Why should we go to church?

You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian any more than you have to go to a garage to be a car. But the fact is that as with the car and the garage, you do need to go to church to keep running as a Christian.

Without a weekly refuelling and spiritual MOT, our faith only too quickly starts stalling and eventually breaking down altogether. This has generally been recognised throughout the history of the church. However, in the UK over the last ten years, the pattern has been changing. Sunday trading, busy living, weekend travelling, the focus on luxury and hobbies has all led to believers attending much more sporadically – once a fortnight or even once a month. This generation therefore needs a constant reminder on why to actually go to church every week if it is at all possible.

In short, the Bible gives three main reasons: We go because we love God, because we love others, and because we love ourselves.

Because we love God
1) We go to meet with God.

In Ephesians 2v21-22 we read “In Christ the whole building (of God’s people) is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

The implication is that when we are “together” there is a particular sense in which God is present “by his Spirit.” Indeed, many Christians testify how they experience this to be true as they gather to hear God speak powerfully through his Word when it is read and preached, and then respond in praise, prayer and a renewed commitment to service.

2) We go because we want to better know and please God.
Yes, we can learn from the Bible on our own or in small groups. But many who give this as a reason for not prioritising church, don’t in reality prioritise these things either. Moreover, our love for God surely means that we will take any opportunity we get to grasp more of his nature and purposes. And in this, there is something special about the sermon: It communicates a lot of truth in a short period, and it often does this at a deeper level than other forms of teaching, and with more insight into how our views can be in error. It also comes with exhortation and challenge to live differently.

We should note that in 2 Timothy 4v1-5 Paul stresses the utmost importance of this sort of Bible teaching if our faith is to be protected. Hearing it should not therefore be an option for us.

3) We go because we want to speak to and glorify God.
Again, this can be done elsewhere. But it is often only in a service that we find sufficient help to pray and praise God as we are led by others.

Such things are difficult to come to terms with for many Christians. But when regularly practiced they become an incredible joy.

Do ponder how instinctive meeting together for prayer and praise was for the early church (Acts 1v14; 2v42, 47; 4v23-31; 12v5, 12; Ephesians 5v18-20; Colossians 3v16-17).

4) We go to demonstrate to God that he is our first love.
This sums up the above points and was key to the Sabbath. Keeping it took faith. It meant trusting God enough to stop work or other activity in order to remember him.

The principle applies to Christians through the story of Mary and Martha. Martha rushed around doing chores when Jesus was present. But Mary did what was best, sitting at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10v38-41).

We should ask what it says about our attitude to the Lord that we are reluctant to carve out just an hour and a half a week to be built up in faith and be with his people?

Because we love others
5) We go to encourage others in their faith.
The writer to the Hebrews urges us “not to give up meeting together” in order that we may “encourage one-another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10v24-25).

This occurs within services when someone is interviewed about how the Lord has been involved in their life. And Paul sees it occurring weekly as we “sing to one-another” (Ephesians 5:19) and so remind one-another of the wonderful truths of God.

The key way we encourage however is as we socialise. Our time for refreshments is therefore an integral part of our gathering. The ideal is that as we hear others’ needs, we encourage them perhaps with some truth from scripture or even offer to pray with them. So “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into” Christ (Ephesians 4v15).

6) We go to see how we can best serve others.
For many in the church, the Sunday gathering is the one time in the week that they see each other. As we hear of needs, whether in the notices or in conversation, we therefore spot opportunities to serve as well as encourage – whether formally or informal.

Remember that it is not our love for unbelievers (though we should love them), but our love for one-another that Jesus said would mark us as his disciples (John 13v34-35).

7) We go to set a good example to others.
Titus was urged “in everything” to set younger men “an example by doing what is good” (Titus 2v7).

Whether we intend it or not, our actions impact others. When people in a church see others attending only sporadically they start to feel they might do the same (and vice-versa).

Parents in particular need to hear this point. If you only come when you have nothing else on, you teach your children that church really is only for when there is nothing better to do. Is it small wonder that they then resent going to church or Sunday school? Of course it is difficult when our society assumes our children’s availability for work or sports on a Sunday. But we are called to be “set-apart.” And in this, organising our weekends so that we can attend church is one way of showing unbelievers as well as believers what is first in our lives.

8) We go to display God’s wisdom and power to the universe!
Here is the most glorious reason for meeting with your entire church. In speaking of God’s purpose of uniting together those of every tribe and type through their common faith in Christ.

Paul writes that God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3v7-12).

