Does Church Attendance Matter?2
Church leaders at a large church in Arizona recently ran a study of their congregation. They found that young families attended church an average of 1.6 weekends per month (out of a possible 4.3 opportunities per month). In addition, only 20% of their members attended 3 times or more per month (David Murrow, Patheos).
Church attendance in America is on the decline--that is no secret. But biblically speaking, does church attendance really matter?
Firstly, let me remind the reader that we are not justified before a holy God by attending a certain number of church gatherings per month. We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Nothing else is required...just faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8; Galatians 2:16).
Secondly, church attendance does matter! When the Church gathers at church, we are reminded of our union with Christ and experience the benefits of that union.
It is popular in Evangelicalism to emphasize our personal relationship with Christ, and rightly so. But, we should not consider this a private relationship with Christ. The very presence of Christ is promised to us in a different way when the Body gathers.
Where is Christ’s presence promised?
Christ’s presence is promised where two or more are gathered in his name. Matthew 18:20 is specifically speaking of the gospel work of mutual forgiveness. But there is a principle we can extrapolate. When the Body of Christ gathers to declare, experience, and extend forgiveness, Christ is present. This is what we do on Sunday morning--we celebrate the gospel and all of its benefits together.
Christ’s presence is promised through the public proclamation of the Word. During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther emphasized the preaching of the Word as a place where where the real presence of Christ is found:
Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing....On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word, as he says in Amos [8:11]. (Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, 1520)
We can all read the Word on our own, but there is a transcendent power in the Word spoken and heard that goes beyond mere reading (Romans 10:14; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Galatians 3:1). The Lord has chosen the ‘the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.’ (1 Corinthians 1:21, NASV).
Christ’s presence is promised in the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 10, we find the Apostle Paul explaining the sacrament, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Cor. 10:16 ESV). The Greek word in which the ESV renders ‘participation’ is koinonia. This word literally means ‘fellowship.’ When we come to the Lord’s Table with fellow believers (the Body of Christ), we fellowship with the risen Lord Jesus in a way that, as our Statement of Faith expresses, “confirm[s] and nourish[es] the believer.”
Does church attendance really matter? I will follow that up with another question: Does the presence of Christ in our lives really matter? Jesus does not need or require our attendance on Sunday morning, but we most certainly need and require His presence as the Body gathers to meet on the Lord’s Day.