When I was a child, church attendance was a given. My family had a highly set routine â€“ get up at the same time, put on one of the same two "churchâ€ť outfits, be in the parking lot just before Sunday school. Itâ€™s easy to go to church regularly when you are a child and have no real choice in the matter. When you get a bit older it gets tougher. And when both social pressures and technology provide you with so many tempting alternatives, mustering up the energy to get up on a Sunday morning, wash your face, make yourself presentable, and show up in person can seem like an even taller order.
The cases AGAINST physically going to church are numerous and persuasive. I think the strongest of them (and the one I bought into for a few years into my adulthood when compulsory church attendance was no longer so compulsory) is the idea that the real work lies outside of the church, not in it. When you look out at the staggering amount of people in need of food, shelter, love, and understanding it can feel hypocritical to get in your pressed shirt or modest but nice dress and spend an hour or so nodding along to a familiar sermon. There is so much work to be done and so much more Christians can be doing that it seems frivolous to "preach to the choirâ€ť as it were.
And then there are all the shiny new ways to connect with the church community. Considering the convenience of streamed services and social media prayer circles, actually showing up to the same building feels a little old fashioned. Why endure the stress of getting the kids up and ready to go for a 9:00 AM Sunday school class when you could let them tune in while eating their breakfast?
But for as persuasive as those options can be, can they really replace the experience of going to church? And I want to be careful here, because Iâ€™m not saying those alternatives are bad. As Christians we absolutely have a duty to put our values into action out in the real world. If your Christianity begins at 9:00AM on Sunday and ends when you walk out the door of the church, then you need to do some reflection. And streamed services and alternative long-distance forms of communion and sharing are absolutely valid, especially for our brothers and sisters with mobility disabilities, compromised immune systems, or other impediments.
But for those of us blessed with the ability to attend, the church is about more than saying hi to the regulars who sit in your pew, and there is a lot of value in gathering under Godâ€™s roof even in this modern age.
The church offers us something we canâ€™t get anywhere else â€“ shared love in Christ. Itâ€™s a place to go to spend energy, but a place to be revitalized. When the stresses of the world are bearing down on us, when everyday seems to bring some new catastrophic headline or calamity, when you start to wonder what Godâ€™s plan could possibly be, itâ€™s the church that will lift you back up by reminding you that this is a shared experience. We all feel hopeless now and then and it can sometimes be hard to see the big picture, but there is one and it is always moving in Godâ€™s direction.
"Preaching to the choirâ€ť might sound like a waste of time, but you need to remember that the choir is made up of real, feeling, hurting people. People who need spiritual nourishment, the kind you can only get from communion with your brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to feel that bond, that love. Without it, we face a lonely and daunting world.
And just as we as Christians have a real duty to put our values to action in the street, we also have a duty to put them into practice in the church. The church is an institution made and maintained by countless individuals. Every Sunday school lesson you nodded off to when you were young? It was written by a church member who cared enough to give their time and energy each week to plan a lesson and the strength and determination to get it across to a room of bored and fidgeting 10 year oldâ€™s. Every bulletin board you see with prayer group dates, help-phones to call, food basket services, and such is a testament to the care your brothers and sisters have for you and each other. Every cup of free coffee you drink, every stale grocery store doughnut you eat, was brought in by someone who wanted to make sure you were comfortable and alert and ready to receive the message and fellowship of Christ. That is love. Real love.
No church is perfect like no Christian is perfect. There are going to be times when we let each other down, when we feel like weâ€™re either not doing enough, or doing too much of the wrong thing. But that isnâ€™t a reason to give up on it. Itâ€™s a reason to stay and put in the work to do better. We are all the beneficiaries of a million tiny acts of kindness and care performed by people who never had to lift a finger if they didnâ€™t want to and who likely never received any kind of compensation or even praise for their efforts. Itâ€™s our duty to honor those acts by keeping their spirit alive, by contributing a few of our own. And that is why the church can and will never be replaced.