Do Christians have to attend a local church?

The debate of whether or not church attendance matters to Christianity has become all the more relevant in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the question of the local church and its relevance to Christian life must certainly be clarified. We can confidently conclude from the scriptures that assembling with a local church is not only relevant to the Christian life but also of absolute necessity.


Many rebuttals to this argument usually assume the thinking that the church is not a physical place and therefore cannot be tied down to one location. The foundation of this is true. Local church membership does not make anyone a Christian nor does God measure your merit based on your Sunday service attendance. Our identity as Christ followers is something that solely invades the individual and personal dimension. Once this occurs each Christian is added to the invisible, universal, and spiritually built church. Jesus attests that the church is of the kingdom of God that cannot be observed in one physical location (Luke 17:20-21). However, Jesus is not alluding to the fact that the church will have no visible form. What the New Testament describes is a church that is both invisible yet visible, spiritual yet tangible.


The scriptural emphasis for church attendance and membership is clearly seen in the passages that specifically instruct us to gather with other fellow believers for a combination of the following reasons:

  • Obedience
  • Edification & Spiritual Growth
  • Loving the Family of God
  • Exercise of Spiritual Gifts


Church Attendance is Obedience


The primary reason we attend and join a local church is because this is the Lord’s command of us. Hebrews 10:24-25 states “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.” There is a direct command to gather with the Lord’s people and not forsake this activity of gathering. It is clear from this passage that there is an in-person and communal aspect to this command. Therefore, in obedience to this command we are necessarily offering ourselves continually for the glory of God in the church of Jesus Christ. This is the only institution He promised to build, and our obedience affirms His ongoing work (Matthew 16:18).


Church Attendance Brings Edification & Spiritual Growth


Learning to become a Christian in isolation is not only discouraging but can also be dangerous. Once you become a believer, there is a need for discipleship in the knowledge of Christ so that sanctification can rightly progress (Philippians 1:9-10). If you are surrounded by no one who is more mature than you, you are vulnerable to deception; the believing of false doctrines and even false teachers. Within a local church God has raised up qualified pastors and leaders to watch over your souls (Hebrews 13:17). Having someone over you will ensure your walk with the Lord is continually maturing and moving from one glory to the next (Ephesians 4:13-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18). It is for your own edification that you submit to a local church. The early church operated solely from the basis of multiple local churches. Through these local assemblies, Paul and the rest of the apostles were able to measure the spiritual growth of God’s people. It was to these local places that the New Testament letters were written, and we see specific spiritual instructions given for the growth of believers. Thus, we continue to measure ourselves in the same manner by applying the scriptures to ourselves within the local church.


Church Attendance is for Loving the Family of God


The Bible contains many passages that urge us to love our brothers and sisters in the faith. It seems clear from the language used that this kind of love is only possible through the activity of a local church gathering. The earlier passage from Hebrews states that we should “consider how we might spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. The word “spur” indicates a strong incitement and even a provoking into a certain kind of response or behaviour. Similarly, 1 John 3:18 states that we should not love in merely speech but also in deed and truth. Further, we constantly see phrases such as “bear with each other”, “forgive one another”, “be compassionate toward others” etc. These kinds of loving “one another” behaviours are fully possible within the confines of meeting with brothers and sisters on a continual basis. Essentially, the Bible already assumes that God’s people would be in constant interaction with each other to display the love of Christ to the world. The Lord stated that we would be known as His disciples if we love one another (John 13:34-35). It should be a clear longing within the Christian heart to dwell amongst the people of God. This is evident in even the apostle Paul’s affections and longing to see the various churches he was writing to. Loving the family of God is fundamentally an in-person and local pursuit.


Church Attendance is for the Use of Spiritual Gifts


Lastly, we must understand that attending church is not an idle or passive activity. Some have learned to view church as nothing more than a religious ritual and in doing so propagate a kind of legalism. This is far from scripture’s view of our church participation. When we commit to a local church it is for the dual benefit of receiving and rendering service to our brothers and sisters in Christ. The duality of this participation is vital, and we dare not settle on emphasizing one more than the other. Both are necessary. This service occurs through the church body exercising the use of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Each member is given a variety of gifts that work to build and edify the church (Romans 12:5-6; 1 Peter 4:10; 1 Corinthians 12:4-5). These gifts are not reserved just for church leaders, they are given to each member of Christ’s body. In fact, Christ raises up leaders so that they might equip God’s people for the work of service (Ephesians 4:12). It is in discovering your spiritual gift that you can envision your role in the Lord’s church and serve to help build up the body.


It is clear that we do have a calling to gather with the Lord’s people. Forsaking this gathering will compromise our obedience to Christ, our own spiritual growth and our responsibility to our church brothers and sisters. May the Spirit of God renew within us a deep longing to become His church and live out the will of Father. For by His grace, He chooses to accomplish this will by gathering and sending His children. 

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