I can think of all kinds of things that I would get to avoid if I didn’t have to go to church every Sunday morning, but I also know there are a least 3 things that I would definitely miss.
My wife and I would get to avoid sacrificing one more morning of the week to hustling a pack of kids out the door. I’d avoid having to myself up early and out the door on a morning that I could be using to enjoy any number of possible leisure activities, or getting stuff done around the house that I never seem to have to the time do.
On my more introverted Sundays, skipping church would mean getting to avoid interactions with people, even some very wonderful people, with whom, sometimes, I just don’t feel like I have the energy to interact. And what if the music isn’t to my liking that morning, or the preacher is having bad day? Skipping church would mean getting to avoid all of that as well. And seeing as I’m usually the one preaching and helping with the music, I sometimes wonder if my skipping church might actually be doing people a favour.
But for all the less than perfect things that we avoid by skipping church, or by choosing to get our church online instead of in person, there are some really important things that we miss out on when we don’t go to church.
Obviously, as a church leader my perspective on this topic is fairly biased. But trust me when I say that I know how imperfect and sometimes downright unpleasant going to church can be.
I also know, however, that while going to church isn’t everything, there are at least three things that it offers followers of Jesus that nothing else can.
Let me also say that I recognize attending or not attending church isn’t always a choice. I know a number of people who would be in church a lot more if they could, but their life circumstances, and the limited range of service times that are available to them make regular attendance impossible.
But for those of us who do have a choice, here are 3 things we miss when we choose not to attend.
1. We Miss Uninterrupted Time Focused on God
The range of preaching, prayer, worship, meditation and study resources that are now available to us at the swipe of a screen, no matter where we go, is incredible. The problem is that none of these apps or online resources has the ability to remove us from the countless distractions that keep us from offering our undivided attention to God. Most, in fact, are designed so that we can listen to a sermon, study the Bible, worship and/or pray all while doing any number of other things at the same time, like exercising, working, driving, or chores.
These apps and other resources are incredible and can really help us grow, but none of them is a substitute for giving God our undivided attention, because it’s precisely in those times of extended focus, of waiting and listening for God that God actually speaks to his people. We see this again and again in the Bible and it’s true to this very day, and no app or online resource will ever replace the experience of having God speak to you directly.
Of course, there can be lots of distractions at church too, but unlike anywhere else at any other time of the week the operating assumption at a church service is that we are there to focus on God which, in spite of all of the potential distractions or interruptions, makes it an invaluable time and place to practice giving our undivided attention to God.
2. We Miss Getting to Express the Value of God with Our Own Voices
At no point in Christian history have we ever had the amount and quality of inspired and inspiring musical worship available to us as we do right now. There is far more and/or far better worship music available just on YouTube on any given Sunday than there is in any church in the whole world. But listening and even being moved and inspired by the very best praise music is not the same thing as raising our own voices with the voices of others to proclaim the goodness and love of God and to express the value of God in our lives.
Listening to inspired worship music can be very uplifting and spiritually nourishing, but true worship isn’t just spiritual nourishment. True worship is also spiritual exercise. It’s an offering of our effort in service to God, which, as we practice, makes us spiritually stronger.
The result of only ever consuming worship music and never exercising our own worship muscles is, in a spiritual sense, the very same thing as if all we ever did was eat physical food and never exercised our physical muscles. We become spiritually weak and even ill.
Although it isn’t always as immediately pleasurable as listening to the very best worship music available to us, the practice of regularly lifting our own voices together, as well as we can, to praise God is absolutely essential to our spiritual growth, our spiritual strength and our relationship with God.
3. We Miss the Power of Joining Our Lives in Christ with the Lives of Others
Going to church isn’t always much fun, and it isn’t always as inspiring as we would like it to be. But every time we go to church we take a step towards joining our lives in Christ as followers of Jesus and members of God’s people, with the lives of others, and there is always power when we do that. And the more we join our lives with other followers of Jesus the more of that power we get to experience and be a part of.
In a blog that actually inspired a lot of my thoughts on this subject, blogger Sarah Piercy (http://unitedanduntied.com) talks about each of our lives being like a “babbling brook,” each with its own energy and vitality. But then she asks, “what happens when you cross paths with another brook. And another. And another?”
“Something bigger starts to happen. Something one babbling brook can’t do on its own. Momentum happens. Then power happens. Then Niagara Falls happens! (Note: did you know Niagara Falls generates enough energy to power almost 4 million homes? No babbling brook does that.) In the same way, 10s, 100s (or even 1000s) of people moving in the same God-given direction is POWERFUL. And it doesn’t happen when we are disengaged.” (Sarah Piercy-“What you never know you miss by skipping Sunday Morning”-careynieuwhof.com)
It’s true that just going to church isn’t the same thing as being truly engaged with the life and mission of Jesus. You can attend church and not really be engaged. But it’s pretty hard to be engaged without at least making it a priority to attend when we can. Engagement is another reason attendance really does matter.
So what do you think?
Does attendance matter? Why don’t you swing by St. Paul’s Hampton this Sunday and let me know in person 😊
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Sincerely, Rev. David Turner