I am done with Church.” We hear that a lot these days. In fact, the trend is so prevalent that we have labelled this growing group of disenchanted North Americans as the Dones.
“The Dones are people who are disillusioned with church. Though they were committed to the church for years—often as lay leaders—they no longer attend. Whether because they're dissatisfied with the structure, social message, or politics of the institutional church, they've decided they are better off without organized religion. As one of our respondents put it, ‘I guess the church just sort of churched the church out of me.’” Christianity Today, Summer 2015
Why meet anyway? Why bother? Why expend millions of dollars on buildings and programs for people who are increasingly disinterested in the process?
Here are five reasons to remember and recite when sharing the answer to the question, Why Church?
1. Worship “I come to the Garden Alone” is a wonderful old hymn and it does express an aspect of worship. We can have intimate contact with our Lord individually and so we should. But, the scriptural pattern, from the beginning of time demonstrates that God meets with the corporate gathering of people in unique and powerful ways. From the wilderness ‘tent of meeting’ to the ‘early church’ era, such gathering is encouraged. Worship has its fullest expression in the gathering of the family. As a dad, I love to spend time with my family members individually. But there is something special, inspiring, and desirable about having them all together in one place at one time. I sit back with a satisfied, proud dad look on my face. I feel honoured by their desire to be with one another. The heavenly Father is pleased when His children come together to honour Him. There is no satisfactory substitute for corporate worship.
2. Sacraments Our family has developed some traditions that are unique to us. For example, on Christmas Eve, following the service, we come home and gather with the family to enjoy ‘croissants with meat and veggies.’ Over this traditional meal, we share family lore. In 2020, circumstances ruled out that possibility. Each of our family members expressed how they missed this practice that is unique to us as a family. We have a number of such traditions that are important identifiers for those who are part of our clan. The family of God is not dissimilar. There are certain sacraments, exercised collectively that give us our identity as believers.
Our Testimony We need to be in an environment where we can testify to one another about the goodness of God in our lives. We need to have an environment of understanding where we can share our victories and hardships with those of like faith.
Our Common Table We need the sacrament of the corporate “Lord’s Table.” It is called ‘communion’ for a reason. When we corporately practice this sacrament, we are re-centring ourselves to the basic tenet of our faith, “Salvation and healing through the blood and body of Christ.” We are celebrating our common ‘blood line’ in Christ. The sacrament of the ‘eucharist’ keeps us connected to Christ and to one another in Christ.
Water Baptism We need to corporately witness the triumph of light over darkness, salvation over sin, each time we see someone baptized in water as a profession of their faith in Christ and their determination to follow Him. There is no greater thrill than to celebrate such occasions with the people of God.
3. Equipping One of the hardships of COVID for children and youth has been restrictions that have mandated online learning. In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association has done a significant study on the increasing levels of mental unwellness among young people who have been forced into this mode of learning. The medical profession is urging a return to gathering as an imperative to curb this escalation in mental ill-health.
The jury has returned with its unequivocal verdict. We learn better, we train better, we function better together.
In Ephesians 4 we read that Christ gives gifts to the Church. These gifts are given so that the people of God, in a corporate context, can be equipped and trained for the mission God has designed for every believer, the proliferation of the Gospel.
There is safety in receiving such training in the Body Corporate. It is true that there are an unlimited number of books, podcasts, and live stream programs available that purport to enhance a believer’s walk with the Lord. However, because of this huge accumulation of varying opinions and questionable doctrines, it is easy to be led astray and wander from a solid Biblical foundation. In the Church, there is a greater corporate discernment and mutual accountability to sound doctrine and right practice.
If believers are to be equipped and released on a mission into the world, the safest training ground is the local church. Belonging to a group with clear convictions and consistent
teaching leads to changes in behaviours, beliefs, and attitudes as people strive to conform to the standards and norms of the group.
4. Belonging “A sense of belonging is fundamental to the way humankind organizes itself. If it was unimportant, we would live solitary lives only coming together for procreation then quickly kicking the children out of our lives as soon as they could walk. We would have no families, communities, or organized government. We cannot separate the importance of a sense of belonging from our physical and mental health.” Mayo Clinic, December 2021.
If the world-renowned Mayo clinic realizes this basic need, then so should we. There is a reason that Abraham Maslow included ‘belonging’ high on the list of absolute imperatives for normal, healthy, human function. We really do need each other. Belonging provides a sense of security in an environment of acceptance, inclusion, common purpose, and identity.
In his wonderful little book, We Really Do Need Each Other, Reubin Welch, writes:
“The vertical line of Godward relationship and the horizontal line of human relationship are not two lines but one line in a continuum. It all belongs together. I’m not talking about what ought to be – or what would be nice if it were. I’m talking about God’s reality, about the way He has constituted the life we have with Him. Our life with Him is tied to, is one with, our life with our brothers and sisters.” (p.37)
When we decide to separate from one another as believers, we are disrupting God’s natural intention for us to function as the complete, every member, healthy Body of Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 12)
If we are to survive as the true representation of Christ in our increasingly depersonalized twenty-first-century environment, we will do so only as we do it together.
I have yet to meet a believer thriving and growing in faith and Christian practice, who has ‘thrown over the traces’ and abandoned his/her place in the function of the local church. A lone-wolf mentality is the antithesis of Jesus’ intent when He declared that He would build His Church. It flies in the face of Paul’s analogy of Christ’s Body.
5. Life Celebration Jesus indicated that He came to give us an overflowing of abundant life. Abundant life speaks of celebration and joy: unquenchable enthusiasm, unlimited connectedness. Have you ever recounted with another, some certain enjoyable and memorable event you have attended, only to discover they were there as well? The conversation quickly turns specific and focuses on shared experiences.
The people of God in the Old Testament celebrated with annual feasts meant to commemorate times when God miraculously intervened in crisis or provided some blessing in great measure. These events were marked with raucous singing, exuberant dance, and lots of food. The energy of these celebrations has carried forward and still exists in Jewish celebrations today.
Recently, one of our Churches invited comedian Phil Callaway to speak in the morning service. We decided to attend. It was a delightful time. Phil shared the goodness and faithfulness of God in a brilliant, mesmerizing, funny way. I watched the congregation visibly relax, then began to enjoy what was happening. Soon, we were all laughing together. I hadn’t seen people laugh in church for many months. It felt so good, so cleansing, so restorative to laugh along with God’s good people.
In a world that’s facing mammoth, survival threatening issues people are filled with fear and robbed of hope. The people of God need to openly celebrate their faith, and they need to do it together (as soon and as often as possible). In the corporate celebration, fear is alleviated, hope is restored, and the triumph of faith is declared. We have little to offer a desperate world if we sink to the same level of malaise as the culture around us. Our message is not the message of doom and gloom. The angel declared, “I bring you good tiding of great joy.”
Until Jesus returns, there will always be, and always be a need for, the corporate Church.
Here is a great article from Christianity Today addressing ministry to the ‘Dones’