For more in the Basic Training series, click here.
It’s a disturbing trend that’s spreading like the plague among evangelicals who claim to be Believers:
“I’m a Christian but I refuse to attend church.”
These aren’t people who can’t attend church due to health reasons, caring for an ill or disabled loved one, who have no other choice but to work some Sundays, or who live in an area with no reasonably doctrinally sound church to attend. They’re people who could get plugged in to a decent local church, but intentionally shun the body of Christ.
Usually, the decision to opt out of church boils down to one of two scenarios: a) a Believer who was hurt by a previous church and yet isn’t ready to risk being hurt again or b) someone (often a false convert) who doesn’t grasp the concept that being joyfully joined to a local body of believers is part of what defines someone as a Christian.
I can tell some of y’all have already fired up your e-mail programs or mentally formulated a corrective comment. Hang on, and please read what I’m about to say so we’re all on the same page here. I am not saying, have never said, and will never say that attending church, joining a church, serving at a church, or being baptized into a church is what saves a person, even in part. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. Everybody with me? Scripture is clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that good works, such as church attendance, play zero part in a person’s salvation.
What I am saying is that one of the signs, or fruits, that someone is already saved is that she has a heartfelt love and affection for the things of God, which includes the gathering of the saints for fellowship, worship, encouragement, and edification. For a Believer, love for the bride of Christ is a natural extension of loving Christ, Himself. A Believer doesn’t have to be talked into attending church; there’s no place on earth he or she would rather be.
For a Believer, love for the bride of Christ is a natural extension of loving Christ, Himself. A Believer doesn’t have to be talked into attending church; there’s no place on earth he or she would rather be.Tweet
We’ve all been in difficult situations with difficult people at church that can hurt, sometimes deeply – believe me, I’ve been there – and can leave us in need of taking a few Sundays off to recover, or possibly the need to change to a healthier church. But if you’ve harbored antipathy toward the church, as a whole, for years, have never taken joy in fellowshipping and worshiping with fellow believers, don’t see any particular need for gathering with the Body, or are generally apathetic in your attitude toward church, you’re in a very dangerous place, spiritually, and you need to question your salvation. Those are symptoms of being lost, not fruit of being saved.
For Christians, being joined to a local church is not optional and non-negotiable. Why?
1. God Says So
Just in case the entirety of the Bible isn’t clear enough that God wants His people meeting together for fellowship, worship, and the Word, He says so very bluntly in Hebrews 10:24-25:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The HCSB puts it this way: “not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do,” and NASB says: “not forsaking our own assembling together.” God says we are not to neglect, stay away from, or forsake, the meeting of the church body. For anyone who claims to be a Christian, that reason alone ought to be good enough. When God tells us to do something, we do it. Period.
2. The Church is God’s Plan for Christians
God doesn’t need or want your help devising the best methodology for your life and growth as a Christian. He already has a plan. He already established that plan. That plan is the church. There’s no plan B nor any cafeteria-style options. If you’re a Christian, God’s plan for you is to be a faithful part of a local body of Believers. The Bible never suggests that it’s OK for you to be a “Lone Ranger Christian.” There are no explicit statements to this effect, nor even one example of a New Testament Christian who lived life apart from the church. The New Testament assumes Christians will be part of a church. If not, the majority of Matthew through Revelation would be moot. If you reject membership in the local church, you’re rejecting God’s Word and His way in favor of your own way.
If you reject membership in the local church, you’re rejecting God’s Word and His way in favor of your own way.Tweet
3. Jesus Values the Church
You claim to love and follow Jesus, right? Well, Jesus founded the church. Jesus is the head of the church. Jesus loves the church. Jesus died for the church. Jesus is the Savior of the church. Jesus nourishes, cherishes, and sanctifies the church. How could anyone claim to love and follow Jesus and yet cavalierly toss aside something He values so much that He laid His life down for it? If you really love Jesus, you’ll value the things He values, and, clearly, He values the church.
