Does church attendance matter? As a Christian, should I be an active part of a church community committed to attending weekly gatherings? It’s an interesting question, especially in our current culture. Many in our culture have become disenfranchised with “church” and so a new group is emerging and gaining popularity of those that are religious or spiritual but do not attend a formal gathering. Many in this group still find themselves in love with Jesus and actively involved in ministry through charitable organizations. They are still exploring faith, some growing deeper spiritually than they were before, while experiencing God through non-traditional means. They just have no place in their lives for “organized Christianity.” And so the question becomes, if one can grow deeper in faith apart from a church community, why be apart of one? Does church attendance matter?
In some ways I must admit that no, church attendance does not matter. Obviously God will not be giving out perfect attendance awards at the Pearly Gate. Or even setting aside those with higher than average church attendance as a select group with special privileges in the new creation. On its own, going to church every Sunday does not make one closer to God or a stronger Christian.
And on a deeper level, if there is a growing group of those who find faith outside of a church community easier than inside a church community it should cause those of us who work in churches to pause for a moment. What are we not providing as a church community to help our members grow? How have we become so irrelevant to the culture around us that more are finding reasons not to show up because it is a waste of time? I don’t think this calls for another church program; that will not solve the problem. But it should make us re-examine our core teaching. What are we really calling people to? Are we converting to Jesus or converting to the church? Have we simply baptized our cultural values to make them seem Christian? I believe that this growing group of disenfranchised Christians are genuine. I believe that they truly love Jesus and have a deep faith in God. They just for some reason or another don’t find the traditional church community relevant or helpful for their lives. So does church attendance matter? If you can grow in faith without it in some ways we have to say no.
And yet, as a minister, I also want to say yes, it does matter. Maybe it is my inherent bias because of my profession, but I deeply believe church attendance does matter. Not because it allows you to check off a box on your good Christian report card, but because of what I believe is happening in those moments when the community is gathered together. On the most basic level is the encouragement that happens from being around and in relationship with other Christians. The writer of Hebrews in chapter 10 says that we should meet together as a means of helping each other live into the story of God. The idea is that when Christians come together for the purpose of intentionally gathering before the throne of God, the Spirit works in those moments to encourage each of us through the lives of others gathered in the room. We will be stronger Christians because of being in relationship with each other.
But then the Hebrews writer goes a step deeper in chapter 12 when the author says that we have not come to something that can be touched but to Mt. Zion, to the assembly of the first-born, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Somehow, in that moment when the community gathers, we are joined not just with each other, but with all of God’s people. We, as a community, are spiritually transported into the assembly of all of God’s people. And we are joined with the living and the dead. As we gather together we are not just gathering with those that we see in the room but with those around the world and with those who have already left this life and are waiting for the consummation of all things. We are participating even now in the great assembly that will take place in the recreation. And we serve as a sign to the rest of the world that God will recreate, that God will be victorious, that sin will be destroyed, and that God is right now at this moment making all things new. So, does church attendance matter? Yes, because in it we witnesses to our faith in a God who is right now in the process of recreating the heavens and the earth.