I believe that the only reason to miss the corporate worship of your local church on the Lord’s Day is if you are puking your guts out or just had a baby the day before. If you happen to be traveling, you shouldn’t do ‘church’ in the hotel room; find a service to attend. I’ve always said that church attendance is the very first thing that a new Christian must learn. We can talk about daily ‘quiet times’ eventually, but first I want to see you at church every Sunday.
However, there are many men and women that have been Christians for quite some time who haven’t caught this vision of the Christian life. They don’t see the big deal. If something better comes up, or they’re not feeling like it, or they had a rough Saturday night with kids, or they feel they have too much homework, church gets skipped. We’re witnessing what Kevin DeYoung has called “The Scandal of the Semi-Churched.”
In case you think this is making a mountain out of a mole-hill or I’m just saying it because I’m a frustrated religious company man, consider the full weight of these 15 reasons for making Sunday church as automatic as brushing your teeth.
1. God commands it. You can’t escape the fact that Hebrews 10:25 is in the Bible and it is very clear. Okay, so you think you can fulfill this one by ‘hanging out’ with Christian friends? We also have passages like 1 Corinthians 16:2 and Acts 20:7ff that presuppose regular Sunday gatherings for the church.
2. Your leaders expect it. Even if Sunday attendance at a worship service wasn’t biblically commanded, Hebrews 13:17 commands you to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” If coming to church on Sunday is what your pastors expect of you because it is a chief way that they keep watch over your soul, you should submit to their wishes. Don’t make it hard on them, “for that would be of no advantage to you.” If in the end your coming to church was a complete and total waste of your time, they will have to give an account for that. You have done right by submitting to them.
3. It’s good for you. It won’t be a waste of your time. How can hearing the Word read, sung, prayed, preached, and visualized in the sacraments together with your brothers and sisters be a bad thing?
4. It’s not all about you. Alright, maybe the Scripture reader is dyslexic and the worship team isn’t polished and the prayers seem rote and the preaching is mediocre and the effect of bread and wine are mysterious and the people are a bit annoying or you don’t naturally click with them. You have to remember that it’s not just about you. You showing up is an act of love to other people. Have you ever considered how your attendance might encourage someone and conversely your lack of attendance may discourage someone? Enough has been said about our culture’s entrenched consumerism and the way this affects our ‘church shopping’. Stop thinking about yourself and learn to love others. Every church will have aspects you wish were different; just pick one and dive in! And even the act of congregational singing is not merely about you closing your eyes and feeling emotionally moved. It’s about you singing truth into the ears of your brothers and sisters (check this out). When you don’t show up, and I’m struggling myself, the choir singing of Christ’s worth has one less decibel level to it.
5. Think about the lost. What does it say to a lost person who finds his or her way into your worship service (cf. 1Cor. 14:24) and finds a group of people gathered to worship God who don’t really want to be there or several empty seats left open for members who slept in? If, on the other hand, everyone that’s supposed to be there is there then there is a palpable and contagious feeling that Jesus is worthy of worship. It’s sad and pathetic when it’s the first nice day of spring and attendance is a paltry 50% of the seats and a visitor shows up. “There’s not much life here!” they say. “I’d rather be out in the sun myself.”
6. Think about the children. And what if you go to the game on Sunday instead of church? What does that say to your kids? Actions speak louder than words. It tells them that Jesus isn’t really that important to mom and dad. Those early years of childhood are so crucial and having the joyful habit of church attendance seared into their souls is so critical. Those songs and Scriptures are getting etched into minds. Observing mom or dad listening to God’s Word attentively is a memory they won’t be able to shake. It is impossible to overestimate the formative effect of regular Sunday church attendance on children.
7. You need to pace yourself. The Christian life is a marathon. In order to make it to the end in faith you need a steady rhythm, not a series of fits and starts. Some Sundays may be amazing, but most won’t. However, we can’t downplay the cumulative effect of preaching. Good things take time to grow. Don’t expect every Sunday to be a long, dramatic touchdown pass; sanctification is more like the running game – pounding it up the middle for short gains. The very rhythm of weekly worship, going through the same basic liturgy has the power to shape you into a patient, stable, content person.
8. It’s a discipline. Disciplines are not usually immediately satisfying, but they produce results in us that outweigh the costs. Being disciplined is part of spiritual maturity. It’s another word for self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). It takes self-control to say ‘No’ to a late night movie on Saturday so you can be rested for Sunday morning. It takes self-control to get up and ready and out of the house on time. But isn’t that the kind of life we should want to grow into? To be ruled by our passions and moods and be scattered and undependable is immaturity.
9. You need to trust him. God has said that “faith comes from hearing the message” (Rom. 10:17), he has promised that we are filled with the Spirit as we “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19), he has told us to eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of him. We must trust that these means of grace that he has given us are sufficient and will do the work that needs to be done. Skipping church to meditate at the beach is like standing God up on a date. He’s promised to be somewhere and he’s called you to come. I also think of my father’s example. He was a farmer and no doubt would have had many times that he looked at the weather forecast and saw rain all week. And it was a sunny Sunday. But he went to church and rested and trusted that God would provide. And the crops always got planted and harvested. The Lord will help you with the big presentation on Monday; come worship him on Sunday.
10. You said you would! God takes vows very seriously (e.g. Ps. 15:4). We should be men and women of our word and keep our word at all costs. When someone joins our church, for example, they freely sign a church covenant that says, “I specifically covenant to regularly attend Sunday worship services.”
11. We are embodied people. Gathering physically in an appointed place, at an appointed time, with real flesh and blood people, to eat real bread and wine militates against our natural Gnosticism that pits the spiritual against the material. You can’t just stay home and listen to worship music and honor him in your heart. Getting your butt in the pew on Sunday is one way that you “offer your bodies as living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1). “Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints” (Ps. 149:1).
12. It syncs you up with something bigger than you. Your Christian life is not just about your soul and God. When Christ saves you he places you in the Church. Your spiritual life is now inextricably bound up with other people. You may want to go one direction, but being part of the church means going the direction the church is going. Sitting under the same preaching as a group of people creates unity and community and means that you’re all going through the same curriculum together, learning the same lessons together.
13. It’s what the church has always done. Church tradition shows that this is what Christians have been doing for centuries. Suddenly you know better? For example, the Didache (2nd century) says, “And on the Lord’s Day, after you have come together, break bread and offer the Eucharist, having first confessed your offences…” Consider also the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833 – “We believe that the first day of the week is the Lord’s Day, or Christian Sabbath; and is to be kept sacred to religious purposes, by abstaining from all secular labor and sinful recreations; by the devout observance of all the means of grace, both private and public; and by preparation for that rest that remaineth for the people of God.”
14. It’s counter-cultural. There may have been a time when everyone was doing it in some parts of the country, but loyalty to a church and sacrificing your Sunday mornings really says you’re different from the world these days. Not being part of organized religion makes you such a conformist.
15. If you don’t go you may miss the very thing you needed. Revivals of various levels have been known to break out when God’s people are assembled. J.C. Ryle said, “The very sermon that we needlessly miss, may contain a precious word in season for our souls.” The main way a good pastor serves and loves you is by working very hard all week to prepare a gourmet feast for your soul on God’s Word. Why would you skip that? Would it be very considerate of others or smart for yourself to let your mother fix an elaborate Thanksgiving Day spread for you and then decide on a whim not to show up?
I hope you will seriously consider whether you are a part-time churchgoer? If you are, in light of the 15 reasons above, what does that say about the state of your heart? Repent and come to church this Sunday because there you will be welcomed, assured of the gospel, and drawn to worship a gracious God.