In our rapidly changing world, the relevance of attending church has dwindled for many people. The generational statistics on weekly church attendance reveal a declining trend with more and more individuals opting out of regular church involvement altogether. With that in mind, it is important for us to ask the question: Does going to church still matter?
For most people, it doesn’t. The statistics speak for themselves. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 20% of Americans attend a church on a weekly basis. In 2000, this number was 32%. Looking further at these numbers, 57% of Americans seldom or never attend any service at all. When you look into specific demographics, you see another surprising trend; in the past five years, the Baby Boomer generation, previously the largest demographic to attend church regularly, has dropped to the smallest age group to attend, with 25% attending on a weekly basis. The largest group that currently attends on a weekly basis are Millennials, who have increased to 39% in 2022. However, just as many Millennials attend no church whatsoever.
What does the Bible say?
The Church itself is very important from a Biblical perspective. Through the New Testament, Paul refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ. When we refer to this (what we might call the “Capital C Church”) we are referring to all those who belong to Jesus; not a specific building or denomination. Clearly, this entity that exists matters to God, and it is important that as a follower of Christ we consider ourselves as a part of this group. The Book of Hebrews reminds us:
“Let’s hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let’s consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds, not abandoning our own meeting together, as is the habit of some people, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, NASB).
It is critical God’s people meet regularly together, specifically to encourage each other. Noticeably, the Bible doesn’t prescribe an exhaustive list of things that must take place during a church service. Problems can then arise when we take specific pieces of a service and elevate them to the level of what church must be. Instead, we need to step back and define the reason why it matters. When people understand the why, they can engage. When people don’t, it is easy to drift away. To do this, we should first consider what the church isn’t. To clarify the why, we can first answer why not.
What the Church isn’t:
To truly comprehend the value of attending church, we must dispel common misconceptions about its purpose. First, the Church is not merely a social club or a gathering centered around shared interests and philanthropy. A social club is defined as “a group of people or the place where they meet, generally formed around a common interest, occupation or activity”. So many churches today are just this. A place for likeminded people to gather with friends, serve their local community, while discipleship and people increasingly looking more and more like Jesus is sadly missing. While socialization and community outreach are essential aspects, they should not overshadow the primary functions of worship, discipleship, and spiritual growth.
Second, we live in a society that is deeply consumeristic, and this attitude has bled into the Church as well. We look to a Church the way we look to our favorite restaurant; they serve me with the things I like, and if they do something that doesn’t meet my preferences, I can take my business elsewhere. While this is a bigger message for a different time (and one I have preached on previously, namely, what we should and shouldn’t divide over), it is important that we don’t develop this attitude when it comes to the Church body. In fact, Paul uses the analogy of the body often and for good reason; no part of the human body is simply a consumer. No part exists for what it can get out of the whole system, but instead, each part is a vital, contributing piece of a larger organism. If that is what the Church should not be, then what is the answer?
What Church should be:
Church should be a welcoming space where everyone, irrespective of their background, feels accepted and valued. It should be a place where believers can grow spiritually, both in their knowledge of the Bible and in applying its teachings to their daily lives. Church should foster an environment where individuals are challenged to live out their faith authentically, striving to become more Christ-like. We are called to be a multi-generational family of believers engaged in discipleship, where we are constantly being ourselves poured into, and in turn, pouring into others. We actively work at fulfilling the Great Commission, to make disciples of everyone; not simply converts. Where we can serve our local community in the way that Jesus served; meeting both physical and spiritual needs. We feed those who are hungry, and care for orphans and widows (as James tells us), not as an end to itself, but to demonstrate in action the love that God has for us, and the need we have for Him.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on our own perspective of the Church. How do we perceive the Church as a whole? What about our local church? Do we consider it an integral part of our lives? Or do we view a few hours on a Sunday morning as the extent of our commitment, something we can check off a list, before we continue in the rest of our week. Is church something that exists as one activity in many? Or is growing closer to Jesus the center of our lives, with us viewing weekly meeting as an integral part in the building up of our faith?
Furthermore, let’s contemplate how we can actively contribute to growing God’s Kingdom beyond the confines of the church building. It’s not just about inviting people to church; it’s about embodying Christ’s love in our everyday lives. How can we reach out to our neighbors, coworkers, and friends, sharing the good news of Jesus through word and action?
Consider taking the next step in your church involvement. Join a small group where you can deepen relationships and engage in meaningful Bible study – knowledge for the sake of putting it into action all week long. Volunteer your time, skills, and talents in areas that align with your interests and gifts. By actively participating in the church community, you can foster spiritual growth, build connections, and contribute to the overall mission of the church.
In a society where church attendance is becoming less prevalent, it’s essential for Christians to reflect on the significance of attending church. While numbers may dwindle, the essence of church as a place of worship, fellowship, and spiritual growth remains unwavering. By reevaluating our perspectives, actively engaging in the church community, and taking steps toward involvement, we can experience the transformative power of congregational gatherings. Remember, church is not just a building or an obligation—it’s a place where we can encounter God and become more like Him in our everyday living.