Do Christians Really Need To Go To Church (Part 2)

10 questions to consider when making this decision

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In part one of this article, I addressed some of the differences between the Church we read about in the New Testament and the customs and mindsets of the Western Church today (READ HERE). I concluded that until we return to the true nature of following Christ and of serving one another in our gatherings, we would be left lacking. But since we can’t change the whole Church culture ourselves, where does that leave us – what do we do in the meantime? If we aren’t getting much out of Sunday morning church, is it okay to occasionally skip? Or would that dishonor God and only lead to further discontent and disengagement over time? I do not claim to have all the answers, but as I have worked through these questions personally, I have come up with ten things to help me navigate through this decision.

1 – What is my motive and expectation for going to church?

Am I going out of mere tradition or habit, or am I going with an expectation to connect with the power and presence of Jesus Christ?

I have begun asking God to increase my spiritual hunger (Matthew 5:6), because even this is a gift from Him (we cannot muster it up on our own). I am asking God to give me an undivided heart . . . and when I start to feel distracted in church, I am asking the Lord to take my thoughts captive and help me hear His voice over all the others. I am learning that my experience at church is radically different when I prepare my heart and mind to encounter the Lord . . . when I come with a grateful heart and intentionally set my gaze upon Him. So I am striving to get rid of my consumer’s mindset and attain a servant’s heart instead . . . for I know it is in the giving of ourselves to one another that we will experience the most joy and spiritual growth (Acts 20:35).

So maybe the answer to the question about church has less to do with going or not, and more to do with why are we going . . . and working to reshape our heart’s intentions and pursuits when we do go.

Francis Frangipane wrote, “The moment we become grateful, we actually begin to ascend spiritually into the presence of God. It does not matter what your circumstances are; the instant you begin to thank God, even though your situation has not changed, you begin to change. The key that unlocks the gates of heaven is a thankful heart. Entrance into the courts of God comes as you simply begin to praise the Lord” (Psalm 100:2-5).

2 – Have I put too much emphasis on the gift and not the gift-giver?

Am I allowing the elements of people’s gifting (or lack of) to influence whether I meet with the Lord on Sundays? Am I relying on people’s talent to be spiritually moved?

Even Paul refused to persuade people with human rhetoric and worldly wisdom. Instead, he resolved to simply preach Jesus Christ crucified . . . and to demonstrate the Spirit’s power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). As Dale Partridge, founder of a home church movement pointed out, “Paul knew a truth that churches and pastors have seemed to miss: what you win people with is what you win people to.” The role of the church leaders is not to minister to us, but rather to equip us.

I once heard Shawn Bolz tell a story about traveling with Heidi Baker to a small church. He said English was not their first language at this church and the worship music was probably the worst he had ever heard. Yet in spite of this, Shawn said Heidi laid herself out before God in whole-hearted worship. He later asked her how she could do that in such an environment and she responded, “Because they weren’t leading me in worship; God was.”

I wonder if the Western Church has resorted to audience Christianity, expecting people’s gifts and programs to impress and draw a crowd . . . instead of letting the power of God’s Word and Spirit move us to awe? I often find myself leaving church commenting on how much I enjoyed the worship or the sermon, but what if instead I left saying “What a great God we serve!” What if I gave God all the glory instead?

3 – Am I aware of my idol tendency?

Am I bent more towards the legalism of going to church, or am I more consumed with another focus like family/friend time . . . or maybe a work/productivity mindset? 

Tim Keller explains, “An idol is when we take a good thing and make it an ultimate thing,” so the behavior in itself is not wrong . . . only our dependence on these things to satisfy our deepest needs. But these idols are often subtle. Since I am naturally a rule-follower, I need to remain aware of this tendency and be careful not to rely too heavily on obeying the law while ignoring the spirit of the law (the grace and freedom that come with it).

Francis Chan pointed out, “Honoring traditions made the Pharisees feel like they were obeying God when they actually weren’t. If we are not careful, we can be guilty of the same sin resulting in the same divine displeasure. Jesus rebuked them so harshly because they had created their own traditions to obey (which aren’t important) and emphasized them more than the actually commands of God (which are extremely important). . . It is imperative we differentiate between what we want and what God commands. Not that our desires are all bad, but they must take a back seat to what He emphasizes.”

So is church attendance one of these extremely important commands?

Scripture clearly guides us to gather together regularly . . . but God longs for our heart way more than our sacrifice (Psalm 51:16-17). If I were just going to church because it was on my checklist, and not giving God my heart in the process, then it would all be in vain.

