Most Americans say worshiping alone is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. How do you teach the importance of the church?
By Jonathan Hayashi
“I don’t need to be in a church. I’ve got my family and my Jesus.”
According to the 2022 State of Theology report, 66% of Americans say worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. If Christians have Jesus, why do they need to pursue other relationships that add commitments to their already busy schedules?
Christians respond to the gospel through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus. But is that it? What’s the problem with replacing the local church with a solo Christianity? Here are four questions to ask to help your church understand the importance of the local body of believers.
1. What is the church?
In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul says that “God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens” (Ephesians 3:10, CSB). Jesus established the apostles (Ephesians 2:10) to be the foundation of the church and built it with prophets, teachers, pastors, and ordained men (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
“One of the lessons we can learn from the evangelical movement is that its central weakness was not epistemological. Its central weakness was not its commitment to the core doctrines of the Christian faith,” said Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary “Its central weakness was ecclesiological—an undervaluing of the local church in particular.”“It is impossible to read the New Testament and come away with the idea that Christianity is a ‘just-me-and-Jesus’ sort of religion.” — @jonathanhayash Click To Tweet
People say they want friendship and community, but if you mention accountability or commitment, they run the other way. Why? Often, there are two reasons: an unhealthy need for privacy and hidden sin.
They might say, “We are all part of the body of Christ. We don’t need to commit to the church to be a Christian.” But by distancing yourself from the church, you are disconnecting yourself from an accountable relationship with church members.
It is impossible to read the New Testament and come away with the idea that Christianity is a “just-me-and-Jesus” sort of religion. Salvation connects us to God and His people. A private commitment is an impossibility. Our individualistic mindset has tremendously and negatively affected how we understand the church and its importance in Western civilization.
2. What is the purpose of the church?
The local church is the people of God functioning as an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church—each congregation and each member—is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord to carry out the Great Commission and celebrate the gospel of Jesus across the world.
God redeemed the church to display His glory and to declare the gospel for the purpose of making mature disciples. “Go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19, CSB).“If people put aside the church, they are forfeiting God’s design for helping them grow spiritually.” — @jonathanhayash Click To Tweet
Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, “We believe the local church is the focal point of God’s plan for displaying His glory to the nations. Our vision is simple: churches that reflect the character of God.”
I hear many pastors or ministry leaders ask questions like: “How can we grow as a church? How do we reach more people as a church?” I believe these fundamental questions many churches raise show there is a sense of urgency that they recognize something is not working. They know and sense that fulfilling the Great Commission is a task we all are called to.
If people put aside the church, they are forfeiting God’s design for helping them grow spiritually.
3. Why gather as a church?
The author of Hebrews addresses the need for churches to gather on a regular basis. “And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, CSB).
We need community more than we think. To truly experience the fullness of abiding in Jesus, we need to be around each other to experience Christ as the head and His church as the body (Ephesians 4:15).
We are meant to experience communion with the Savior alongside Christ’s bride—the local church. Therefore, the idea of bouncing from church to church doesn’t work.
Greg Gilbert, pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, puts it this way, “At the very least, therefore, we have to say that, for every Christian, attendance at church gatherings is not optional. According to Hebrews, encouraging and stirring up other believers ought to be at the top of every Christian’s priority list, and that means attending the public gatherings of the church.”
What is the importance of gathering with believers in the local church? It’s important because it is biblical. Not being part of a church is an act of disobedience. Don’t neglect this truth. The gathering of the saints is essential to the faith, to the good of your own soul, to the mission of Christ, and to the health of the local congregation.
4. What is the benefit of being at church?
A mark of true conversion is an overflowing abundance of love we experience vertically with God and horizontally with people (Matthew 22:37-40).
You might be saying, “Well, what about those who have loved Jesus for 30 years but don’t like the church and therefore don’t attend?” Of the 114 times the church is mentioned in the New Testament, at least 90 refer to specific local gatherings of believers who have banded together for fellowship and mission. People committed to the local church pray more frequently, give more generously, study the Bible more consistently, and serve more faithfully.
There’s no such thing as a solo Christian
There is no such thing as solo Christianity.
The biblical recognition of the system God has put in place is always evident in local churches. The life and authority of the local church shape the lives of its members. We see in Scripture that God forms us in profound ways when we gather to worship. We may not feel it now, but the formation is usually occurring through the ordinary means of gathering together—singing together, hearing the Word of God together, and breaking bread in communion.“The local church is not an option. It’s God’s primary way for believers to grow in love for Him and fellow believers.” — @jonathanhayash Click To Tweet
The local church is not an option. It’s God’s primary way for believers to grow in love for Him and fellow believers. But tragically, so many believers bypass it. In the New Testament, to be a Christian meant to be saved into the church, baptized into the church, and made part of a covenant community together. We don’t see free-agent Christians roaming around the New Testament.
So, what’s the importance of belonging to a local church? It gives purpose to live for, people to live with, principles to live by, profession to live out, and power to live on.
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Jonathan has a BA in Pastoral Ministry, an MA in Congregational Leadership, and a DEdMin of Biblical Counseling. He presently serves on the Executive Committee at Southwest Baptist University and on the Board of Trustees at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jonathan is the author of Ordinary Radicals: A Return to Christ-Centered Discipleship and Making Lemonade: Turning Past Failures into Gospel Opportunities. He and his wife, Kennedi, have four children: Kaede, Seiji, Anna, and Ren.