Church attendance is a lot like fitness.
We all know that it’s important, and something we should probably do, but for whatever reason, we “just don’t get to it enough.”
Churches have different mechanisms for how to respond when you’re not there. Some send out text messages, some have the elders call absentees, while others just completely ignore it and hope to see them again next time.
I’ve had more than one conversation with elders and different churches about whether or not missing services is worth disfellowshipping over.
For my part — and this may be the most shocking thing I say…ever — I think mandating church attendance is overrated.
Why? Because usually when somebody misses religious services, it’s a symptom of a much deeper problem. Absences in worship are just the tip of the iceberg; what lies beneath, especially the attitude behind the absences, is what’s really worth investigating.
How Important is Church Attendance?
Okay, so maybe that original statement was overblown.
I actually think attending church regularly is really, really important. I think that unless you have a legitimate reason to not be there, then you should make every effort to be at as many church meetings as possible.
There are multiple reasons for this, but it begins and ends with encouragement. I draw strength from the presence of others, and they draw strength for my presence (hopefully).
The worship service is almost always uplifting, despite whether or not the song leader is even remotely on page. And, since I’m the preacher, I have full control over whether or not the sermon is both truthful and applicable.
When you add in the prayers, communion, Scripture reading, and everything else that goes along with worship services, it’s designed to be an uplifting experience. You should walk out of every assembly feeling closer to God and more empowered to do his will.
There are Always “Good” Reasons to Skip Church
Hebrews is written for an audience that is familiar with our times. Hebrews 10:32-36 talks about a time when these people experienced heavy persecution, and knew what it was like to suffer for their faith.
It’s ironic then, that these same people are now dealing with apathy, choosing to miss the assembling for no reason whatsoever.
This attitude seems to be contradictory, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. If you see the assembly of the saints as a place to gain strength, then when the pain is over, why do you need to continue to build up that strength? If the persecution intensifies — or you’re going through particularly tough time — the local church will always be there. Why not do what you want now and go to services when you need it?
If you ever talk to somebody who misses church, there’s almost always a “good” reason they did so. Very rarely will you ever come across somebody who just simply says that they didn’t want to be there.
These reasons range from everything to sickness and work, to discouragement and depression. Athletic activities, fatigue, and vacations also top the list.
As humans, we instinctively place what we need at the top of our list. We take your food, sleep, and whatever other needs we may have. Everything else follow suit.
If you don’t think worship services help you, then you’ll find whatever excuse you need to not be there. It’s really as simple as that.
How Important is Church Attendance…To Others?
One of the biggest misunderstandings about worship services is that they’re only important insomuch as they help you. If you don’t need it, then it’s not worth going.
What we fail to realize in that line of reasoning is that worship services provide us an opportunity to help others.
The context clearly states this. Hebrews 10:19–24 talks about ways that we can “build each other up” and “stir one another up and 11 good works.” Sure, other people are looking to do that for us, but one of the reasons it’s so important for you to be there is so that you can do that for others.
In a direct reference to persecution, Hebrews 12:12–17 reiterates the need for us to “strengthen the knees that are weak” and “the hands that are feeble.” I can’t do that at home. In virtual services don’t allow me to provide that others either.
You may not see the value in being there for yourself – although I would argue you would in time — but I see the value in you being there for me.
Forsaking is Different from “Missing”
“Forsaking” just sounds like a hateful word, doesn’t it?
It’s actually the same word that is used in second Timothy 4 when Paul says that Demas has “forsaken him, having loved this present world.” Paul took that personal, and understandably so.
In a sense, when you skip services, you’re not just for seeking the assembly…you’re forsaking the church member inside the assembly. You’re saying that you value other things instead of your time there with them.
That may sound harsh, but think about in terms of a relationship. If you are late coming home one day because you had to stay late in office, that may be rightfully categorized as an “extenuating circumstance.” Your spouse and your children will probably overlook that a few times.
What happens though, if you choose to stay at work day after day after day? Over time, your family is eventually going to feel you care more about your job than you do dinners at home. They may even start to feel “forsaken.”
That’s exactly the mindset that Paul is addressing here. When we choose one thing over another, with essentially abandoned the second thing in favor of whatever it is that we want.
Assembly Doesn’t Just Include the “Official Times”
We place a lot of importance on the first of the week, and rightfully so.
In the New Testament, Acts 20 paints a picture of the saints meeting on the first of the week — something that seems to of been a deliberate choice. Historical tradition backs this practice up, and dates back to the time of the apostles.
But the Lord’s supper is and just done in a vacuum. In other words, we don’t do the Lord’s supper and then bail after. It’s called communion — it’s to be done “communally.” It’s not just a ritual requirement that we need to fulfill in order to be right with God. Like the Passover, it both glorifies God and encourages us at the same time.
The same idea applies for will be due on Wednesday nights, Bible study, Gospel Meeting, and any other church service that the elders deem important to our spiritual growth. We need as many of these opportunities as we can in order to make sure we stay faithful.
One of the scariest things that the Hebrew writer dwells on is the fact that you can be apart from God without even realizing it. Hebrews 3:12 – 19 reveals that the Israelites that were disobedient, hardened their hearts, and provoked God to wrath.
That’s hard to believe for a nation that literally followed a smoke-filled representation of God through the wilderness for 40 years. If it can happen to them though, it can happen to me.
How Important is Church Attendance? You Tell Me.
Like I said earlier, I think mandating regular church attendance is a waste of time. Even if you have a roomful of faithful attenders that are there 100% of the time, what guarantee is it that they’re all worshiping? Some may be distracted, so maybe daydreaming, and some may be playing Angry Birds.
Does that mean that we should do away with attendance charts? Absolutely not. I do think that attendance is a very easy thing to track that helps determine someone’s devotion.
But it certainly shouldn’t be the only metric we use. It also shouldn’t be the thing we exalt more than anything else.
As Jesus Christ told the Pharisees in Matthew 23, “first clean the inside of the cup and dish, then the outside will be clean also.”
We should do the same.Last modified: December 14, 2022