On the other hand, focusing more heavily on other things like play or work, while ignoring God on Sundays, would certainly hinder my spiritual walk. The discipline of choosing to honor God by going to church even when I don’t feel like it can be a powerful gift if my heart is seeking Him in the process. My dad used to say, “why we do what we do is often so much more important than what we do.”

In the end, we all have our idol tendencies . . . so I am working to follow David’s example by asking God to search my heart, reveal the truth, and lead me in His ways above all else (Psalms 139:23-24).

4 – Have I asked God what His best plans are for me that week?

What if we surrendered our plans to God and remained flexible to His lead instead of simply yielding to our changing desires? What if we sought God’s heart on how He wants to meet with us or use us that day? Maybe there are times He leads us into a morning of quiet reflection and prayer at home, or instead to visit a homebound neighbor to pray for them, or possibly even to attend another church service for a different worship experience outside of our norm. 

Why does our partnership with God have to be limited to our own church anyway, or even our denomination? God certainly did not create the denominational lines. So why not gather together with other Jesus-lovers and run after our mission for Christ together in our city (especially if another church has a ministry you need, or one which you desire to help serve)?

I am learning that I can remain committed to my home church while still participating in the corporate body of Christ (and by tithing online, I can still support my church financially whether I am there Sunday or not). Perfect church attendance is not necessarily a sacred goal - if God had a perfect attendance record in heaven, the Good Samaritan would not be on it (Luke 10: 25-37)! The marker of true success for a church is not numbers present, but lives transformed.

But as we embrace our freedom in God, we can be more susceptible to developing patterns that could eventually draw us out of Godly community and accountability. Satan loves to take something that started initially as God’s prompting and then push us so deep into it that it becomes unbalanced and counterproductive. Either extreme: legalism or antinomianism is unhealthy. The goal of course is to be spirit-led, but I am not so naïve to think I always hear God correctly (sometimes I just hear what “I want”). So if I choose to embrace a more flexible approach on Sundays, I need to be careful not to ultimately forsake “regularly coming together” (Hebrews 10:25). There should be an active giving and receiving that occurs in my home church . . . not only in the world.

5 – Where am I serving and using my gifts?

God gave us each unique gifts and every one is necessary for the body of Christ to function properly (Romans 12:4-8). We need to take the hype out of ministry and start engaging everyone to operate with their gifts . . . “stirring up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

As Francis Chan put it, “The church doesn’t have to remain a group of needy people complaining that they haven’t been fed well enough. It really can become a group of servants who thrive in serving.” Our churches would be irresistible if they were made up of people who were trying to out serve one another (Romans 12:10), and if they were known for how well the people actually loved and cared for each other (John 13:35).

No matter what happens Sunday morning, I am determined to use my gifts to love and serve the body of Christ. I may already be serving in marketplace ministry with my occupation, but there is still a role for me to fulfill with my time and gifts in my local church.

6 – What example am I setting for my children?

I have always believed it was important for parents to model a family commitment of attending church each week, but I am starting to wonder if there are some exceptions. No doubt that attending church is beneficial if we are truly connecting them to the life-giving presence of Jesus and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. But when my son started complaining about going to church, begging not to go, I started to wonder if instead I was teaching him that church was boring, something he simply had to endure each week. I started to wonder if the discipline of going (and not actually engaging with God, or “doing the stuff” God has called us to do) was harming him more than it was profiting him.

There are times when we do things out of the mere act of honoring God, and this can be life giving because it helps train us to say no to our flesh (and hinders our “wants” from always ruling the day). There is a freedom that comes with Godly surrender. In the end, just going to church does not change us; submitting to authority does. So of course we set a good example for our children when we model self-sacrifice and highlight the importance of gathering regularly with the body of Christ; however, sustainable discipline needs to be fueled by desire for more of God, not trying to work to please Him through mere duty.

Our heart attitude matters . . . and our children will know the difference.

If I am not modeling a Godly life at home, one hour of teaching on Sunday morning is hardly going to overcome my regular influence. I want to do more than just talk about God and pray before meals in our home – I want to spend more time worshiping and studying God’s Word together as a family. So I am now working to prioritize this - maybe do a devotional together at our weekly family night (before movie or game time), or maybe read through Scripture at dinner and discuss it while we are eating. There are many creative ways we could do this (Read Here), which takes the pressure and expectation off the children’s ministry to do it all on Sunday.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your heart. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

7 – Am I connecting with God personally outside of Sunday morning?

Sunday mornings were never meant to be our only hour of Godly pursuit and spiritual nourishment – this alone will never be enough to help us live victoriously throughout the week. It is our regular pursuit of God through prayer, Scripture reading, etc. that helps us hear God’s voice for the practical stuff in our lives.

As Jim Cymbala, the pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Church wrote, “No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our times of prayer.”  

