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In Favor of Community within Church Attendance


Hebrews 10:25 “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.”


Modern day life is not conducive to everyone being able to worship on Sundays. Plenty of people have to work on the traditional day of worship, such as employees of restaurants, department stores, hospitals, gas stations, NASCAR, NFL, you name it…people are working on Sunday! Others never returned to the habit of attending church after Covid 19. Online church has offered the new option of watching a church service on TV or a device. But is church attendance really just listening to a sermon and singing some spiritual songs?


A few months back I saw a post on Facebook for a local community site where someone was asking for a referral to a good church in this area. I instinctively thought of recommending my own church until I read further. The person said “I’ve been wanting to go back to church for years, but never feel like a “churchy” person. I believe in God and have grown up as a Catholic, but I want to go back to church. I’m used to the quiet, reserved environment Catholic churches have, but I also enjoy contemporary music. I never quite feel comfortable in a non-denominational church because everyone is vocal, moving a lot and chatting with each other. Not a bad thing, just not what I’m used to…”


I happen to attend a non-denominational church, so naturally I did not chime in to invite the individual to my own church. I have thought about this person’s post most every Sunday since reading it. I commended the person in my mind for wanting to find a good fit, but at first I felt badly, like somehow my church had fallen short. But as I observed my fellow church members gathering each Sunday, greeting one another with handshakes, smiles, hugs, and conversation, I felt very different. There was a rightness to the visiting between people who had known each other for decades or were just meeting for the first time. These were people who worship together each week, people who were reaching out to widows and the elderly, people visiting with a member who has cancer, and people who just needed encouragement for a variety of reasons.


As I observed the pre-service visiting, I felt moved by it rather than distracted by it. It was part of the worship service. I looked up at our banners that declare the Core Commitments of our church and felt that the fifth one, “Community in our Congregational Life,” was being lived out in front of me.


This core commitment is expounded upon on the church website and says “We will serve Christ together. We will practice the “one anothers” of Christian Fellowship. We will pray for one another, we will encourage one another, we will serve one another, even if need be, we will admonish one another, and above all we will love one another. We believe in the reality and mystery of the Church as Christ’s body. We all are actually one with each of us individually and differently gifted for the good of all. We recognize that by God’s purpose and design the only way for us to grow personally and congregationally is to grow together. The promise in that reality is that as each does their part we will all become more like Christ. Toward that end we will each do our part for the good of all.” (Citing John 13:34, 35).


Last week in the sermon our pastor said something to the effect of “our faith is deeply personal, but it is not individual; rather it is communal.” We grow in our faith through interaction with other believers. If we try to make growth in our relationship with God solely vertical, we miss an extremely vital element…the horizontal aspect where we live out our faith with other believers. Our church leaders often refer to the congregation as the “family of faith” or “church family,” and rightly so. We do life together, but we do it in such a way as to encourage one another in our shared faith.  


There have been times we have failed at this core commitment. We don’t always do it well. If we are hurting, sometimes we choose to hide our struggle, pulling away from others. Sometimes we keep our distance because we are hardening our hearts and want to keep it that way, or because someone has hurt us at church, and we are protecting ourselves from further hurt by not getting involved with people. We also can keep to ourselves if we are living in a way we know is not pleasing to God and we are afraid our fellow believers might actually confront us about our attitude, behavior, or poor choices. If we become too self-focused, we may be shy or withdrawn, not wanting to reach out, but rather waiting for others to reach out to us. Whenever we fail at community, we need to acknowledge it (at least to ourselves and God, but also to those whom we fail). Regardless of past failure and missed opportunities, we need to press forward with new attempts at loving one another. Community is not optional for the Christian who desires growth in their spiritual life.


I realize that “my” church is not everyone’s brand of Christianity, but Christians need to do life with other believers to be strengthened and to grow, as well as for the purpose of encouragement and protection. We need to reach out to one another rather than slipping in and out of church without fellowshipping at all, or only watching church services online. When we neglect fellowship and community within the body of Christ, we begin to isolate ourselves (and one another) and soon discouragement, disillusionment, and doubt can set in. Faith can weaken when a person chooses to live out their Christianity alone.

Community is much more than a nice idea, but rather a commitment we make to one another when we become members of the church. It’s God’s design for the growth and health in the Body of Christ.

 

For those who work on Sundays, or for those who are homebound due to physical reasons, you still can benefit from watching a church service online, but I would simply encourage you to seek out other Christian fellowship opportunities through small groups or a mentor relationship in addition to your virtual church experience.  

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