The transition is moving forward. Every week more churches are beginning the process and stages of opening the doors of the church facilities for in-person services.
We are back.
I get it. The church never closed. The church is the people, not the building. Someone reminds me of those points daily.
But the doors to the church facilities closed. The opportunity to gather for worship in-person closed. A lot has transpired over the past few months.
Now it is time to return to in-person gathered worship. Though this statement is admittedly not theologically precise, it is time to “return to church.” Why is it important to get back in the habit of regular and faithful attendance? Why should those connected to a local congregation make a new commitment to attend as regularly as possible? Here are five reasons.
- The Bible mandates we gather for worship. The writer of Hebrews is unequivocal: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, NLT). Gathering for worship is not an optional activity. It is not an occasional activity. It is an ongoing and regular commitment.
- The Bible emphasizes the importance of the local church. Think about it. After the four gospels, almost all of the New Testament is about the local church or directed to the local church. Throughout the New Testament, different local congregations met together and worshipped together. It is simply what believers do.
- When we gather together, we encourage each other. I am a classic introvert. Admittedly, I adjusted well to streaming services and Zoom community groups. But I readily admit I did not get or give the same level of encouragement as those times when we were physically present with each other. Look at Hebrews 10:25 again. The act of gathering is an act of encouragement.
- When we gather together, we encourage our pastors. The encouragement of one another includes the encouragement of our pastors. They desperately need it. You cannot know the challenges of a pastor unless you have been one or are one. The stress and responsibilities they have had during the pandemic have been especially challenging. The world acts surprised when a pastor takes his life. Sadly, I know the depths of pain many pastors feel. There are plenty of critics and discouragers for pastors. I pray that many people will return to the in-person gatherings with new levels of commitment. Our pastors will be greatly encouraged.
- We grow spiritually when we commit to faithful attendance. We grow as a believer in Christ when we have a committed prayer life. We grow when we are committed to read Scripture daily. We grow when we share our faith regularly. We grow when we serve in ministry. And we grow when we commit to attend worship services faithfully. That attendance is a spiritual discipline. It is a vital and necessary act toward greater spiritual maturity.
The pandemic and quarantine have been transformational moments for our world and our churches. We now have the incredible opportunity to hit the reset button in our own lives. For many Christians, committed church attendance was waning before the pandemic. God has reminded us, perhaps even given us a major wake-up call, how really important the gathered church is.
Get ready to return to the gathered church. But do so this time with a new enthusiasm and faithful commitment every week.
It’s a habit we cannot and should not neglect.
Posted on June 1, 2020
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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I like how you said that even as an introvert, you miss gathering together to worship God. My kids are introverts but I know they have strong faith. I’ll look into finding a camp or something like that for all of them to go to with kids their age.
hi Pastor John and Everyone else. I would love to go back to church but they tell me I am high risk… whatever that means. I’m ready and willing but I am not allowed to go because I am very suseptable to the Carona Virus and other ailments. Me? I’m like I don’t care, I’ll risk my life to worship because Jesus died for me. I feel that I’ll be protected by our Father and His Holy Son. If I die, oh well… at least I did so worshipping. There is no greater way to leave this World, except the way Jesus did dying for our sins because He loves us! Then I’ll just be dying because I love, him. It makes sense to me why doesn’t it to everyone else?
thanks for shairing this post
Dear Thom S.Rainer,
Thank you for message and devoutness
I have been following your lessons through my email,which are the most important and I present thanks to God who brought you this position and you are always recalled by my prayers.The topic you mentioned is the crucial one.We have to pray enthusiastically to shorten this dark period, which inhibit our personal meetings which cannot have any alternatives. People through out the world are using digital options for most socio-economic solutions.We Christians have to tilt to ward to spiritual solutions ,asking God’s direction,to be involved in deep prayer and fasting,inviting holy spirit in each activities,seeking timely direction from The word and praying for other fellows ,The solution is more accurate than others and ,followed by digital solutions.