Do take this in. He is saying that when angelic beings (not to mention unbelievers) see the greatest diversity of people uniting together, they see a visible representation of God’s purpose to create a new humanity in his Son. More than that, they see proof that the gospel is true, that sin can be overcome, that Christ really can do what society can’t do – reconcile young and old, black and white, poor and rich (Ephesians 2v14-16).

If you are reluctant to go to church because there is no-one like you there, that is exactly the point. The world deals in divisions. Yet by being at church, you show your town, village or area that the gospel has overcome that, and that God is powerfully present among his people, transforming them by his Spirit.

Because we love ourselves
9) We go to grow in our faith.

This has been implied throughout. Paul writes that pastor-teachers are given “to prepare God’s people for works of service,” and that as we then “speak the truth in love” to one-another, the body of Christ will “be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4v11-16).

Quite simply, if we don’t expose ourselves regularly to pastor-teachers and to one-another, we will not be reminded of or deepened in what we know, and our faith will be neither strengthened or developed.

History is littered with those who first started going to church less regularly, before without realising they stopped altogether and ultimately fell away. Salvation is too important to allow such complacency.

10) We go to experience joy.
Of course church can be frustrating or even dull. But often this depends on our attitude. When you seek to pray and sing in your heart the words that are prayed or sung out loud, and when you pray home and praise God for the truths you are hearing in the sermon (no matter how uninspiringly they are presented), you really can find yourself profoundly edified almost every time you attend church.

And here is joy - rejoicing to better get to know God and his will, rejoicing to pray to and sing to him, rejoicing as you learn to love his people, rejoicing in the knowledge that by being in church with an open heart you please him.

If there is one message to the letter to the Philippians, it is that the key to Christian contentment is to find your greatest pleasure in living to please Christ.

So often Christians who start to withdraw from church, do so saying ‘I just don’t get anything out of it.’ Well I hope you have realised that we go to church predominantly to give rather than to receive: to love and glorify God, and to love and serve others.

A better question to ask ourselves when we go to church then, is not “what am I getting out of it?” but “what am I putting into it?” And what you will find, is that the more you ‘put in,’ the more you will ‘get out;’ because as you truly love God and others, you will find your faith grow and your joy increase.

Appendix: What’s so special about Sunday?
The church of the New Testament assumed regular gatherings of God’s people. In fact Acts 2v46 reads that “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” It does seem that the requirement of a Sabbath of absolute rest from all work no longer applied (Colossians 2v16-17). Nevertheless Sunday, “the first day of the week,” was given a special prominence as the day of Jesus’ resurrection.

For this reason the apostolic church made this the primary (though not only) day for meeting together (Luke 24v1; Acts 20v7; 1 Corinthians 16v2). And picking up the pattern of the synagogue, they met to praise God, pray together, read from the Old Testament and the writings of the apostles, hear teaching on them, and then “break bread” together – the early form of communion (Acts 2v42-47; 1 Corinthians 11-14).

Despite this, it has however become popular recently to play down the importance of meeting on Sunday. ‘If the Sabbath no longer applies, why not meet on another day if that better suits others?’ some say. ‘And why not have numerous meetings, so that we can go to whichever fits us that week?’

As Acts 2v46 makes clear above, there is no reason why Christians cannot meet on other days. Indeed, the ideal is that of the Sunday gathering, followed my numerous mid-week meetings for all sorts of reasons: to serve the community, to discuss the Bible’s teaching on a topic with some other interested believers, to pray for a particular concern, to play music together, to socialise – whatever it may be. These things reflect what it is to truly live as a community, as the family of God.

Having said this, a number of points need to be made in response to those who would hold loosely to Sundays: First, there is great importance and symbolism in having all God’s people in an area meet at the same time. It demonstrates his presence and reconciling power to those outside. Second, maintaining a commonly agreed day for this helps unbelievers instinctively know when Christians meet. But it also helps believers who can move house or travel, and not have to restructure their lives and create new habits in order to settle into their local church. Third, it is noteworthy that although the first believers had to work on Sundays (and many were servants or slaves), they still kept this as a special day for meeting. There are hints that they gathered very early in the morning or late in the evening so that those who worked could be there, but no suggestion of another day being kept. Fourth, continuing to meet on “the first day of the week” affirms the theological truth that we meet to celebrate the resurrection, praising our creator for his work of salvation and new-creation in Jesus.

We can conclude then that the New Testament (and all church history) strongly commends the wisdom of believers gathering together every Sunday.