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Is This Church?

As COVID-19 closed church buildings earlier this year, we saw an interesting response on social media. Church members began posting photos of their families watching online services from the comfort of their own homes… decked out in their favorite PJs, breakfast snacks and coffee mugs in hand, wrapped in cozy blankets and tipped back on reclining sofas. As the weeks went on, “church” began looking more like a teenage slumber party than anything else.

So here’s the elephant-in-the-room question for 2020: How many of you secretly enjoyed a “break” from going to church on Sunday morning?

Yes, of course some aspects of church fellowship were missed, but off the record, many Christians will admit that they didn’t mind the change. Can you blame them? It was a new and unique situation – a “built-in excuse” to stay home and relax on Sunday morning. It was kind of fun to sleep in and enjoy time with the family while still “going to church” on TV.

Unfortunately, as churches begin to reopen, many have gotten a little too comfortable not going to church. And although they might say they’re still watching from home, other summer activities are taking precedence, and numbers for online church attendance have dropped steadily.

It’s not just the fault of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, many Christians had drifted away from church attendance for other reasons. But now more than ever, it may be harder to get people back through the doors on Sunday morning. Many Christians are asking the age-old questions:

Do I really have to go to church? Isn’t it OK if I just stay home and watch online services when it’s convenient for me?

The quick answer -- for health and safety reasons -- is YES. It’s fine to stay home for now, while engaging with the church family in whatever ways we can. But before we drift into a comfortable habit of excusing ourselves from all church activities, or settle into a long-term pattern of “virtual” participation at best, let’s quickly review some reasons why we should gather with other Christians. (Whenever it becomes possible for you, given your geographic area and personal health situation.)

1. It’s a Biblical directive.

If we don't go to church, are we overlooking a clear command in the Bible? You can’t get any more straightforward than Hebrews 10:25: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”

Scripture tells us, in no uncertain terms, that we should regularly meet together with other Christians. Although this doesn’t have to be with a large gathering in a church building, that’s often the logical way many believers “meet together.” Of course, small group Bible studies, home churches, and other Christian gatherings for the purpose of fellowship and growing our faith are great options as well.

2. Jesus “went to church” regularly.

It’s never a bad idea to ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”

If ever there was someone who didn’t really need to learn about God or attend an actual “church building” to strengthen His faith, it was Jesus! But what did Jesus do? Luke 4:16 says that Jesus went to the meeting place on the Sabbath, as usual. If Jesus thought it was important to attend “church” (in His case, the synagogue), we should follow His example.

3. Healthy Christians need community.

In many ways, the national shutdown has shown us how difficult it is for individuals to be isolated from their communities. Distance learning and Zoom meetings have proven to be hardly a replacement for the “real thing.”

Some believers might feel they can do just fine without a Christian/church community. Even regular church attenders may feel that the past several months haven’t negatively impacted their spiritual lives. However, this is not a healthy pattern for believers. It’s important for us to be both challenged and encouraged on our spiritual journeys. It’s extremely difficult to find godly, uplifting influences outside of the church fellowship today. As believers, we need teaching, accountability, support, and prayer from our Christian leaders and friends to stay close to the Lord and avoid stagnation. (James 5:13-19)

4. It’s important for your family.

Many adults who have abandoned church were actually raised in families that attended weekly services. They may feel their spiritual foundation and personal understanding is now adequate, and they no longer need to attend church regularly. But what about the next generation?

Going to church-related activities as a family helps shape children of all ages in ways we can often overlook. Sunday school and/or youth group involvement instills confidence in their faith. It allows kids and teens to connect, interact, and build important relationships with other Christians -- something they can never experience in online scenarios. It also helps them discover and begin to use their spiritual gifts, and develop a heart for service. (Proverbs 22:6)

5. We don’t just attend church - we ARE the church.

It’s been argued that attending a Sunday service is a small, over-hyped part of being a Christian. Sadly, it’s true that some church attenders act as if their “Christian duty” is fulfilled after habitually showing up at a church service once a week.

If that’s how we view “church,” we’re completely missing the point. Christians are called to a radically different mindset than just passively watching services on Sunday mornings – whether it’s in-person or online.

If nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic has given us a clear reminder that the “church” is not a building or a service on Sunday morning. The church is the body of believers in community with God and each other. We’re built up and encouraged in our faith when we gather together in unity. We demonstrate God’s love by serving others and sharing our faith. That’s something we can’t do by ourselves from home, even if the internet has put church services and other Christian resources right at our fingertips.

As believers, we should be moving from being consumers to contributors. We don’t go to church only to be served. We go to serve! The church is at its best when we all engage in the mission God has given us. While it’s true that church attendance is not required to be a Christian, it’s nearly impossible to build a biblical argument that being separated from a body of believers on a routine basis is what the Lord seeks from His followers.  

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity -- all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:42, 46.

- Ron Reid

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