By Colleen Luley
It’s Saturday night, and the knot is already starting to form in my stomach. My husband won’t be home in the morning, so I’ll be flying solo with our four small children. Just the thought of getting to church (or even livestreaming!) feels exhausting. Whether because I know I’ll be tired from worrying about it all night, or just because one of my kids will inevitably get their head stuck in the stairwell banister the moment the sermon starts, sometimes it feels easier to call it in for this week. Why bother?
The pandemic has brought labels of “essential” and “non-essential” to various local businesses and services, including churches. This has shown us something about what our society values most.
But what about you? How important is a Sunday morning gathering – whether in-person or online? What label do you give to church when you think about its importance in your life: essential or non-essential?
I’m preaching to myself when I say that church is essential. Here are four reasons why:
1. Church helps us flourish spiritually.
Despite what some may tell you, it’s actually harder to have a vibrant, personal faith when you’re not anchored to a local church. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found pursuing Jesus and his ways has been far harder while distanced from people and the church physically.
New data from a recent study shows that when engagement with church decreases, personal Bible reading decreases as well. It’s nice to know I’m not alone, but it’s also unsurprising. We need other people to help us press on and draw near to Christ. It’s important to hear stories of God working in others’ lives in order to remember what God is doing in ours. We need light to shine into our darkened hearts…
2. Church brings light in a dense fog.
We’re living in a pandemic world, and the accompanying uncertainty brings up a lot of questions. What’s happening with this vaccine? Which political party should I side with? How do I do school at home? It’s a constant flurry of news cycles, facts, data. Everything seems in flux, and it can feel like the fog is so dense we can’t see where our hand is when, in fact, it’s right in front of our face.
But church offers us a weekly, stabilizing rhythm: worship that helps us to lament what is hard and praise the Living God, together. Time to sit under God’s Word and hear it preached to our hearts and minds. Prayers based on the promises that we have in Scripture. It is here that we find a “sure and steadfast anchor for the soul” (Heb. 6:19), even in the midst of our bumbling and pivoting. Sundays remind us that Jesus himself is our anchor and our light.
3. Church is not just for you.
If you have children, God has put you in charge of developing your family’s culture. You get to set the priorities. This is true in so many areas of life, but particularly in the spiritual arena. Our kids are always learning from us.
What message do we send them if we stay home because we have to fix something around the house or don’t bother to livestream because it’s just not as good as being there in person? We’re telling our kids that church doesn’t really matter. It’s non-essential and not worth the effort required to make it happen.
And while church attendance doesn’t determine whether our family is Christian, it does build habits that can last a lifetime. Maybe a ‘win’ isn’t that we make it through an entire service with no interruptions. Maybe the ‘win’ is that our kids know that church is a priority for us.
4. Church is not a place, but a living body.
Going to church is not about gaining God’s favor or checking it off your to-do list. And it’s not just a place to go. The Bible calls the church a living body (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12) in which we all participate. That gives me goosebumps.
Each individual person in the story of Scripture – Abraham, David, Mary, Paul, the disciples, etc. – has a greater purpose because of their part in God’s greater, continuous story and community over thousands of years. Your story has a greater purpose because God is using it in his greater story and community, and that greater community manifests itself now in the visible, local church gathered (even online).
There will always be reasons not to join in on Sunday mornings. But it’s worth the effort. Don’t pull away from the very thing that God uses to bless and teach and encourage you! Draw near to God and to his people. Press into the church, friends. It’s essential.
Does the pandemic mean you’re watching church on the livestream more? Make the most of this opportunity for your children to see their parents worship God. Read some tips on how here: