The Barna research group performed a study in 2014 that found, not surprisingly, that a lot of people were dropping out of church. One particularly shocking statistic in that report was the 59% of millennials who grew up in church have dropped church attendance at one point. The number one reason they found why people dropped? “They found God elsewhere.” Many people think they simply don’t need church to follow God. Some even act as if they are better than attending a church. But what is it that Scripture says about the church? Is church optional? If you’re puzzled by these questions, here are a few reasons (among many) to consider.
We're responsible if we ignore the church.
You’ve probably seen posts before attempting to explain to older Christians why it is that millennials are leaving the church. They will include things like battling over minor issues, dead worship or boring worship styles, feeling unappreciated or judged, too many standards, and the list could go on. I almost never see the number one reason why millennials aren’t going to church included on these lists, though. You see, the number one reason why millennials aren’t going to church is that millennials aren’t going to church.
Now, I get where these posts are coming from, I do. I realize that there are areas where the church could improve in seeking to minister to the up and coming generation, and it’s not entirely inappropriate to bring them up. But too much of this discussion leaves us with the impression that it isn’t our fault if we don’t join a church, because our needs aren’t being met. We have to be careful we don’t excuse our own disobedience, because at the end of the day, God has told all believers “not [to forsake] the assembling of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). We are responsible for whether or not we obey God, and “Lord, they had no programs for me and everyone there was like 40 or older!” isn’t going to cut it.
We’re ineffective without the church.
Can a Christian be effective without being connected to a local church? The Apostle Paul didn’t think so. Paul’s comparison of the church to a human body in 1 Corinthians 12 illustrates this. Each part of the body, whether a hand or a foot or an eye, is indispensable. There is no reason for a member of the body to think that he does “not belong to the body” (vv. 15, 16), neither is there any reason for a member to say to another, “I have no need of you” (v 21). The point of this passage is clear: The church is only as effective as the involvement of its individual members. There must “be no division in the body” (v 25). A hand or a foot, once severed, is no longer useful. It’s usefulness depends on its connection to the body.
We must never be deceived into thinking that we can serve Christ effectively while forsaking his assembly. You aren’t the church--WE are the church. God has called us to minister together, using our spiritual gifts for the maturation of the body of Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel. If you try to “go it alone,” you’ll be as effective for the cause of Christ as a severed foot is for the body. I need your gifts, and you need mine. If you want to serve the Lord effectively, stay connected to your church. So if you can help it, don’t stay home this Sunday. It isn’t legalistic to faithfully attend church–it’s necessary for your spiritual growth and growth of the Body.
We’re deceiving ourselves if we discredit the local church.
I’ve heard it many times from well-intentioned college students: “Oh, I have a couple Bible studies that I go to on campus throughout the week.” Sounds good, right? Certainly there is nothing wrong with a young believer being a part of a college Bible study. However, when this comes as a response to the question, “How has church been for you this semester?” the pastor within me becomes very wary for the growing habits of many young adult believers who head off to college and settle into the convenience of an on-campus ministry while viewing it as “doing church.” While there are several benefits in forming a strong Christian bond with fellow believers who share a common culture whether it be during an individual’s college years or during a part of their career, it can be spiritually detrimental for believers to neglect joining themselves to a formally organized local church.
What’s the difference? Well, besides the fact that true discipleship thrives within a local church context, nothing represents the fruit of the Gospel quite like what is seen within the gathering place of a multi-generational, multi-cultural church fellowship that is Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, and Bible proclaiming. Where the membership submit themselves to the guidance and the doctrine of their leadership, and the leadership submit themselves to the needs and the authority of their membership. The local church bolsters the accountability of ordained ministers who are able to devote themselves to the ministry of the preaching of God’s Word and the care of people’s souls. In the local church, the older become the brother and the sister to the younger, and the rich relate to the poor. This all is because the basis for being a part of a local church isn’t found in one’s age group, financial income, or one’s gender. It isn’t fundamentally based on one’s enrollment at a particular college or university, nor is it based on one’s preference of music or comfort. The basis of being a part of a local church is solely, one’s unity together in Christ. May we not be deceived into thinking that just because it says “Bible” that it means “church.”
We’re disobedient if we aren’t participating within the church.
The Bible makes it clear that church attendance is not the goal - church involvement is! Throughout history many have confused the act of “going” to church with actual obedience to God’s Word concerning the church. Perhaps part of this confusion goes back to how we defined the very word “Church” (ekklesia in Greek). This definition will help us better understand why we ought to participate in church.
When Christ first used the word ekklesia (Matthew 16:18) that word was already part of the common vernacular. Ekklesia is not a religious word as originally used among the Greeks. When the Greeks would call an ekklesia they were calling together a special democratic assembly. The Greeks in the ekklesia would then vote and make decisions on important issues. Applied spiritually, ekklesia suggests the saved who are called out of the world and placed into a democratic congregation that they are actively involved in as members.
So, if I go to church and sing the songs, listen to the sermon, and even place a check in the offering am I obeying the commands of God concerning the church? I would say that if that’s all you are doing then you are not obeying God’s will for the church. The very word ekklesia should point out the necessity of involvement. I believe that every believer should join himself physically and consistently with a local church and give himself wholly to the work of that ministry.
The sun rose today because God is building His church. The utmost dealing of God in this dispensation is the assembling of His church for the glory of His name (Acts 15:13-17; Ephesians 4:12). This is going to require activity amongst all those who call themselves “little Christs.” Being an absent Christian, a church-hopping Christian, or a back row Christian goes against God’s intended purpose for the church, which is to proclaim his wisdom and mercy to a dying world. To neglect our role in the church would be more than just a mistake, it would be sin.
Church isn’t optional.
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