If you really love Jesus, you’ll value the things He values, and, clearly, He values the church.Tweet
4. Being Joined to the Church Is an Indicator of Salvation
First John 2:18-19 makes no bones about it. Forsaking the church is an indicator that you’re not saved:
…now many antichrists have come…They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
Want to make it plain that you’re not of Christ? Step one is to leave the church.
5. The Church is the Dispensary for the Word and the Ordinances
The preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In order to preserve their purity and sanctity, God established a hierarchical structure of ecclesiastical authority and placed the responsibility for administering Scripture and the ordinances with the church, not isolated individuals. Do we have women’s Bible studies and Sunday School classes? Of course. But only under the oversight of our pastors and elders, as an outflow of, and in keeping with, the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Do we share the gospel with the lost we encounter during the week? You bet! Our churches enable us to do so by training us in the Word, and we bring new Believers back to our churches so that they may be discipled.
6. The “One Anothers”
Love one another. Comfort one another. Forgive one another. Serve one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. Have you ever stopped to think which people “one another” is referring to? It’s easy to see when you look at these verses in context. It’s our brothers and sisters in Christ. All of the New Testament “one anothers” are written to the church. You need brothers and sisters to minister the “one anothers” to you, and your brothers and sisters need you to minister the “one anothers” to them. We cannot properly carry out the “one anothers” outside the church because they were meant to be practiced first and foremost within the church.
We cannot properly carry out the “one anothers” outside the church because they were meant to be practiced first and foremost within the church.Tweet
7. Sheep Need Shepherds
The Bible often uses sheep as a metaphor for God’s people. And since we know that God is the author of Scripture, we know God handpicked that metaphor to describe us. Ever notice that God never describes a sheep wandering off on its own as though that were a good thing?
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?
Sheep who leave the flock to make their own way in the world are in danger from wolves, the pitfalls of sin, and any number of other perils, especially the trials and tragedies of life. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received from distraught Christian women in dire personal circumstances who desperately need pastoral counsel. Sadly, when I tell them I’m not equipped to help them with such a complicated problem from so far away and that they need to make an appointment with their pastor for one on one, face to face counseling, the response is often, “I haven’t been going to church. I don’t have a pastor.”
We need the protection of the sheep pen, the brotherhood of the flock, and the leadership of our shepherds, our pastors, to help guide us. God knew we needed those things. That is one reason He established the church and created the position of pastor. Christ is our Good Shepherd, but until He returns, He has appointed godly men to watch over and protect the flock in His absence:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
And he gave…the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
So I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:1-4
You can’t shepherd yourself. That internet pastor you listen to – even the most doctrinally sound one – can’t shepherd you. You need to be part of a flock led by a shepherd who knows you and cares for your soul.
Do you take joy in gathering regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ for worship, the Word, the ordinances, building one another up, and serving one another? If not, the solution is not to leave the church altogether. The solution is to examine your heart against Scripture to discover whether or not you’re truly saved, and then to find a healthy church you can pour yourself into. Christ has given believers the local church as a blessing and a benefit, not a burden and a bore. Love and embrace this precious gift He has lavished on you.
What the Bible Says About Church Membership
Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly
7 reasons worshipers need the church at The Cripplegate
Mailbag #49: Home Groups Over Church at 9Marks
My Jesus, I Love You; Your Bride I Despise! at Reformation21
Why You May Be Tempted To Neglect Your Church by Tim Challies
Five Essential Reasons for Christians to Gather in Public Worship at Ligonier
Prioritize Your Church by Tim Challies
Is a “Churchless Christian” an Oxymoron? at Ligonier
The Plight of Churchless Christians at The Cripplegate
40 reasons to be part of a local church at The Cripplegate
Church Attendance Is Not Optional on the G3 Podcast
Is it Necessary for Me to Join a Local Church? at G3 Ministries
25 thoughts on “Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians”
Thank you for the message, great words of wisdom.
