Attend any church service in 2018 on a somewhat regular basis and it becomes quite clear that only about 1/3 of any particular congregant attends more than twice a month. Many attend even less. 43% of Canadians born between 1934 and 1943 reported that they attended religious services at least once a month. But only 31% of the subsequent cohort (born 1944-1953) said they attended religious services monthly or more in the same year. Younger cohorts (born 1954 and later) reported attending religious services even less frequently.
In addition, self-reported rates of attendance have been dropping in some cohorts over time. For example, in the 1988 Canadian General Social Survey, nearly four-in-ten Canadians (39%) born from 1944 to 1953 said they attended religious services at least once a month. Two decades later, in 2008, 31% of the same cohort reported attending religious services that often. Similar declines have occurred in other generations of Canadians. –
Here’s the question. Does attendance matter? I understand that the church is not a building, it’s people. But that argument is the same for family. Family is not a house – it’s people. That doesn’t take away from the fact that a family spending time with each other, investing into each other and committing to being together is much healthier than a family that is connecting only once a year.
If we look at the roots of the church we find that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” – Acts 2:42.
Was that just a cultural norm or a situational necessity? More to the point, was it a pattern to follow for the early believers that we in the modern church no longer deem necessary?
I believe that there is something we are missing out on today as the church, and in fact are missing out on as individuals when we skip out on regularly meeting together. We should follow the example of devotion the early church had. Back then, they had no designated church building, after all the church isn’t a building – it’s people as we established earlier. Even so as people, “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” – Acts 2:46 Wherever the meeting takes place, believers thrive on fellowship with other believers and the teaching of God’s Word.
Church attendance is not just a “good suggestion”; it is God’s will for believers. Hebrews 10:25 says we should “not [be] 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.” Even in the early church, some were falling into the bad habit of not meeting with other believers. The author of Hebrews says that’s not the way to go. We need the encouragement that church attendance affords. And the approach of the end times should prompt us to be even more devoted to gathering together.
The wide purpose of the church is two-fold
We gather and then we scatter. First off, we gather together (or assemble) for the purpose of bringing each member to spiritual maturity.
“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:13
And then secondly the church scatters (reaches out) to spread the love of Christ and the gospel message to unbelievers in the world.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’.” – Matthew 28:18-19
This is what is known as the Great Commission. And we’re given that commission by God because for whatever reason he has decided that the church is to be one of the main vehicles through which he carries out his purposes on earth. We, the church, are the body of Christ – his heart, his mouth, his hands and feet – reaching out to the world.
To break it down even more practically, Acts 2:42 could be considered the action statement for the church: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”- Acts 2:42.
According to this verse, the purposes and the activities of the church should be 1) teach biblical doctrine, 2) provide a place of fellowship for believers which includes observing the Lord’s supper together, 3) prayer (corporately and privately, 4) and then as the early church scattered they would Proclaim Christ.
I’ve heard others say that ‘their’ church is the lake, or a place where they can meet with one or two others because after all, “where two or three are gathered”. That passage btw is taken out of context and though it is a part of the church functioning, is not speaking to the function of the church on the most effective corporate scale. The most obvious place in our modern culture for growth, accountability, use of gifts , corporate prayer and worship, teaching and sending is during a corporate gathering, whether that be on a Sunday morning, afternoon, Saturday evening or whenever your particular church family gathers as one body.
The gathering of the church is to be an occasion of fellowship, where Christians can be devoted to one another and honour one another, instruct one another, be kind and compassionate to one another, encourage one another, and most importantly, love one another.
“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” – 1 John 3:11
Gathering together regularly allows for familiarity, and shared needs. A family that meets for dinner only once a month is not as intimate as a family that meets weekly. A football team can’t be effective if the players show up only on occasion to fill their roles… just can’t be as successful as a team that practices weekly together. A weekly church gathering is the place where believers can love one another… much easier to do when they connect regularly (1 John 4:12), to encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13), “spur” one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), honour one another (Romans 12:10), and be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32). How can these spiritual ‘emotions’ grow effectively when a disciple connects only on occasion? The simple answer – it can’t.
Some final purposes of the church
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:27
The church is to be about the business of ministering to those in need. This includes not only sharing the gospel, but also providing for physical needs (food, clothing, shelter) as necessary and appropriate.
The church is also to equip believers in Christ with the tools they need to overcome sin and remain free from the pollution of the world. This is done by biblical teaching and Christian fellowship.
So, what is the church? Paul gave an excellent illustration to the believers in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 Paul paints a picture of the church as God’s hands, mouth, and feet in this world – showing us as the body of Christ. We are the Church and as such we are to be doing the things that Jesus Christ would do if he were here physically on the earth.
For a church body to function properly, all of its “body parts” need to be present and working (1 Corinthians 12:14–20). It’s not enough to just attend a church; we should be involved in some type of ministry to others, using the spiritual gifts God has given us (Ephesians 4:11–13). A believer will never reach full spiritual maturity without having that outlet for his and her gifts, and we all need the assistance and encouragement of other believers (1 Corinthians 12:21–26). Not only that, the mission of the church can’t happen in a casual independent way. It takes commitment to the other members and to a shared proximity and a shared story which happens in a consistent connection over time. Otherwise it’s just an event or a club.
For these reasons and more, church attendance, participation, and fellowship should be regular aspects of a believer’s life. Weekly church attendance is in no sense “required” for believers, but someone who belongs to Christ should have a desire to worship God, receive his Word, serve together in the body they’ve been placed into, submit to some form of accountability and fellowship with other believers. And when those times together are missed – more than we could possibly know is missed in the spiritual health of the body and in the disciple.
Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Church (1 Peter 2:6), and we are “like living stones… being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). As the building materials of God’s “spiritual house,” we naturally have a connection with one another, and that connection is evident every time the Church “goes to church.”