Do I have to go to church?


Do I Have to Go to Church?

By:  Barry Cooper

I have better things to do than go to church. Do I have to go to be a Christian?

Church attendance in the West, even among Christians, is falling. According to a recent study, attendance at church services in any given week has declined among Christians by 9 percent since 1991. Now only a minority of Christians (47 percent) can be found at church during a typical week.1

In a culture that sees independence and self-reliance as hallmarks of a truly successful person, church can feel like an imposition on our time and energy. We ask if we have to go to church in the same reluctant way we might ask, “Do I have to go to the dentist?”

But what if followers of Jesus only truly flourished when in community with other like-minded believers? What if true fulfillment could only be found in serving them rather than ourselves?

Church in the Bible

The Bible certainly makes a strong case for being at church regularly. Jesus himself assumes that his followers will gather together habitually in self-governing “churches.”2 The writer of the book of Hebrews is explicit: “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.”3

According to the Bible, believers should meet together regularly so that they can

  • hear God’s Word taught faithfully;4
  • pray together;5
  • be accountable to one another;6
  • encourage one another;7
  • use God-given spiritual gifts for the benefit of fellow believers;8
  • exercise church discipline with the aim of restoring a person who is caught in a particular sin;9
  • support one another in suffering;10
  • rejoice with each other;11
  • commemorate Jesus’ death and resurrection;12
  • serve one another;13
  • bear with one another;14
  • offer hospitality to one another;15
  • love one another;16 and
  • demonstrate the power and goodness of Jesus to a watching world.17

This list is far from exhaustive. As you read the New Testament, it’s hard to miss how many commands contain the phrase “one another.”

The New Testament describes each gathered group of believers as “the body of Christ.” Just as with a human body, each part of the body of Christ needs the others.18 Each believer is a “hand” or an “eye” or a “foot,” and just as it would be self-defeating for the foot to say, “I don’t like this leg; I’m leaving,” so it is when a believer stops attending church or refuses to settle in one church. The church suffers and so does the believer.

Church as God Sees It

Theologian and pastor Mark Dever tells a story that sums up why meeting regularly with the same family of believers is so vital. He and a Christian friend attended church together, but his friend came just to the morning service—and even then only halfway through service when it was time for the sermon.

Dever asked his friend if he’d thought about committing himself to the church. The friend responded, “Why would I join the church? If I join them, I think they would just slow me down spiritually.”

Dever responded with another question: “Have you ever considered that maybe God wants you to link arms with those other people, and that perhaps even though they might slow you down a little, you might help to speed them up—and that that’s part of God’s plan for how we’re supposed to live as Christians together?”19

If we really saw church as God sees it, even with all the “inconveniences” it can entail, it would be one of our deepest joys. The theologian Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, writing about the book of Acts in the Bible, makes this observation:

What an utter denial it is of the whole of the New Testament, this foolish suggestion that one service a Sunday is enough—one that takes place at nine oʼclock in the morning, to get rid of it, as it were, in order that you can then really go and enjoy yourselves and have real happiness in looking at the television or in rushing to the seaside or in playing golf! But what happens when people are baptized with the Holy Spirit—as you see throughout Acts—is that they begin to want to be together, to get together as often as they can. The believers in Acts steadfastly continued talking about these things, singing together, praising God together—every day. This was first above everything else. Everything else came second; even their work was just something they had to do. It was right that they should do their work, of course, but this community of praise was the thing that meant life to them, that meant joy and salvation.20

No Question

Seen in this light, the question, “Do I have to go to church?” is almost comical. We might equally ask, “Do I have to watch my favorite sports team?” “Do I have to sleep with my beautiful wife?” Or, while drowning in the Atlantic, “Do I have to get into this life raft?”

Our local churches—to the extent that they are seeking to know Christ and live out God’s Word—are unique, irreplaceable, God-given gifts to every believer. To withdraw from them is to deny others our love and rob ourselves of joy.

