To get started, let me repaint a picture of church. Most of the time when we think of church we think of putting on a suit that is a little too small to go to a dusty, irrelevant place full of old people singing songs with words we don’t understand to music that drags like its got an organ strapped to its back. Then a guy with strange veins on the side of his head yells at us for a few minutes to tell us how bad we are and how we should give more money. Besides that, we are tired of people telling us that going to church will fix everything when we know the people who go to church, and although they may be shiny and clean on a Sunday, it doesn’t seem to affect their behavior and attitude much the rest of the week. This is not what church is supposed to be, and not all churches are like that.
First of all, it is technically impossible to “go to church.” When the Bible talks about church it does not talk about a building or a Sunday morning meeting. The Bible says that the church is the people who belong to God through their faith in Jesus. The building is not the point, it is the people and their connection with God. Just going to the church building does nothing for your faith or your life. As I have heard it said, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car. However, being with God’s people when God is in their midst, now that’s a different story.
Our God has told us that we are supposed to gather together, and when the church gathers it should be an amazing experience. It should be a time when believers connect on a deeper level with God and each other. Jesus said that when two or three of his people are together then he will be in the middle of them. It seems to me that when the Creator of the universe shows up, it should be a pretty bang-up party.
But church is even more than a Sunday gathering. It is a community. Jesus said that the world will know we are his followers by how we love each other. The community should care for each other, grow together, learn together, and serve together. We were not called to do this alone or keep it to ourselves. The church is full of transformed people who are working to transform the culture in which they live. Mouths should be fed, marriages healed, addictions kicked, conflicts resolved, children loved, and lives changed because of the work of the church. It is a place of amazing spiritual and relational growth; a place that brings meaning, guidance, healing, and wholeness. There should be nothing dead about a church that follows a living God. Who wouldn’t want to be in a place like that?
Most of the time when people say they are a Christian and don’t go to church one or both of two reasons is true. One, they’ve been hurt or put off by the church in some way. Maybe they had a bad experience (or at least a mundane one), or the example of people who go to church has convinced them that it is not a place that they need to be. Or two, they are selfish and lazy. They’d rather sleep in on a Sunday morning, they don’t want to have to give money to anything, and they’d rather stay comfortable and the same than grow in their faith and understanding.
If you have been hurt by the church and have been put off by the example of people who claim to be Christians but fit much better under the category of hypocrites, I am truly sorry. Maybe it’s time to try again. Find a place with a true community of people who are living out their faith together. There is no perfect church, and as the cliché goes, if you find one don’t go in because you’ll screw it up. But, there are real people out there who are truly trying to follow Jesus and live a life for him in community. If your view of church fits in with the stereotype I described above, take a second look. Maybe there is more to this church thing than you thought. Maybe it could be one of the most dynamic, exciting, and authentic places in your life.
If you are selfish, get over yourself. Christianity is not a faith that is all about you. It is not just about you being blessed, you being comfortable, and you getting into heaven when you die. Christ has given us so much, and if we do not think we owe him anything we do not really appreciate what he has given. When we know Christ we are called to a life of worship, relationship, growth, and service, none of which can be done alone. Amazingly, once you experience this life with a truly authentic group of believers you won’t want to ever try it alone again.
So, can you be a Christian and not go to church? No, not a faithful or fulfilled one. Church was Jesus’ idea, he started it, he told us to be a part of it. It is a gift to us. He knows this life is confusing and hard, and maintaining our faith is tough. That is why he told us that we cannot do it alone, and he provided the church to surround us. We also have a lot of work to do. As Christians we believe that Jesus heals and brings new life, and he has chosen the church for the honor of bringing this good news. The world needs us, and you need the church. Search and find a faithful church that truly loves Jesus and wants to love you; get involved, and see your life change. This kind of church really does exist.
The Rev. Dan Alger is pastor of The Church of The Apostle in Hope Mills and can be reached at email@example.com.