Thank you so much for posting this. I think another factor is that people have believed the idea that “I am the church” at an individual level, and so they think staying home, listening to an online sermon (at some point during the day or week) and streaming worship music is true Church worship. It’s not.
I would add one more thing…It’s time to get back to church so that we can welcome with open arms those coming back to or coming into church for the first time. Our church has been open now since Mother’s Day and we have seen so many visitors over the last few weeks. Could those people “attend” an online church? Sure, but it would provide very little in the way of making disciples. How can they get plugged into a small group bible study when all of those are being conducted via closed google meet links and zoom invites? How can we invite the one we don’t know is looking.?
Thank you for your encouraging words today. It was just what I need as I’m starting a new house church this Saturday night.
Thank you for the post. Is there somewhere where I can read your exegesis of Hebrews 10:25? Thank you.
Is there somewhere where I can read your exegesis of Hebrews 10:25? Thank you.
Even though Hebrews 10:25 is usually the verse cited as a command for church attendance I think it has more to do with the Jews who will be here on earth during the tribulation. That’s not to say that assembling ourselves together with other believers is not important. We who are saved are part of the body of Christ and we should meet with other believers to minister to one another and build each other up.
very good post
Physically being present, with like-minded people, is completely necessary to be the church. Yes, there are many others ways to worship on-line but I prefer being together. Worshiping online is just not the same as being together. As a pastor, one of the things that I fear is that people will grow complacent and just stay home instead of coming back to church. I hope that I am wrong. What you said today Dr. Rainer is spot on.
Thanks, William. We have to be prayerfully and unapologetically intentional about leading our congregants back to faithful attendance.
William, I think that you may have put your finger on what may be the heart of the matter, “I prefer….” Kyle Idleman, senior pastor of Southeast Christian Church near Louisville, Kentucky, conducted a survey of his church members. He found “about one-third said they wanted to meet in person weeks ago, one-third said leaders should continue monitoring the situation, and another third said it’s best to wait until a vaccine or treatment for the virus exists.” While approximately one third of his members were eager to meet in person again, approximately two thirds were not. What was also significant was that those who were eager to regather thought that the church should have regathered “weeks ago.” Whether his findings can be extrapolated to other churches in Kentucky I cannot say. But they do suggest a correlation with a dynamic that I have observed in my region. One segment of the churchgoing public does not believe that churches should have suspended their in-person services in the first place. They dismiss the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and maintain that the precautionary measures that the state imposed were unnecessary. As the state relaxes these measures, they are the most eager to regather. Another segment of the churchgoing population is far less eager to regather. Why? They are not convinced that it is safe to regather. You can talk until you are blue in the face about the importance of physical gatherings but until they are convinced to their satisfaction that it is safe, they are not going to attend church in person.
Having moved their services online, churches have attracted a segment of the population that they did not attract with in-person services. If the experience of Saddleback and Willow Creek’s seeker services is anything go by, this segment of the population is not going to transition to in-person services. Both Saddleback and Willow Creek found that the people whom they attracted with their seeker services preferred the seeker services to the regular services of the two churches. They did not make the transition to the regular services as the two churches expected them to. So churches that have launched online services are going to have to integrate them into the church’s ongoing strategy if they wants to keep this segment of the population.
Pastors may prefer in-person services. But if they want to lead effectively evangelistic churches in the COVID-19 era, they are going to have to learn to become comfortable with online services too. We don’t like to hear it but COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. It is likely to be with us into the next century even if an effective vaccine is developed. One half of the people in a recent poll said that they would not be vaccinated against COVID-19. Churches that are relaunching their in-person services may have to suspend them again on short notice and need to include that possibility in their planning.
Dear Robin, it’s not about back-in-the-box versus on-line church. It’s about home churches. It’s about seminarians going house to house. It’s about a radical transition to what our friends in China have known as normal for many years.
