Church; the Bible describes it as “the Bride of Christ”, which is high esteem indeed. It is an excellent way to spend time with other Christians, sing some songs, worship God and to hear someone read from the Bible. Some Christians go as far as to say that attending Church to worship is the most important thing a Christian can do, but some go further and say that if you are not attending Church, you are not a real Christian or even a Christian at all.
Now usually at this point I would say something like “Is this really the case?” and proceed to break the arguments down before coming to a conclusion. Whilst I will still do that, I am first going to jump to my conclusion, which is this; it is absolute nonsense and in fact, quite dangerous (bordering on manipulative) to even remotely equate church attendance with someone’s faith. It ignores, trivializes or caricatures the reasons why many do not and indeed cannot go to a regular church service.
You see, life does not stop just because it is a Sunday. Health issues do not suddenly go away to allow you to go to church. Job requirements do not suddenly stop because you want to be somewhere else. When I make it to church, what you don’t see is the battle that I have waged to even get out of bed; a battle I have to fight every day just to go to work. I have had to stop going to darts and dance due to my health. More often than not, I have my own church at home where I can put on some music, chat to God and mostly hide out in my study. I have friend named Helen, who has a chronic illness and has to take 29 tablets everyday just to function. She does not get to church very often due to her health issues. Sarah’s friend Sophie is in a similar situation that causes her constant pain and unpredictable symptoms; this prevents her from sometimes working and going to church. Are you seriously going to say that the most important thing they do on a Sunday is go to church? Sometimes the most important thing we do each day is just to start the day.
My previous job required me to work weekends, and I actually needed the extra money to pay bills, put food on the table and keep a roof over my head. Some people’s jobs are at nursing homes, homeless shelters, hospitals, orphanages. Would you tell them that a church service is more important than helping people in need, or ensuring they don’t become homeless themselves? God can and does provide, this does not mean that we are then suddenly exempt from needing to work on a Sunday. Perhaps the job that requires those people to work on Sundays is the one that God has provided. Some will say that we have to prioritize God; now I agree with that to an extent, but there are 7 days in the week and Paul seemed to be quite clear on this in Romans 14.
Worship does occur at church, but worship is also about so much more than singing a few songs. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV (Matthew 22:37-40). Going to church means nothing if all you do is go to church on a Sunday to worship, then forget about it for the rest of the week or worse, act in a manner that is counter to what Jesus taught (a point I will return to very shortly). Worshiping God is about keeping those two commandments above all else. Singing songs of praise is great, but I can do that anywhere; in my house house, in a field, at a rave…you get the idea.
This brings me onto another reason why people do not go to church; they simply do not find Jesus there. Many have issues with how the Church approaches certain social issues (among many other things) and have left the church as a result. Comments like “you have to attend church to be a Christian” is to simply bury your head in the sand regarding the churches faults/issues and how much damage they are actually causing; not to mention ignoring what the term Christian actually means – the hint is in the name. Some have left because they have been badly burned by the church or have seen others badly burned, and if someone has hurt you, you are not going to keep seeing them, at least, not unless they apologise. The same applies to church. Some of the most vile abuse dished out have come from Christians and there’s only so much you can take before you have to walk away. This does not mean we have lost our faith, in fact, it often means the exact opposite. We have left because of our faith (and our sanity!) Now at this, people will point out that the church is not perfect and you cannot change something if you leave. This is true, but you also cannot change anything if you are so badly beat up that you have nothing left. And just wanting a morning to do nothing is perfectly acceptable. We have to look after ourselves too.
To sum all of this up though, I will end with this. Until churches start acknowledging that people have very legitimate reasons for not being in church, that they are contributing to some of those reasons, that Christians relationship with Jesus doesn’t necessarily need to involve them; then vicars & pastors are going to find more people having reasons not to be there.