This week's "thought" comes to you from Jerry Conklin and is found in Voice Magazine, An Independent Church Journal.
It expresses many of my own sentiments in regard to the purpose of the gathering of the saints, or what we might call "attending church" (and what that spiritual habit is meant to accomplish in the lives of God's people). Not all will agree with everything he says, nor with what I say in summary, but it does offer a needed word of caution. Enjoy.
Why Go To Church?
"I received a mailing the other day, an advertisement for invitation cards to be used to invite people "back to God and church." The mailing asked this question in large, bold type: "Why Aren't People Going To Church?" It drew attention to an alarming statistic" "Right now, fewer than 20% of people in the United States regularly attend church." That's a startling number, especially considering the fact that about 80% of Americans identify themselves to be "Christian."
Why go to church? It's a good question. Many go out of a sense of obligation. Parents, friends, or relatives exercise some degree of influence and a person is led to dutifully attend. That was my situation when as an adolescent my mom took me and my siblings to the Catholic Church. I had no desire to be there -- I would have rather been fishing with my dad -- but I went because she made me.
Some go to church because they believe that going might somehow contribute to their favor with God and entry into heaven. They have been led to mistakenly believe that salvation is by being a good person and doing good works. "Good people go to heaven," they assume, and going to church is part of what makes a person a "good person." Religious cults operate according to this way of thinking, though many professing Christians think this way about church attendance as well. However, going to church doesn't make a person a Christian any more than going into a garage would make them a car.
In our day many churches have responded to this trend of decreasing church attendance by attempting to make church exciting, cool, and fun. They cite the need to be culturally relevant. They cater music to the lost and endeavor to make church both comfortable and non-demanding. Christ-less and cross-less "self-help" messages are substituted for the teaching of sound doctrine (II Timothy 4:3). The person and work of Christ are de-emphasized in an attempt to gain a hearing with those who have little interest in such matters (I Corinthians 1:23). Because so little attention is given to sound doctrine, or edification, these churches remain anemic and self-serving. Sinners are content to attend week after week without any conviction of sin.
The classic text on the matter of fellow-shipping together is in Hebrews 10:25, which reminds us not to be "forsaking the assembling together of ourselves." A part of the answer to the question, "Why go to church?" is answered by the context of the verse. The "assembling together" is for those who have made a "confession of hope" (Hebrews 10:23). Of what confession is the verse speaking? The confession of hope which accompanies one's faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. The text is addressed to those who have already trusted in Christ for salvation.
It has long been said that the church gathers for edification and scatters for evangelism. This statement represents a biblical perspective on the ministry of the local church. The gathering of believers on Sundays (or any other occasion) is primarily for the purpose of the edification (the building up) of the church. Though the church is commissioned to share the Gospel, the primary purpose of the assembling together is not evangelistic. That's not to say that it can't or won't happen. It is a good thing when an unsaved person finds his way into the assembly of believers and is saved as a result. But evangelism happens not as a result of the cultural relevance of the church to the lost, but the God-relevance of the saved. First Corinthians 14:24-25 speaks of the convicting influence on the unsaved of God's presence in the midst of His people.
The church gathers for edification (Heb. 10:24-25), and scatters for evangelism (Matt. 28:19-20). The believers who make up a local church constitute a team of missionaries and ambassadors for Christ, sent out to reach that particular community with the Gospel. Every believer in Christ lives amidst a unique group of family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and/or classmates. To the extent that the believer is growing, and walking with Christ, and deepening his understanding of the Gospel (and his ability to share it) he is sovereignly and strategically enabled and equipped to reach people that a church, pastor, or leaders could never reach."
Obviously it is not wrong to gear a worship service towards evangelistic proclamation and outreach. Surely every church does it on occasion -- or should! But to gear every service, every week, toward appealing to the felt needs, musical tastes, and likes or dislikes of unbelievers, really evidences a much deeper problem. It evidences a group of disciples that has stopped doing what each one should be doing throughout the week -- seeking to reach the lost.
One of the reasons many worship services have been habitually made the primary evangelistic outreach of the week is because the people in that church have stopped reaching out individually in their daily interactions. They have taken the responsibility that Christ laid squarely on their shoulders to reach out to others one-on-one, and have let the "church" do it for them. And in doing so they have not only twisted the purpose of worship gatherings, they have lost out on the blessing Paul speaks of In Philemon 1:6.
The answer to getting people back to church is not to make the worship service appealing to unbelievers, but to use it (as was intended) to edify and mobilize all the believers in the church to do what they should have been doing (should be doing) every week at every opportunity they get: 1.) Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). 2.) Proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins to all people (Luke 24:47). 3.) Preaching the kingdom and testifying to the Gospel of God's grace (Acts 20:24-25). 4.) Giving an answer to anyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in us with meekness and respect (I Peter 3:15). 5.) Making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).
The answer to the problem of a diminishing church attendance is not to make our gatherings into what they were never intended to be (gatherings so devoid of true heartfelt worship and substantial truth that few are truly saved and the saints find it hard to be challenged and grow), but gatherings that accomplish what God intended them to be (time to thank praise and adore Him, and be edified, equipped and encouraged from the Word in our faith as believers).
One man's take of the purpose of the gathering of believers -- Pastor Jeff