  1. “Barna Study of Religious Change Since 1991 Shows Significant Changes by Faith Group,” Barna Group, accessed December 16, 2013,
  2. The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Matthew 18:15–19.
  3. Ibid., Hebrews 10:24–25, emphasis added.
  4. Ibid., Acts 2:42, 20:7; 1 Timothy 4:13.
  5. Ibid., Acts 2:42.
  6. Ibid., Matthew 18:15; Hebrews 13:17.
  7. Ibid., 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13.
  8. Ibid.,1 Corinthians 12:4–11.
  9. Ibid., Matthew 18:15–17; Galatians 6:1.
  10. Ibid., 1 Corinthians 12:26.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid., Acts 2:42.
  13. Ibid., Galatians 5:13.
  14. Ibid., Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13.
  15. Ibid., 1 Peter 4:9.
  16. Ibid., 1 Peter 1:22, 3:8; 1 John 3:11; 2 John 1:5.
  17. Ibid., Ephesians 3:10–11.
  18. Ibid., 1 Corinthians 12:12–27.
  19. Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 155–156, emphasis added.
  20. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1984), 102, emphasis added.
  21. Photo Credit: Carolyn Lagattuta /

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16 replies

  1. Or I might say, “yes, you have to go to church. There’s a war on and the church is an outpost on the front lines. You’re needed.”

    …that’s the tame version. I decided to spare you how my old drill sergeant would have said it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Amazing..and yes…i would surely avoid any churches that meet one day a week..i’d rather have fellowship with believers nearby

    Liked by 1 person

  3. well I disagree with some of your posit here.

    the bible says we are not to forsake the gathering together with other believers…

    and we are the church and we bring our sanctuary with us.

    the american church is often (not always – but often) set up like a business and there is not church membership in the bible.

    we are the church and we bring our sanctuary with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand your sentiment, but your conclusion is lacking. Yes, we are the Church (the body of Christ in which the Holy Spirit dwells), but there is more to this our personal “temples.” What we are not to forsake is something outside of us, bigger than us, even something of which we are a part, but not the whole. My arguments against your position would be whole books of the Bible: Acts, Ephesians, Galatians, 1&2 Timothy, etc…. even the first few chapters of Revelation. In these books/letters we read of the formation of the New Testament version of congregational church gathering; the need for and how to determine qualified leadership; and chastisment by Jesus of seven different congregations called “churches” (see Revelation). So, there’s more to it than us bringing “our sanctuary with us.”

      Liked by 3 people

      • well I just personally think that so many American Churches are run like a business and while I know that the gathering and assembling together can and must be modified for cultural and societal differences – like the early church meeting in the court and contributing the way they did was very needed at that time – but I feel like so many churches today are institutions and as such they miss out on the inclusivity and love that the world needs more of. Some – not all – get lost in a Christian Bubble and build these massive structures that become places of activity.

        I think you raised many good points – or whoever wrote this article did –
        but someone once told me that that small house churches in China- where twenty or so meet – are another model of assembling together for strength.
        it really is a layered topic and I almost regret leaving a comment because it would take too long to really explain my views on the problem with megachurches – or even smaller ones that will not include you unless you tithe – and seriously – can you over look the way the tithe is misrepresented – it was an old Jewish plan for giving – that led to more than 30% and had to do with first fruits -and Jews today follow a different policy – and yet – the American church (many – not all) connect it to membership and present it as a mandate – they pick and choose parts of the OT and…

        well i digress – but best wishes to you – and may the God of everything – in Jesus name – bring out any truth all of us need to see – for HE is the one who can lift any blinders and He builds his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it – but this does not necessarily mean the church as a business model the way we see it today – often religious and separated from reaching out – maybe with formal planned outreach – but it is not wonder attendance is on the decline. change is needed.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I can’t “like” this enough. I’m sending it to some people close to me. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Truth in Palmyra and commented:

    Just a great article from reposted on James’ place.
    See you in a few hours!

    Blessings and enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m writing as someone who has had to miss church too many times because of chronic migraines and other chronic pain illnesses. I am always utterly thankful for days when I can attend church and worship with my church family, and thankfully today is one of those days! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Just what I was looking for.



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