Every year the Barna Research group does a “State of the Church.” In the 2016 edition the report states “Americans are attending church less, and more people are experiencing and practicing their faith outside of its four walls. Millennials in particular are coming of age at a time of great skepticism and cynicism toward institutions—particularly the church.” The number one reason Millennials don’t attend church, according to another study, was “I find God elsewhere.”
We live in a time when there is a declining interest in church--a time where many think they can have a relationship with God, but not be involved in a church. People drop out of church for many reasons, but God’s Word makes it clear that we never have an excuse to give up on the church. Here are four bad reasons why people give up on church:
Nobody needs to go to a gym. Everything that you can do at a gym, you can do at home. Push ups, pull ups, running outside, if you really were ambitious you could buy weights, a treadmill or a bowflex. But let’s be honest, a gym membership is way easier. Many people look at the church like they look at a gym membership. It’s really nice to have, but it’s a luxury. Sure, it can help you with your walk with God, but you can do all the stuff that you would do there at home if you just had the motivation. You can look up sermons, sing songs, and meet with other believers. So who needs church, right?
This indifference causes us to see the church as helpful, yet optional. But God has declared the church absolutely necessary for Christian growth (Eph 4:14-16) and God chooses to work through the church in ways he just doesn’t work through individual Christians (Eph 3:8, 21). It’s pretty hard to serve others with your spiritual gift if you don’t gather regularly with other Christians (1 Cor 12). All of this should help undercut the common, yet disastrously wrong belief that church is “take it or leave it.”
As was noted above, many people are suspicious of all institutions, including the church. Stories of abuse of leadership, distrust of authority in general, and a strong desire for independence can lead to Christians wanting to avoid church to play it safe. While there certainly can be problems with churches and church leadership, to avoid joining a church cuts one off from an immensely important aspect of their growth: pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11-12). Scripture makes it abundantly clear that spiritual authority actually exists for the good of the people, not their harm (Heb 13:17). Yes, people are people and make mistakes, but God expects you to have spiritual leaders in your life for your good. And to cut yourself off from any pastors or other leaders because you don’t trust them is to distrust God.
Some people have been hurt deeply by a church and don’t want to go back to another church. Some have been burned more than once, having had bad experiences with multiple churches. This happens for a number of different reasons, and ought to break our hearts every time. It is completely understandable that people who have been hurt would not want to get hurt again, and would therefore pull back from church altogether. But as difficult as it might be, God commands participation in the local church, and God’s commands must be obeyed even when they're hard (Heb 10:25).
None of us enjoy being told what to do, but for some people that negative reaction is stronger. Some don’t join a church or don’t go to church because they don’t want other people telling them what they can and can’t do. They don’t want someone telling them how they should live their lives based on God’s Word, whether from the pulpit or in private conversations. And so they avoid the church because they want to avoid the accountability that comes with it.
Yet one of the reasons that God wants us in church is so that we can have spiritual leaders to watch over us (Heb 13:17). God views authority as a blessing, not a curse. Our twisted sin nature hates not being the master and lord, yet in declaring our independence we simply harm ourselves. Joining a church and allowing oneself to be held accountable to a biblical way of life is crucial if we want to please God.
There are many reasons people don’t join up with the church. Some make more sense than others, but all fall short in the end. God loves the church, and commands not just a believer’s attendance (Heb 10:25), but participation (1 Cor 12) in this wonderful plan of his. God is primarily working through his church today, and to cut ourselves off from the church is to cut ourselves off from being a part of God’s exciting work. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3:20-21).
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