I missed church for five weeks in a row recently because of circumstances surrounding the birth of my second child. We have a healthy baby girl now, and all is well. And I wish I didn’t have to miss so much church. However, God used that season of being away to remind me how valuable it is to gather with the body of Christ weekly. Consider the following:
–Preaching complements personal Bible study in the life of a believer. During my absence, I routinely read the Bible and prayed, and to great profit. Yet on my first Sunday back, the pastor addressed a subject that God had also been addressing with me personally. The conjunction of private devotions and public proclamation was powerful. And I’m not alone in that experience. Many times people marveled that a sermon touches on a subject they were already considering—whether harboring unkind thoughts, disrespecting parents, or dealing with an unbelieving spouse. In His providence, God has a way of orchestrating preaching and private devotionals to work together. When you’re not attending church, you can’t experience that.
–In a local church, members demonstrate a special type of kindness to one another. People show kindness in other arenas of life too. And many times they do it with explicitly Christian motives. Still, family members, coworkers, and even strangers often do nice things for us without intending it as an expression of Christ’s love. When God’s people in a church care for one another, on the other hand, they generally do it with an explicit intention to show Christ-like compassion. That was evident to me when members of our Sunday School class showed up at our house to provide meals following the birth of our daughter. When you’re not part of a church, you miss out on giving and receiving that type of love.
–Singing corporately with other believers nurtures the Christian’s soul. At times I sing to myself, and at times I listen to Christian music. Both help my soul. But there’s something about singing God’s praises with a roomful of other Christians that can’t be replicated through private enjoyment of music. It’s a powerful reminder that we’re not alone in our quest to honor the Lord.
–Giving is an act of worship, not merely a discipline. There’s nothing wrong with giving online to your church or mailing a check when you can’t be there. Still, there’s something special about the moments in a worship service when the offering plates are passed. Even if we’re not putting an offering in the plate that day, watching the ceremony reminds us that giving our money to God is a part of worship just as much as singing, praying, or observing the Lord’s Supper.
There are other benefits of churchgoing that we can’t get merely through individual spirituality. These are just the ones that struck me most forcefully in light of my absence.
Of course, going to church can also be painful at times, as when God’s people are spiteful and cold. Anyone who has been a churchgoer for any length of time (myself included) has a story about being hurt by church members. In a fallen world, the blessings of church attendance will always be mixed with sorrows. Yet the benefits of church attendance are not reserved only for those who attend exceptional churches. Whenever God’s Spirit-filled people gather around His Word, there is blessing.
If poor health, an unavoidable work schedule, or other providential hindrances have kept you away from church for a season, this isn’t intended to make you feel false guilt. When God makes it impossible for His children to attend corporate worship, He provides for the health of their souls in other ways. But if you have simply strayed from church, think about all you’re missing. As the writer of Hebrews says, do not forsake “our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encourage[e] one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25 NASB). Hopefully you won’t have to be away as long as I was to realize the joys God has for you among His gathered saints.