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One of the fastest-growing groups of Christians in North America is those who no longer go to church. The reasons are many: 

  • scandals,
  • political preaching, 
  • legalism and judgmentalism,
  • denominational splits,
  • and more.  

Even without these issues, some have left because they felt they were just going through the motions of worship without sensing the presence of God. Most of these people still love Jesus; they just don’t like church.

There are thousands of good churches of all kinds, and those who attend them know those who don’t attend church are missing something very important. Often the ex-attenders themselves feel a vague sense of loss. But precisely what are they missing? Why is it important for Christians to be with other Christians?

Why gather together?

The most straightforward answer is that the Bible tells us to. Hebrews 10:25 says, 

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. 

God tells us to meet together, and ideally, that should be all the reason we need. 

Note that meeting together doesn’t necessarily require a special church building and a professional preacher. The word “church” translates the Greek ecclesia, which at its root just refers to a gathering of people. Jesus gives us the minimum requirement in Matthew 18:20: 

Where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.  

Whether it’s in a cathedral or under a tree, in a home or a rented hall, with or without a steeple, or a pulpit or ordained clergy, it doesn’t matter. God wants Christians to spend time with other Christians

Here’s my understanding of why it’s so important.

Divine desire

When Jesus gave us his model prayer, he could have started it, “Our Creator who art in heaven.” Or maybe “Our Provider” or “Our Deliverer.” All those would be appropriate, but what he chose was “Our Father.” That’s how God sees himself in relation to us, and it’s how he wants us to think of him

But even though God is our Father, when he gives a command, he doesn’t just say, “You’ll do it because I said so, and that’s that!” God likes it when we try to understand the reasons why he says and does things. It helps us understand him better and therefore know and trust and love him more. I think God’s reasons are rooted in his identity as our Father.

Like any father, God desires a home where he can rest and be himself. Like any father, God desires to raise children who will be like him. And because God is the ultimate and infinite Father, God desires for his children to bring other people to join in his family – ideally, every other person in the world!

Three purposes

These three desires of God show us the three purposes of Christians gathering together as the church.

First, the church exists to create a loving family home where God can “come home from work” and be with his children. Before the Fall, God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. After the Exodus, God’s presence was centered on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, first in the Tabernacle, then in the Temple. Since Pentecost, God dwells among and in us, his people.  

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16). 

Psalm 22:3 says,

You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel (Psalm 22:3). 

A throne is not just a symbol of royalty. It’s a comfortable place for a king to sit among his people. Providing a throne of praise for God is traditionally called worship.

Second, the church exists to raise God’s children to be like their heavenly Father.

 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children (Ephesians 5:1). 

Helping each other become more like Jesus and, therefore, more like God, is traditionally called discipleship.

Third, the church exists to equip God’s children to bring other people into God’s family. 

Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). 

Extending this invitation to join with us as adopted children in the family of God is traditionally called evangelism.

When we gather, God our Father wants us to let him know we love him and are happy to be with him. He wants us to help each other grow up to be like him. And he wants us to welcome everyone to join us in the journey. None of these things can be done effectively, if at all, by one person alone. 

Certainly, private worship is important, but all of you together are the temple of God. Certainly, we can study the Bible on our own, but much of what Jesus taught has to do with how we relate to other people, and we need each other to practice on. Certainly, individuals can invite people into God’s family, but when they accept the invitation we need a family to introduce them to.

So what?

If you are one who has stopped going to church, prayerfully consider whether you should start church-hunting again or perhaps begin meeting with a few friends in your living room to experience Jesus’ promise in Matthew 18:20, as the first Christians did. 

If you do attend church, especially if you are a pastor or leader, consider this: everything we do as a local church – in fact, everything we do as Christians – should contribute to fulfilling one or more of these three purposes. Anything that doesn’t help advance one of these purposes is an unnecessary drain on the church’s time, energy, and resources that can hinder our ability to do things of eternal value. How do your church’s programs stack up? 

FORWARD TO the next post in this series

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Bio: After 38 years as a pastor, Dr. Wentz now focuses on writing. Thousands of copies of his first book, Pastoring: The Nuts and Bolts, have been distributed free to train pastors in developing and minority-Christian countries through the Doing Christianity nonprofit, which he heads. David lives in the Missouri Ozarks with his wife, Paula.

You can get a glimpse of David’s ministry and heart at his website:

David’s most recent book is When Church Stops Working: Meeting with God in Your Living Room. It is available at your Amazon site as well as its alternates, and you can also listen to it.

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