Dr. Greever is an instructor of New Testament in the College of Theology at GCU. He received an MDiv and a PhD in New Testament before becoming a professor. He is married to Amelia and has four children. He loves the local church, reading books, and rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Can I be a healthy Christian without attending church?
Even though the answer might seem obvious to some, many Christians don’t attend church for a number of reasons.
In some cases, Christians have grown up in church, but have experienced something in the church that turned them off to institutional religion. Others find it more comfortable and convenient to stay home and just watch church services on the TV or computer. Others still might be ready to give up on attending because they “just don’t get anything out of it anymore.”
The question of whether you can be a healthy Christian without attending a church is an important one, not just because the answer affects what fills up your calendar on a Sunday morning, but also because the Bible links spiritual growth with being part of a church.
One of the most helpful texts in Scripture that shows this link is Ephesians 4:11-16, where Paul refers to the Ephesians’ spiritual growth. A few observations about the text are helpful for our purposes:
- Jesus gives certain individuals as gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors/teachers (4:11). This assumes that there is a church where these individuals serve in various capacities.
- These leaders in the church exist to equip all the believers in the church to do “the work of ministry,” which is explained in terms of building up other believers (4:12).
- The goal of the “work of ministry” is that all Christians would experience a greater trust in and knowledge of Jesus (4:13). Christian maturity, then, is expressed in terms of faith and knowledge, which only comes about through the ministry of believers to one another.
- The greater level of faith and knowledge associated with Christian maturity means that Christians will not be easily swayed by false teaching, which can easily deceive immature Christians, i.e. “infants” (4:14).
- The way Christians do “the work of ministry” is by “speaking the truth in love” (4:15). It is as Christians act toward one another in truthful and loving ways that other Christians are encouraged to trust more in Jesus. In this way, it is the church that is responsible “for building up itself in love” (4:16).
Hence, Ephesians 4:11-16 contains the following implications for whether Christians should attend a church:
- If you don’t attend, you cannot be equipped for the work of ministry, which by extension means you cannot build up other believers. You cannot reach Christian maturity, because faith and knowledge, the essence of Christian maturity, flow from the “work of ministry” that believers do for one another.
- If you don’t attend, you will be spiritually immature (an “infant”) and will be more susceptible to false teaching.
- If you don’t attend, you can’t act with truth and love toward other Christians in the church. Yes, you may be able to maintain friendships with some believers, but if you fail to gather regularly with a local church, other believers who need your truthful and loving encouragement will never receive it.
Today, we see many Christians whose spiritual growth is stunted because they aren’t tethered to a local church. If this describes you, I encourage you to rethink the significance of the local church (even for all its imperfections!). Like the writer to the Hebrews, I urge you “not to forsake the assembling of yourselves, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
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