Going to Church: Why do we gather?

In a recent presentation by Barna Research and Pepperdine University, it was shared that Church attendance is a decreasing expectation (watch here; find it at the 48:30 mark).  Changes in family dynamics, more distractions, and a lack of commitment to a local congregation have all contributed to this new reality.  As Church leaders, this is a concern because discipleship is becoming difficult to do through traditional avenues.

Believers not attending “church” is nothing new though it is becoming more common.  The phrase “going to church” is becoming less known to upcoming generations.  This does not, however, change the need for believer’s gathering together.  Some common rejections for this are.

  • It’s better to be the church rather than go to church.
  • It’s a personal relationship with Jesus and mine is strong.
  • The Church is the people, not a building.
  • I enjoy gathering with my immediate family.
  • I can go to church (insert online, radio, tv, facebook live).
  • Church doesn’t meet my needs
  • Church is boring
  • I don’t like the way it is organized.
  • “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile” – Billy Sunday

There were two Greek words used that are commonly translated into the term Church.  The first word is ekklesia.  It is defined as the “called out, called forth, called together.”  It is used about 115 times and is sometimes translated as “church” and other times as “assembly.”  The second word is Kuriakon.  This word forms our modern translation for Church.  It is only used twice in the New Testament and is translated as “the Lord’s.”  It is used in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and Revelation 1:10.  The reason has formed the basis to what we know as Church today because eventually, believers recognized a particular place as “the Lord’s house.”

Looking at a biblical definition of Church based on those words would produce something close to, “the Lord’s assembled” or “gathered unto to the Lord.”  Either way, one thing is clear, it is hard to be the Church by yourself.  Going to church is a totally acceptable phrase and implies “being the church.” It doesn’t require a building, but it does require the presence of other believers.  Gathering for worship, discipleship, service, fellowship, and evangelism is what the Church is about.

Do you need more reasons?  Look at this short list.

Plainly stated in Scripture.

Hebrews 10:25 stands as the premier proof text for attendance.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Other Scripture also gives strong admonitions for our gathering plainly and can easily be inferred from other passages.  If you care to look them up, here are a few that show the Scripture trajectory: Matthew 16:18, 18:20, Acts 2:42,  9:31-32, and Ephesians 4:11-3.  You might also look at how often Scripture shows Jesus gathering with other Jews on the Sabbath in a synagogue.

Necessary in fulfilling many Biblical commands.

Without the assembly of believers, how would one be baptized or partake of the Lord’s supper?  What about all the “one another” passages (Google those).  Remember Hebrews 10:25 from above?  It is part of a larger command to believers that requires “going to Church” to “be the Church.”

Hebrews 10:23-25

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Theological reasoning.

There are two important pictures of what the Church is like, the family of God and the body of Christ.  First Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:3-8 note the similarities of the body to the Church.  Various Scripture references describe the family relationship between the two: Galatians 6:10, Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Timothy 3:15, and Hebrews 3:1-6 are good areas to start.

The theological principle we see here is that we are knitted together by the Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-7).  To separate ourselves from others in the Church is to disconnect from that Spirit.  Using the two pictures mentioned, it is to separate a limb from the body or to renounce our relationship to the family (which means to lose the inheritance and family name).

It’s the practice through the ages.

Throughout the Church age, gathering together in different ways is seen as the way God funnels His Spirit into the everyday lives of believers.  Look at what a few have had to say

  • “The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion” – John Wesley
  • “To gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer.” – Martin Luther
  • “Objection: I can profit as much by staying at home and reading the Scripture or some good book; it is the word of God which they preach, and it is that which I read at home. The books that are written by learned men are better than the sermons that are preached by our ministers. Answer: What foolish pretenses are these against the plain command of God and our own necessary duty! When God hath appointed you your duty, will He allow you to forsake it upon your own reason, as if you were wiser than God, and knew what will profit you better than He?” – Richard Baxter
  • “Never neglect the means of grace; God may bless us when we are not in His house,
    but we have the greater reason to hope that He will when we are in communion with
    His saints.” – Charles Spurgeon
  • “On the Lord’s Day of the Lord come together, break bread and hold Eucharist, after confessing your transgressions that your offering may be pure;” -The Didache, XIV.1

Many practical blessings.

If you were to search the web for practice reasons you would find many reasons.  Ranging from personal experience to those claiming scientific research.   I would like to focus on one from my own observation.  Simply, it is good for you.  There is nothing that can replace gathering with other believers to sit under the preaching of God’s Word.  Nothing takes the place of worshipping with other Christ-followers.  You won’t find a sweeter or more real fellowship anywhere else.  If you want to be the Church, at some point, you have to start assembling with them on a normal basis.

References

A Puritan Golden Treasury, compiled by I.D.E. Thomas, by permission of Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA. 2000

Barna Research (2017) https://livestream.com/pepperdineuniversity/pastors2017 (Accessed February 2, 2017).

The Didache (First Century),  http://www.thedidache.com/