and bring our kids.” The dirty little secret is that just like your diet or workout plan, you will unlikely ever find it high enough on your priority list to actually make a meaningful commitment. Worse yet are the older folks who should know better, but they tell themselves the same lies and go through the same cycle. These are the “Someday Individuals.”
Second, lets look at the “Lone Ranger Christian.” This person believes that they really do not need the church. They maybe have been burned by a church in their past. Maybe they have experienced real hurt at the failure of their church. Maybe they used to be a “Someday Individual” and now they simply see no need for the church at all. After all, they have a relationship with God and know how to read their Bible and pray. Why do they need the rest of the church at all? Even if we take this person at their word, and they are indeed some kind of super Christian who is not really dependent on others for growth in godliness, wouldn’t you think that it is possible that God gifted this person with extra Christian fortitude to bless other Christians? The Bible gives many answers to both these ways of thinking, but I believe any individual who neglects to make a serious commitment to a local body of believers has a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s will concerning the growth of a Christian.
The Bible gives an outright command to Christians to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but to encourage and exhort one another and so much the more as we see the day approaching.” See God knows that we are fickle and frail individuals who need to rely on one another for strength and encouragement in the faith. As I said above, even if you are not someone who needs to draw a lot on others, do you not see that others may have a need to draw on you for encouragement? It is our duty to sometimes ask not what our church can do for us, but what we can do for the church. In another place the Bible says that we are to “let the peace of God rule in our hearts as we were called together in one body and to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” This is something that is clearly meant to be done primarily in the context of a local church. How can we fulfill these responsibilities if we do not know the people in the church and are not known by them? What we are really saying is, “God, we know more than you about our growth and sanctification.”
A lot more could be said on this issue, but one last response I would give to the person who does not see church commitment as a priority is this…In multiple passages, the New Testament likens the local church to a physical body. This means that God has given each individual believer a gifting and responsibility for the building up of the church. When you fail to fulfill your commitment, you are depriving the body of that part that God has given you to be for His church. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you need the church and the church needs you!