“There are many reasons why understanding the importance of attending church has been lost, but I believe more than anything it’s because we don’t teach it as a discipline—as something we do no matter what.”
Over the last 2,000 years of church history, we Christ followers have been taught about the spiritual disciplines. If we know what they are, most likely we think about prayer, fasting, silence and solitude, or generosity. For the serious follower of Christ, I’m sure these disciplines are in the regular rhythm and practice of daily life; we do them because our greatest desire is to become more like Christ. But one spiritual discipline for serious followers of Christ that has been on the decline recently is attending church. I think many have lost the art of practising the spiritual discipline of church that leads to being formed in the way of Jesus.
Let me explain.
In Canada, church hasn’t been the most popular place to be on a Sunday as it once was in the early half of the 1900s. Since about 1946, church attendance in Canada has been in decline. 1 Why is that, you ask? For one thing, we are competing with so many different things: kids sports schedules, the cottage on the weekend, or the ability and permission because of COVID to just “watch” church on demand at our convenience. But more than that, the church has been under serious fire this past year on account of some ugly history being dug up and brought to light. We are wrestling with the role the church played in the residential schools around Canada. We’ve been reminded of Christian slave owners in the United States using the Bible to enforce slavery. There is the knowledge that D. F. Malan, a Dutch Reformed pastor who became the prime minister of South Africa, started the diabolic system of apartheid. Now, in our more recent history, money-hungry televangelists are being exposed, celebrity pastors we all looked up to have had egregious moral failures, and regular local church pastors are seeking political influence for questionable reasons. There are many reasons why understanding the importance of attending church has been lost, but I believe more than anything it’s because we don’t teach it as a discipline—as something we do no matter what. Ekklēsia (“church” in Greek) simply means the gathering of the saints or “called out ones.” It has become easy for many to fall away from the church for the reasons mentioned earlier because they don’t have the “why” of church front and centre in their minds. This gives great opportunity for the enemy, who is prowling around like a lion (1 Peter 5:8), to have them fall away from being disciples of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 10:25 (NLT) says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
Why does the author of Hebrews say this to the earliest followers of Jesus? Well, obviously because people were neglecting the church gathering, which was intended to encourage and spur them on throughout the long and hard journey of following Christ. Without this, we would be lost. Friends, I believe this is the discipline most vital to following Jesus.
Jesus never sent anyone out alone (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1). The first thing He did after dying for our sins and rising again was to begin to build His church (Matthew 28:16-20).
Yet some still wonder, Why is this the most important spiritual discipline?
I have five reasons for you. First, for the community. As a Christian, you have become a part of the greatest community on earth. The church is the most broad, diverse global family. You can go anywhere in the world and find a gathering of believers to encourage you regardless of your past, present, or future. Rich or poor, educated or not, no matter your ethnicity or history, you are welcome in the family. Second, stubborn loyalty. You inherit this family who will love you no matter what. Pastor Jon Tyson puts it this way: “… Christian community [is] a web of stubbornly loyal relationships, knotted together in a living network of persons who are committed to practicing the way of Jesus together for the renewal of the world.”2 Regardless of what you’ve done or what you may be going through, the Christian family has a proven history of not giving up on people, no matter their past or present. We are a stubbornly loyal community. Third, you become a part of the greatest humanitarian non-profit movement this world has ever seen. Tom Morris said, “We (the church) are the only organization on the planet that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” 3 Throughout history the church has been the pioneer of most humanitarian efforts, organizations, and movements—mostly for the sake of non-members. The church has been the organization leading the way—from orphanages, to hospitals, schools and universities, to justice and human rights, to feeding and housing the needy around the world.
Fourthly, going to church helps you to develop your inner and outer being. No other place on the planet develops character and morality like the church does. And last, but certainly not least, by practising the spiritual discipline of church, you will experience God. For two millennia, this has been the central place for people to encounter and meet with God to become like Him. Matthew 18:20 says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them.” This is the assurance from the Father to His children: “Meet together, practise the spiritual discipline of church, and I will meet with you there.”
So why would we ever stop gathering and meeting in person together? If we truly want to follow the way of Christ, this is the primary route. Although there may be many reasons not to practise this vital discipline, the reasons to continue to do so until the day we go to glory are much more compelling.
Jesus hasn’t given up practising this discipline as He is there every time we gather, so why should we?
James Clarence is married to Karina, and together they have two daughters, Kendrick (3) and Lennon (1). They reside in Calgary, Alta., where James is an associate pastor at First Assembly church.
- Warren Clark, “Pockets of belief: Religious attendance patterns in Canada,” Statistics Canada, Canadian Social Trends, Spring 2003, accessed July 22, 2021, https://www.statcan.gc.ca/sites/default/files/6493-eng.pdf.
- Jon Tyson, A Creative Minority: Influencing Culture Through Redemptive Participation (Heather Grizzle, 2016).
- Tom Morris, Tehillah service at First Assembly in Calgary, Alta., on January 20, 2019.
This article appeared in the October/November/December 2021 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2021 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos ©istockphoto.com and First Assembly.