I’m a big believer in the New Testament reality that church is not a place we go, but who we are. Because of that, I also believe – very strongly – that going to church matters.
No, church attendance should not be the defining (sometimes the exclusive) feature of our Christian lives, as it has been for far too many Christians. As I’ve stated several times in the past, especially in my recent post, The Growing Disconnect Between Spiritual Hunger and Church Attendance, God doesn’t take attendance.
Big churches don’t get more points. Small Churches don’t get fewer. And no church-goer will get a bigger mansion inside the pearly gates for perfect attendance.
Because of this, there’s a growing movement of people who say they can be a Christian without going to church. They’re using the theology of being the church as an excuse for not going to church. That is misguided at best and disobedient at worst.
It’s dangerous for individual believers and for the church as a whole to discount the value of church-going. And it’s unsupportable by scripture, which makes it clear that gathering with other believers is an essential aspect of faith. For instance, you can’t take communion alone – the word “communion” itself tells us that.
Your church-going experience may look nothing like mine. I’m not arguing for any particular format. But it matters that we go.
I was reminded of this truth in a completely unexpected way recently – by my NetFlix and iTunes accounts. (Stay with me on this one.)
Events Draw Attention to Content
Movie-going is down in recent years. So are album sales. Executives in both industries (or is it one industry?) are wringing their hands, trying to understand why this is.
I think I know at least one reason.
Companies like NetFlix, iTunes and Spotify have made watching a movie, buying an album or listening to a song as easy as tapping an icon on our phone. The convenience is great. But that convenience comes at a price.
I was trying to remember the last time I was excited about going to a movie or buying an album. The answer was, it doesn’t happen any more.
Some of that is my age. I get it.
But if you ask a younger person, you’ll find that the excitement we used to experience in going to the store to buy a much-awaited CD or LP is almost never felt by them. In part, it’s because the constant access to and presence of entertainment in our pockets has diminished the value of the event.
Sure there are still some “event” moments. People line up at midnight for a new iPhone, video game or superhero movie. But that just strengthens my point (which I will make soon, I promise). Why do people line up on the day of release, when they can wait a few days – sometimes just a few hours – and see the movie or buy the game without waiting in line?
While we’re at it, why do people like me still buy print books when we have an ebook reader?
Because the event matters.
Opening a package, pulling out the book and feeling the heft of it as I turn paper pages gives weight to a book – literally and figuratively.
No, I’m not wishing for the good old days when I opened up a 12 inch wide LP and placed a needle on a big vinyl disc. You can have my iTunes account when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we don’t lose something when we don’t have an open-up-the-box moment for the new album release.
U2 learned that with the release of their latest album. They made it too easy for us, by automatically adding it to everyone’s iTunes account. Because of that, the headline wasn’t “U2 releases their first new album in almost a decade – for free!” It was, “Hey, why is this thing on my phone! I didn’t ask for this!” Bono has actually apologized for it. Yes, he apologized for giving everyone a free album without their consent. (There’s another blog post in that, right?)
Why Going to Church Matters
So, at last, we come to the point. What does all of this have to do with going to church?
For almost 2,000 years, we haven’t just been the church, we’ve gathered for church. Because the event matters.
There’s something important about getting up on a Sunday morning (or heading out on a Saturday night, etc.) to gather with other believers.
It tells me and my family that being the church matters, because things that matter get a spot on our schedules. They carve time out of our week. They cost us something to do.
Yes, we are the church. But it’s also important that we go to church.
The event gives weight to the content.
Church-Going As a Delivery System
Being the church is like the music on an album. It’s the thing that really matters. But the event of church-going is like the LP, CD or MP3 player. It’s the delivery system for that content. Going to church reminds us that being the church matters.
That’s what every good church experience should do.
So, why is church attendance down, even among believers? Is it because we’ve elevated going to church over being the church? Or is it because we think we can be the church without going to church?
Neither can stand alone without the other.
When we tell people it’s only about being the church, they stop going. And soon, they stop being.
When we tell them it’s all about going to church, they think attendance is enough and they stop being the church. Then, people who stop being the church stop seeing the need to go to church. It’s a vicious circle.
We need both. I need both. The church needs both.
I am a part of the church, so I go to church.
And I go to church because we are the church.
So what do you think? What’s your take on the balance between going to church and being the church?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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