It’s one of the most common statements you’ll hear regarding church attendance: “I don’t need church to have a relationship with God.”
What’s at the heart of this contentious remark? While one can certainly “have a relationship” of some kind with God without attending a church, will they ever fully experience His presence here on earth without the local church body God has provided? Will they be able to glorify God as He calls without it? I would argue that the answer to both of these questions is no.
The misconception about the necessity of church may be rooted in a basic misunderstanding of the definition of what the church is meant to be. Readers here know that the local church is simply a gathering of believers united to worship God and share life together. Unfortunately, one’s past experience with a particular kind of church group, building, or denomination may have tainted their view. Furthermore, many were never educated on the purpose of the local church, so they lack the insight to see the deeper reasons for attending.
As Christians, however, maintaining close relational and community connections with brothers and sisters is a vital part of our membership in the family of God. How do we know this is true? While the Bible doesn’t explicitly say, “Go to church,” it would be impossible to live out much of what is written there without doing that.
Scripture is the absolute guiding light for Christians.
Thus, we cannot ignore the divine calls to meet together (Hebrews 10:25), confess our sins to each other (James 5:16), and devote ourselves to teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42).
We know from the Bible that God never intended for our lives to be lived in solitude. Even God Himself was in communion within the Trinity when He created the world. He quickly created a human partner for Adam, and since then, humans have flourished best within faith communities. It is the natural order of things.
Statistically speaking, those who attend church are happier, healthier, more generous, and more satisfied with their lives. We may not have data for much of history, but it’s sensible to assume similar results impacted previous generations as well.
We were created to live and thrive with fellow believers.
Thus, a faith community is a necessary tool for living out our Christian lives, strengthening our faith, and developing a deeper relationship with God. Part of this is just obedience to Scripture’s clear call to gather in worship and fellowship.
The idea of church as an obligation seems to trip many people up.
But the church is so much more than that. When Christians fail to attend church, they deprive the local body of their unique spiritual gifts, attributes that God has equipped them with to serve and honor in this way. The Bible says that individual Christians are vital parts of “one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12), each one having a different “function” (Romans 12:4). We are “fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Ephesians 2:19), something that isn’t possible to live out unless we’re actually in communion with others in God’s household.
The local church simply isn’t complete or as functional without every Christian participating in it.
Attending church, however, is not just showing up on Sundays for an hour. It is an intentional commitment to a group of Christians throughout the week, whereby you meet together, pray for one another, provide for each other, and become sanctified by the Holy Spirit through those relationships.
If “going to church” is just an obligatory act of legalism, you will not experience what God intends when He calls you there. When you understand the history of the local church, the purpose of engaging in biblical community, and the responsibility you have to others as a member, going to church is no longer about you. It’s about God, others, and living out the Edenic ideal to the best of our abilities here on earth.
As Sam Allberry writes, the local church is the “embodiment” of the universal Church, functioning like “sovereign territory in a foreign land—a small part of heavenly territory in this world.” If we want to be closer to God, the best place we can be is at church.
Ericka Andersen is a freelance journalist who has been writing professionally for over fifteen years. She is the author of Leaving Cloud 9 and a regular contributor to Christianity Today and WORLD. She has also been published on topics of faith in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and more. Ericka is also the host of the popular Worth Your Time podcast. She is a wife and the mother of two children, and she lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the author of Reason to Return: Why Women Need the Church and the Church Needs Women.