A decade ago, my wife and I received a letter from a woman we knew through our local church. The woman wrote that she was contacting other church members to let them know God told her to stop attending church and to start worshipping only at home. She believed a person could be a committed follower of Jesus Christ without attending church services. (I’m not sure of her current views, but she resumed church attendance several years after sending the letter.)
While they may not claim divine revelation, many people don’t see a connection between faith and church attendance. Consider popular author Donald Miller, whom I began reading after I heard him speak at a church. I was stunned later when I read a blog post in which he revealed he doesn’t attend church regularly because “I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him.” In a subsequent post, Miller added that “most of the influential Christian leaders I know (who are not pastors) do not attend church.”
Miller isn’t the only well-known writer defending churchless faith.
While occasionally hearing Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” on public radio or reading his newspaper columns, I’ve enjoyed his observations on church culture and the differences between denominations. Although I don’t always agree with him, I appreciate his voice as a churchgoing member of the media. One of his recent columns contained good insights about the differing values between “the evangelicals who brought me up” and the “Rolex Christians” who preach a prosperity gospel, but then Keillor added, “God speaks in the stillness. For that reason, friends of mine prefer a walk in the woods to a place in the pews. Good for them. Enter into the woods with thanksgiving and into the pasture with praise.”
A lot of self-identifying Christians seem to be opting out of church services. Polls report 75 percent of Americans identify as Christians (fmchr.ch/gallupp), but only 37 percent say that they attend church at least once a week (fmchr.ch/pewllm). Some researchers assert that, despite what people tell pollsters, only 18 percent of Americans actually attend church each week (fmchr.ch/chattend). This isn’t just a U.S. issue. The Church of England reported earlier this year that attendance has dropped to a record low (fmchr.ch/coeca).
Perhaps the quotes from Miller and Keillor resonate with you. Maybe you attend church less frequently than in the past or you’ve quit going at all. You may have left church because of hypocritical or judgmental people who regularly participate in the local church. If any of this rings true, keep reading for different perspectives about why the local church matters.
Maybe you attend a local church faithfully and spend much of your time serving in its ministries. Don’t toss this magazine. Share it instead with a friend, neighbor or relative who isn’t a churchgoer.
More in This Issue
- Feature: God’s Messy Masterpiece
- Bishops: Why Church Matters
- Action: A Future for the Local Church
- Discipleship: Church as a Body
- Discipleship: Is Church for Me?
- News: Converging Into a Unified Church