Richard Foster explained, "The primary purpose of prayer is to bring us into such a life of communion with the Father that, by the power of the Spirit, we are increasingly conformed to the image of the Son.” Maybe this is why God said His house would be a house of prayer (Matthew 21:13).

So maybe Sunday morning is less about getting “filled up” for the week and more about gathering corporately to honor and serve the Lord together . . . and our “filling” comes more from our daily time in His presence. I have found that playing worship music while I exercise or cook keeps my spirit more connected to God’s heart, or listening to Christian podcasts or sermons during my daily commute keeps my heart in teachable mode. There are many ways we can incorporate a regular seeking/connecting with God even throughout a busy day.

8 – Am I connected with Godly community for accountability and growth?

God created us to need each other (Genesis 2:18) - we were never meant to navigate life on our own, not even on our own with God. We all have blind spots and we all go through seasons of suffering. As the body of Christ, we are called to come along side each other and support each other through these ups and downs of life (Galatians 6:2).

I recently learned that the early Church greeted each other with a kiss on the lips, something that was only reserved for family members (1 Peter 5:14, Romans 16:16). It was an intimate greeting, a symbol that the deep love and commitment in a family should also be represented among the body of Christ. It is through such intimate relationships that we help each other grow spiritually and attain victory with Christ (Proverbs 27:17). We will never be able to fully accomplish our destiny in God on our own.

9 – Is my church attendance bearing good fruit?

Maybe I am not connecting with God in the sermon on Sunday morning, but He meets me in the encouragement of a friend, or in the words of a worship song, or in the Scripture I discovered while flipping through the Bible. Or perhaps there are times my presence there has less to do with receiving and more to do with giving. Maybe God uses me to welcome the newcomer who feels out of place, or to help set up the chairs for the service, or to pray for someone in need. Sometimes our church attendance has more to do with the life giving effects in someone else’s life than our own . . . but even when this happens, Proverbs 11:25 assures us that we will be blessed in the process - “Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”

I am learning that the more I lay down my expectations for a Sunday morning performance, the more open my heart is to receive what God has for me that day. Of course it is important we pray and discern whether we are at the right home church, but my Sunday morning experience is only a smart part of that decision. It is of far greater importance that my church embraces both God’s Word and His Spirit, and that their vision for ministry aligns itself with the true heart of the Gospel.

Once we know which church God has called us to, we can then focus on nurturing the fruit-bearing areas in this environment. If it feels like a struggle to connect with God on Sunday mornings, then maybe there are other services and offerings throughout the week worth trying out (Wednesday night service, extra courses, life groups, conferences, etc.). Or maybe there is an ecumenical Bible study or ministry to plug into during the week that can provide spiritual nourishment. It is natural for churches to move through different seasons, and I do not want to walk away from my church family just because things might feel a little “dry” at times – this may be precisely when they need me most.

10 – Am I embracing the Sabbath as sacred, or am I going to church for mere comfort or entertainment?

The gospel alone should be enough to awe us . . . so I wonder if we are cheapening something sacred by adding all the programs and hype. There is certainly nothing wrong with planning activities that make church fun and exciting, but only if these activities do not ultimately draw attention away from Christ . . . otherwise they are a dangerous distraction. So perhaps we should be attentive and avoid prosperity-style preaching and ministry methods that deliver a worldly package of Christianity (one that focuses on our comfort or amusement more than the actual Gospel).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

There is no question that every believer needs to have a home church, a body of believers with whom they can really do life together (accountability, support, growth, etc.), not just people to brush shoulders with on Sunday morning. Everything else hinges on this factor, so this decision is of utmost importance.

God might call some of us to a dry or dying church because WE are meant to be the life and light that helps it regenerate . . . or He may plant us in a thriving church community because we (or our children) need the spiritual nourishment and fellowship it can provide. But I am realizing, our ultimate fulfillment from our home church has less to do with the Sunday morning service and more to do with plugging into the church’s vision, ministries, and heart for carrying out the true Gospel. So maybe the issue at hand is not as much whether we want to go to church every week, and more about whether we are pursuing and encountering and serving God among our community of believers . . . because if this is not happening, then something needs to change.

The good news is, if you ask God to show you His best plan for your family, He will gladly help you find your way forward. He already has a community of believers picked out for you - one that you need . . . and that needs you.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Further Reading:

"4 Biblical Elements Missing From The Modern Church Service"

"What Is Biblical Church?"

"10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Church Less Often"

For those looking for something other than traditional Western church, here are some resources on the rising home church movement, created with a goal of restoring the Biblical foudation to church:

Francis Chan - WeAreChurch.com

Dale Partridge - RelearnChurch.org (articles, books, podcasts, etc.)

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.