Some very valid words. As usual, Michelle, you have put some time and thought to write some encouraging instructive words. I think it is harder these days to find a doctrinally sound church, and I’m glad you put the caveat in the first paragraph about that. Sometimes attending a church where the Gospel is preached however there are differences in other areas is the best we can do. I take membership vows seriously, and concede there may be times where being a long time attender is the only option until church polity issues are resolved. Another good post, my friend!
Thanks, Robin :0)
I have been wrestling with this for a while now after having left my church of 10 years (Calvary Chapel). Since our head pastor is basically untouchable (no appointments etc.), I emailed the assistant Pastor, who I have known and served with in a variety of ministries over the years. I wrote out my concerns, with links to video clips showing the problems with Bethel/Hillsong worship, showing how a frequent guest Pastor who is a personal friend of our pastor has been teaching from his latest book at Prosperity Gospel/False teaching churches and is now calling his wife a “pastor” and has her teach from the pulpit (Levi Lusko). The pastor I emailed it to responded with a “yes, I understand. He said he would meet with others and get back with me. He has not gotten back with me about it.
I emailed and spoke for over an hour with our head Worship pastor. He agreed with some of the concerns but explained that he simply separates the songs from the writer/singer etc. Our church used to teach the word, week in and week out, with consistency, rightly dividing. However, in the past few years, there has been a huge shift in Calvary Chapel as a whole and my church in particular. It seemed to really start when a worship pastor (we have 3) was hired who has a clear word of faith background. He sings almost exclusively Bethel songs, frequently dragging out songs for several minutes to hype the congregation emotionally. It grieves my heart. I have learned of many others who were long time (10-25 years) members, are searching for a new church. All are grieved as I am.
So, I’ve felt like I’ve been going through a season of “detox” – no Christian radio (KLOVE, etc), no reading of books by “famous” Christians etc. Just simply studying God’s word, praying and searching for a church in my town that has not been completely infiltrated by all this false teaching. It is difficult as the poison of Bethel/Hillsong, Beth Moore, Lysa Terkheurst, the entire “unity” movement have creeped in to each church I look at. If it’s not in the worship, it’s in the women’s ministries and especially the bookstores or libraries. I’ve listened to countless sermons and have been shocked to hear even longtime, established churches/pastors are making way for the “new and the young”, which doesn’t mean bad except the influence is always the same.
So, I ask for your prayers for all of the people like me, who do not desire to “forsake the assembly” but are desperately trying to find a church to attend. I am very thankful for longtime christian friends with whom I have deep relationships – they encourage, exhort and pray with and for me.
Thanks so much for your ministry!
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Hi Tammy- I’ve been loosely following what’s going on in CC over the last few years and how some of the doctrinally sound CC churches have split off to maintain biblical integrity. I know it’s got to be difficult.
In case it would be of any help, there may be some resources in this article that could be useful.
I’m sure you already know this, but for others who may be reading this comment, I just want to encourage you to remember that there’s no perfect church out there. If you’re considering a church that seems fairly decent, doctrinally, but maybe has a Priscilla Shirer study going on or something like that, try to find out if the pastor is trying to correct the problems or is encouraging the problems. Sometimes, a pastor is working toward trying to get a church healthy but it’s a gradual process. He can’t put out every fire all at once. If it’s a church with a few problems that the pastor is trying to correct, he, and that church, may need someone just like you to come in and join in the work.
Blessings to you and hope you find a great new church family soon :0)
Thanks for your encouragement! Yes, I realize there is not a perfect church and am focusing on the teaching. I think I get really hung up on the Bethel/Hillsong, “Holy Spirit come”, endlessly repeated, emotional singing. I absolutely believe that it was through this music that my church has been led astray. When I talked with my worship pastor, who I’ve known for years, he was even saying how difficult it is because everything promoted for worship leaders now is run and controlled by Bethel/Hillsong through the organization Worship Together. He said people want to sing in church what they are hearing on Christian radio. Your link to Gabe Huges and his article on Christian Radio really helped me. It clarified and validated my concerns.
