When you begin to really experience Church as it was meant to be, it’s hard to settle for anything less. There is really no scriptural basis for the modern view of church being an organization (at least in the way a Westerner understands this word). The Church is Jesus’ body, an organic construct. The Church is people, God’s sons and daughters.
Whether you attend a church service every Sunday or not, you cannot cease being a member of the Church any more than you can cease being human. That being said, the writer of Hebrews does tell us not to neglect meeting together (Heb. 10:25), so there is good scriptural precedent for believers getting together with other believers on a regular, even weekly, basis. But what is the real reason for doing it? Was God just giving us another rule to keep us busy?
God never tells us to do something without there being a good purpose behind it. God knows that we need encouragement, and he knows that one of the best ways he can give it to us is through community.
Unfortunately, I have come to discover that most Christians have never experienced true community the way God intended for us. They have not experienced what Acts 2 describes, where the first members of the Church fellowshipped (a fancy way of saying ‘hung out’) together, learned together, ate and took communion together, gave to each other’s needs, and shared the gospel with people they met. I have found that, because many have never lived in such community, they do not know what they are missing; and for that reason they continue “doing church” the way they have always seen it done.
I can speak from experience here. I really did not know what I was missing until I encountered a group that really interacted in ways similar to the early Church. Now I just can’t go back! It is for this reason I am burdened to share this. Christians who attend Sunday services every week can be some of the loneliest people out there, and many do not even realize how lonely they are because the person in the pew next to them has not known any differently either. Many attend churches that are too big to even form relationships with people; and in many smaller churches I have been to, the interactions are still very shallow and consist only of small talk.
I realize that most Christians–even ones who are really seeking God–are only “going to church” because they were taught that this is a what a good Christian does. Sure, they may come away from the service having heard a good sermon and some good music; but I would argue that Bible-learning and worship are not even the primary reasons for which we are meant to gather.
I know that may sound controversial, but here is the reason that Hebrews 10:24-25 gives for why we should gather: to be “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” and “[stirring] up one another to love and good works.” Interesting how it does not say “to learn about the Bible” or “to have congregational worship”. Notice that, hearing a motivational speaker preceded by a musical act is just the entertainment value needed to get people to keep coming. But neither of these things are required in order to gather as the church.
What if the purpose of gathering was not the worship service, but the actual gathering in and of itself? You see, when you experience true community with the body of Christ, you fill a void that God designed to be filled by relationships. Being a follower of Jesus in this broken world can be hard at times; that is why God basically said, “Hey, it would probably be a good idea for you to get together with your other brothers and sisters every once in a while to be encouraged and recharged to face the next week.” The interesting thing is that, whenever believers get together to hang out, their activities often look very different from that of the world: they worship together, they open up the Bible to teach and learn, they remember their Savior through the Lord’s Table, they hit the streets to evangelize together, they pray for healing for each other, and more. And that is not to say that these are the only qualified activities in Christian community. Honestly, eating a meal, watching a movie, or going on a camping trip can sometimes be a more spiritual experience than these other activities when done in Christian community.
I can imagine somebody reading this may be thinking, “Well, if you’re finding joy and encouragement in people, and not in God, isn’t that idolatry?” When taken to the extreme, sure it could be. But it is actually harder to take this to the extreme than you think. First of all, recognize that God himself has never been alone; he has always been in community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The crazy thing about it is that God’s very nature is community and relationship. Out of this nature, Jesus told us the greatest commandment which sums up all of the law: Love God, and love people. 1 John 4:20 says that we cannot love God without first loving people; and to love them is to be in relationship with them. Matthew 25:40 then says whatever act of kindness we do for a brother in need, we are actually doing it for Jesus. So, in some mysterious and mystical way, we actually love God and enjoy relationship with him while we are loving and building relationship with another person.
It is interesting to me because I have encountered believers from certain camps who can spend hours in their prayer closet or on their face in the presence of God. To their credit, these people experience and worship God in profound ways both personally and corporately; but when one tries to go deeper in relationship with them, it is like you hit a brick wall and cannot get past the superficial. They have found God in the “secret place”, but they are missing out on finding him in the people surrounding them.
Mother Teresa said, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” Obviously, this not speaking exclusively about community with believers, but it does illustrate the truth that we cannot experience the full relationship with God without relationship with people.
Because God, in his goodness, wants us to experience all of the joy and pleasure of relationship with him, he tells us to continue meeting as the body of Christ. It does not necessarily have to look like what we have been conditioned to expect from church. It does not even need to happen on Sunday. You can gather to “do church” any day of the week; or if you really want to be biblical, you can gather every day of the week (Acts 2:46). It also does not matter where you meet. You can meet in a home, classroom, coffee shop, or outside under a tree. The important thing is that you connect with people. Frankly, I believe that we end up “doing church” more biblically when my wife and I get together with another couple for dinner than when we sit in a church service on Sunday morning.
I had a pastor recently ask me why young people are beginning to prefer house churches. He sincerely wanted to know from my perspective. I told him that, whether you go to a mega-church, medium-sized, or small church, you have to find a way to make it smaller. This generation is seeking community and relationships. This is the reason why many big churches are adding the small-group model. In the end, I do not care if you are a part of a small-group or a house church–either one can still lack community. It takes a good theology of Church, a commitment to transparency, and a desire to reach a lost world together.
I wish I could articulate how important this is, but you really need to search out community and experience it for yourself! We need each other; and you have something to offer too. We have been united with Christ and carry his Spirit, so we all can offer and receive encouragement, teaching, provision, and comfort among our fellow brothers in the Church.