Do Christians have to go to church? It would seem many Christians are increasingly saying, no. Church attendance in America (and many other parts of the world) has been declining for years. But the more important question is does the Bible say you have to go to church?
The reality is the religious landscape in America is quickly changing. Now there are a variety of reasons for this. But the bottom line is people are leaving the church. For years church leaders have said, “they’ll come back.” But they aren’t. They have left and are not planning on coming back.
Here’s one of many studies on this topic: 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 here is how we missed the point of what going to church is all about.
Here’s our problem, we’ve mistaken church attendance with living in community. They are not the same.
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 will get into more of that in a minute, but first we need to answer the question: Does the Bible say you have to go to church?
Does the Bible Say You Have To Go To Church?
What does the Bible say about church? Does the Bible say you HAVE to go to church? To answer those questions we first we need to understand what the church is.
Most people today when they think of the church they think of the building in which people gather on Sundays. But that’s a terrible simplistic view. Jesus’ vision for his church was much greater. It was about community that could not be shaken (Matthew 16:18).
But the church isn’t just about us. We have a mission to live out. Jesus final words to the disciples were a charge that still rings true for us today. He tells his followers to go into the world and tell others about what they’ve seen with the promise that he will be right there beside them (Matthew 28:19-20).
The church is a community that loves, supports, and challenges one an other. But it’s not just an exclusive club. The church is inclusive in that it’s always looking for people to share it with.
Much of the rest of the New Testament unpacks this idea of what church is and what the followers of Jesus should play. From those passages an incredibly beautiful picutre unfolds.
Check out just a few of these passages.
- 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.
So, does the Bible say you HAVE to go to church?
Actually I think that questions misses the point of what the Bible is actually saying. Instead it says, we ARE the church. Sometimes the questions we ask reveal that we’ve totally missed the point. We think it’s about church attendance, but really it’s about community and transformation. We don’t HAVE to, we GET to.
Let’s break that down a little further.
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.
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.
The point I’m trying to make is that Christian faith hinges on sharing our lives with one another. You can find that community within the four walls of a church. But you can also find that within the four walls of a house. It doesn’t matter where you find it, rather that you pursue it.
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.
So, does the Bible say you have to go to church? Do Christians have to go to church?
Do Christians Have To Go To Church?
Christians are called to be connected in community. I would even argue that it’s impossible to follow Jesus alone. Even Jesus didn’t attempt that, he surround himself in community.
Here’s the reality, you need other Christians in your life to help you, to encourage you, and to give you a kick in the pants occasionally. That 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, you don’t have to search very hard to find an other story about a church that did something pretty terrible.
But let’s not forget the church is 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.
If you are considering leaving check out: How Do You Know When It’s Time To Leave Your Church?
Does the Bible say you have to go to church? Yes, but not the churh you and I probabyl think of. 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. The point is, find community among other Christians and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
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