I, myself, have had to repent of singing along, buying cd’s and encouraging others through this very music, not realizing what I was actually singing, what they were actually talking about.
The most difficult thing about all of this is dealing with other believers who are offended and just don’t understand. I have found out too, that sadly, most do not want to know any evidence of this false teaching. I think it’s easier to just stay in a “comfortable” church. I know that’s what I did until I couldn’t take it anymore. Then, as I pulled away and began this “detox” process, I was shocked to see things so clearly. As I said, I’ve had to repent of allowing myself to be deceived.
Again, thank you for your ministry.
Saying, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t want to go to church” is as ridiculous as saying, “I’m a soldier. But I’m not into that army thing.”
This comment here: Usually, the decision to opt out of church boils down to one of two scenarios: a) a believer who was hurt by a previous church and yet isn’t ready to risk being hurt again or b) someone (often a false convert) who doesn’t grasp the concept that being joyfully joined to a local body of believers is part of what defines someone as a Christian.” That’s all I have to read to know you don’t know what you are even talking about. So sad you have to write an entire blog post and shame those of us who know better. Maybe get off your high horse and talk to someone who has left before you make asinine assumptions about why we’ve left.
You are victim blaming and that’s pathetic! If this is how you view those of us who’ve left, why would we ever come back? Maybe get educated by going outside the walls of your precious building and see why people have left before you make judgement like this. How damaging.
Elle- Your argument is not with me, but with Scripture. If your argument were biblical, you’d be able to back it up with chapter and verse Scripture. There’s nowhere in the Bible that says it’s OK to reject the church because you’ve been hurt by it. You are judging me by making the assumption that I’ve never been hurt by the church and am therefore heartless to those who have. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. My family has been hurt deeply by more than one church. But your experiences and mine still don’t serve as an excuse to rebel against God’s word. People who are genuinely born again obey God’s word despite their experiences and feelings.
I would strongly encourage you to examine your heart against the measuring stick of Scripture not your feelings, experiences, and opinions, to discover whether or not you’re actually born again, because the fruit you’ve exhibited in your comments here and previously indicates that you do not understand the gospel and are not saved (1 Corinthians 2:14, John 14:23-24, 1 John 2:4-6). I’m not saying that to be mean, but because I’m concerned for your eternity. Simply saying or feeling that you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you are one.
Please, repent of your sin and place your faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to save you and set you free from the things that have hurt you. You don’t have to live life as a victim any more.
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Thank you Michelle for well thought out articles and biblically sound advice and teaching. You rock!! So any dangerous heresies and doctrines are creeping into our churches and we must know our Bible well. New age, seeker friendly and health, wealth and prosperity heresies are destroying our churches and with sound Biblical teaching, it’s going to get worse. Gods word stands true!
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Thank you for sharing this. I have been praying for a long time to find a church home, and recently it’s been on my heart a lot to be with other believers. We have attended a couple of different churches irregularly for the past few years, and it is so important to me to put down roots somewhere and have fellowship with the body of Christ.
Hi Elizabeth- I know how hard it is to find a good church home. You might want to check out the “Searching for a new church?” tab at the top of this page for some helpful resources. Taking a moment to pray that God will lead you to just the right church.
Once Christ has saved an individual, he or she becomes a part of Christ’s “called out ones.” Throughout scripture this is the definition the apostles use to describe Christ’s body of believers, the ekklesia. Truly, Christ established His ekklesia, gave Himself for his ekklesia, loves and sustains His ekklesia. And those who “leave His ekklesia” were never part of His ekklesia, per I John 2 18-19. It is good to be with other believers. I Corinthians 14 clearly describes what these gatherings should look like and the benefits of this kind of gathering.
Care must be taken, however, to always define “church” as the ekklesia, the people of Christ, and not a location, a place, a building. Phrases like “attend church”, “live in an area with no church”, “no place on earth she’d rather be”, or “bring back (people) to our churches” subtly shift the Biblical meaning of a distinct people called out of the world by Christ to a structure, a building. Scripture is clear that God does not dwell in any kind of a building made with human hands (Acts 7:48.) Furthermore, in Christ’s conversation with the woman at the well in John 4 he makes clear that the time is coming when worshipers will worship God neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem (physical locations) but will worship Him in spirit and in truth, for He is seeking such worshipers as these.
