Multi-age people walking up steps into churchMore and more these days I meet people who say, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church.” Some who say this communicate a sense of liberty—that they’ve been freed from the burden of attending a church. Some people have been so wounded by a church that they swear they’ll never go back. Others simply hold the belief that church-going isn’t an important part of being a Christian.  Many Christians who choose not to identify themselves with a church say things like: “I can worship God better in the woods or at the lake.” “I pray and read the Bible, though not as much as I should.” “I’ve accepted Christ.” “I live as best as I can.” And so on.

Researcher George Barna wrote, “American Christians are not as devoted to their faith as they like to believe. They have positive feelings about the importance of faith, but their faith is rarely the focal point of their life or a critical factor in their decision-making.” But what does God think? Is church unimportant to Him? Can Christians do without the church after all?

Jesus declared, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) But we’ve been taught about the “universal church” of believers and the “local church” of believers. And many readily claim membership in the universal church, while abandoning the local church. Is that valid?

The word “church” in the New Testament appears over 100 times. The Greek word ekklesia, simply means “an assembly of people.” In its meaning in Scripture, it clearly denotes a local gathering of Christ-followers who meet to hear God’s Word, to pray, worship, serve, and fellowship with each other. All the New Testament letters were written to or about local churches.

The Church is God’s Idea

The church was not man’s idea but Christ’s. When Saul was persecuting the church, Jesus so identifies with the church that He asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Furthermore, we need each other. We cannot grow in Christ without the input and relationships with other followers of Christ. To shun the church is to shun Christ. The writer of Hebrews warned us, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Going to church doesn’t make a person a Christian. But could it also be that claiming to be a Christian, yet forsaking Christ’s church may be a case of mistaken identity?

Scripture Reading: Acts 20:28-31a

Personal Application:  What has been your attitude and practice regarding church? If you’re not currently attending a local assembly of Christ-followers, I urge you to find a church where you can worship and serve. See what Christ does in and through you

  Wendell Morton and  Jim Grassi, D. Min.

We cherish any verse in Scripture that reminds us to keep focused and intentional about evangelism and discipleship. “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5