Do Christians have to go to church? It would seem many Christians are increasingly saying, no.
People are leaving the church. For years churchgoers have said, “they’ll come back.” But they aren’t. That’s a reality we need to face. For a variety of reasons, people are leaving the church. Some good, some bad. Regardless the religious landscape is changing in America.
Don’t believe me, check out this study: America’s Changing Religious Landscape | PEW Research
There are many that have left the church and Christianity. I’ve written on this before and probably will again (6 Reasons Why Millennials Aren’t Attracted to the Church), but that’s not what I want to focus on in this article. What I want to focus on is those that have left the church but NOT left Christianity. Because I think there is something important we need to grasp.
I know what some of you are thinking. A Christian should never leave the church. But I want to push back on that notion.
Christians are called to live in community with each other. You cannot really get around that; the Bible talks about the importance of that a lot. However, the church has equated these passages to having perfect church attendance. But those two things are not the same.
We’ve mistaken church attendance with living in community. They are not the same.
What The Bible Says About Church and Community
Most of these go-to passages about community are surrounding the formation of the early church. Paul and other early church leaders wrote about the importance of living in community with others.
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 10:24-35
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32
The emphasis in these passages is community, not church attendance. The goal of Christians is not to go to church on Sundays. Rather the goal is to live in community with each other.
Life Together Is The Point
I’m convinced that the reason many people, especially millennials, are leaving the church is because this community is becoming an increasing rarity in American churches. That is certainly a generalization; I am aware of churches that still push great community. However many have shifted their focus to butts in the seat, money in the offering, and a cool worship experience and little else.
Many churches are missing their primary intent. To be a place of community where we can encourage, challenge, and uplift each other to follow Jesus.
These verses, and the others, clearly point to the importance of community. However we still need to remember the context these were written in. In the early church they didn’t have anything similar to what we have today. There were no lights, skinny jeans, organized worship, or children’s ministry. It was just a group of people that met in someone’s house.
Attending church isn’t a bad thing, in fact I believe it’s a good thing. But we aren’t called to go to church. We are called to live in community. There’s a difference. You can be a Christian that doesn’t go to church. However all Christians should be connected to a community of other Christians.
Many people get their community from their churches. However many have chosen to find their community apart from the organized church.
I’ve seen a lot of people that have decided to leave the church and get ridiculed and told they were bad Christians. But listen, if you are staying plugged into a solid Christian community I can’t find an argument that says they are wrong. And I’m sick of Christians bashing other Christians when they are doing the right thing.
Many Christians, especially in the millennial generation, are done with church. And by church I mean the organized institution of the church. The thing that meets on Sunday. But they are not over community, they aren’t over meeting together, many are still plugged into solid Christian community. And I just cannot see how someone can say that doesn’t align with Scripture. And in all honesty, their community looks a whole lot more like the 1st Century church than we might think.
Following Jesus Together
Hear me on this… I’m not saying people should leave the church. I believe in the church; I work for a church. I vote yes for church. I want the church to reach people with God’s love.
Finding a community of people that are following Jesus that you can live life with is more important than finding a church that has great preaching and moving worship.
Maybe all this points to a need to shift the focus of the church. Christians are called to create community and if our churches aren’t doing that maybe it’s time to change. Maybe it’s time to refocus on the real mission, people not programs.
The power of the church is not in how big the building is, how relevant the message is, or whether the perfect worship song is played. The power is in the people; it’s in the community. The church changes lives when we get involved in each other’s life, not when we sit and observe a service for an hour each week.
Do Christians Have To Go To Church?
Christians have to be connected in community. I would argue it’s impossible to follow Jesus alone. Even Jesus didn’t attempt life alone. You need other Christians in your life to help you, to encourage you, and to give you a kick in the pants occasionally. That is community is in its own way, church.
So do Christians have to be apart of an organized church? No, but I think they should.
I know many are leaving the church. And I get it. The church is messed up. But let’s not forget it’s messed up because they let people like you and me in. If you want the church to change, to bring the focus back to the most important things then we need to stay. We need to help be that change and not just complain and leave in frustration.
If that’s you, if you’ve left or are considering leaving. Maybe stay. Maybe you can be the catalyst that brings about change.
Christians are called to live life in community with each other. That community can come from a small group at your church, but it can also come from somewhere else. And I would argue if you have a group of Christians that meet together regularly, that is the church. Maybe they don’t have a name or a building, but neither did the first church.
If you aren’t plugged into a community of people that are following Jesus, do it! Your local church is the perfect place to find one. Although it’s not the only place.
I want to hear from YOU! What are you thinking? Leave a comment below!
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