The context of the Hebrews 10 passage indicates a persecuted ekklesia afraid to interact with each other out of fear. “Let us continue to hold fast to the hope (expectation) we confess without wavering for the one who made the promise is faithful. And let us take thought of how to spur one another on (inciting) to love and good works, not abandoning our meeting (this word has a singular ending in the Greek) as is the custom of some but rather encouraging one another all the more since you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25 Mounce Interlinear)
We are called to compare everything we hear AND everything we have always done in the name of Christ to His word. Scripture and a passing familiarity with “church history” might necessitate a closer look at what we “do each Sunday” in our “places of worship”. Is all of this scriptural or long held, man-made custom? The answers are vitally important with eternal consequences.
Who are our teachers? Matt. 23:8-12, John 14:26, IJohn 2:27
Our shepherd is Christ. John 10:10-12 Ezekiel 34:11-14
Christ’s call to the ekklesia: Rev. 18:4
FYI. For nearly 30 years I was a member of a Bible-believing church. I went to church at least 3 times a week. I did not go to church so that God was pleased with me; I went to church to learn about God. God gives believers guidance in what is a “True Church”. I have yet to find a church that understands the word, “MUST”.
God is a Spirit and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.
I believe that Christians are not to associate with churches that have errored from the truth!
[1Timothy 6:5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.]
The Bible clearly instructs the believer what to look for in a “True Church”, sadly, most Christians are not taught what to look for in a,”True Church”
If the Church you attend is not the pillar and ground of the truth, then it is not a, “House of God”.
There are some great resources under the “Searching for a new church?” tab at the top of this page for finding a doctrinally sound church and what to look for in a church. :0)
Good morning Michelle, and thank you for the thoughtful article.
One of the reasons I think some are not attending a biblical assembly is pride and laziness. If people don’t agree with me then I’m not coming. What about patience and trusting the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of others? Isn’t wisdom a gift?
We could all benefit from learning to patiently instruct those who disagree. As long as the assembly’s doctrine isn’t heretical, we need to hang in there and let iron sharpen iron. We can all learn from each other.
Unfortunately, many of us, including myself at times, don’t want to put the effort it will require to produce unity. Unity takes hard work. It takes sacrifice of time and energy. But it’s time and energy that’s worth it, esp compared to the option of isolating yourself to your own demise.
Thank you again for your article. My wife has mentioned she really appreciated your writing as well.
Hi Michael- Thank you (and your wife) for your kind words. I completely agree with you. I encourage women not to jump ship the moment there’s a problem in the church, but to try to be a catalyst for biblical change. At the same time, there comes a point at which you’ve been praying and trying for an extended period of time, and the leadership continues to dig its heels in, accuse you of being divisive, slanders you, puts you under “church discipline,” is spiritually abusive, etc. At that point this “church” is not a place where you can grow, be fed, and serve, but is actually working against your need for those things, and it’s time to leave and find a healthy church to join.
Is it biblically acceptable for one to regularly fellowship with a congregation and not be an official member?
It might or might not be. My question would be – why don’t you want to join and become an official member?
Joining a local church has a lot to do with trust . I’m convinced that the assembly I’m joined to is sincere about following Christ, loves me and my family, and the elders (9) have my best interest at heart. But I know that’s not everyone’s experience , and sometimes the pain of being hurt esp through a Christian church is hard to overcome 😦
Hi Mike – I totally get that, because I was in that exact same situation myself not that long ago. So the answer would be to visit the church until you know whether or not you can trust it and the people in it. If so, you join it. If not, you find a church that is trustworthy and join that one.
After 5 years I reread this post. It’s definitely aged well, Michelle.
Thanks, Rachel. I’m glad it was helpful. :0)