Heb10v25 is an incredibly broad and non-specific verse. It does not support any of our brother’s points, though it is the only scripture cited.
It has been interesting to see news reporters, complaining about not being given safe spaces on the front lines of the recent protests. It is even more interesting to hear pastors, complaining about parishioners not returning eagerly to the happy business of church. They won’t. The business is over. They’re not afraid. They’re smart. And they learned thru our extended quarantine that Christ really is living in them, meeting every need, and with Him as sole Shepherd, they lack nothing. David in Psalm23v1 was not crazy, after all.
Thanks for this, Thom. As usual, insightful and spot on. Perhaps a word of advice to pastors needing to redefine our rhythm as we move back into both on-site and online church. The new normal will require us to think in multi-tracks (for those not previously doing so) – which can be overwhelming and initially paralyzing. Suggestions for pastors re-orienting our priorities while still maintaining sanity and sabbath?
Good points, David. I am working on some material for this new normal. Pastors are definitely at the forefront of my concerns.
Just for the sake of argument are not Christians when they gather online, using Zoom or some other video conferencing platform, meeting together. They are interacting with each other, encouraging each other, building up each other in the Christian faith, which is what I believe was the author of Hebrews main concern, not they were physically in the same room together. When the Letter to the Hebrews was written, the only way its author could conceived such activities happening was if Christians met physically. One could circulate a letter but how many Christians at that time could read. They would still have to meet together physically in order to hear the letter read. But now Christians can meet together electronically. Meeting together physically does mean that those meeting are necessarily engage in these activities. I have been to many church meetings where none of these activities occurred. Those present engaged in small talk. They argued about a variety of matters. The younger people played games on their phones or they took out their ear buds, plugged them in, and listened to music. Those present ate snacks and drank coffee. A few older people nodded off to sleep. Is that what author of Hebrews had in mind when he was inspired to write this passage. I don’t think so. He is talking about more than being physically in the same room. He is talking about meeting for a particular purpose. Meeting for this purpose can also be done online.
I think that we need to be careful about applying this passage too narrowly, using it as a proof text to support our own ideas of how Christians should gather. If we consider the author’s intention, it is open to much wider application. This is not to undervalue physical meetings if those present encourage each other and building up each other in the Christian faith. What concerned the author of Hebrews was that by not meeting with each other Christians were not encouraging each other and building up each other in the Christian faith. We can do that now without assembling in the same room, something that the author of Hebrews could not imagine when he penned that passage. We can not only encourage each other and build up each other in the Christian faith without assembling in the same room, we can also do it far more often than Christians could do in his day.
Kind of tough to “greet each other with a holy kiss” online. Also, not much interaction and encouraging going on in a Facebook live stream. Also pretty tough to be hospitable online.
Absolutely time to come back together.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
The enemy would love nothing more than to keep us isolated and cloistered behind closed doors/computer screens.
I avoided the holy kiss before the pandemic, Michael!
Mike, how many evangelical churches in America do you know where the members greet each other with a “holy kiss”? How many mainline Protestant churches? Catholic churches? Even Thom does not recommend stand and greet times, which is the closest you come to a “holy kiss” in American evangelical churches. And I was not talking about Facebook Live, which is not a video conferencing platform.
Is really “absolute time to come back together” when some areas are COVID-19 hotspots. So you are telling churches in those areas to recklessly throw open their doors so they can become the epicenter of a new cluster of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
A church needs to consider not only the safety of its members in any regathering decision but also the community. A church that recklessly throws opens it doors and become an epicenter of new cluster of COVID-19 cases and deaths not only damages its witness to the community but also the witness of the other churches in the community.
thanks for shairing this post
thanks very nice
@Robin – “We can do that now without assembling in the same room, something that the author of Hebrews could not imagine when he penned that passage.” What do you mean by that? Of course he could imagine them assembling together. I would encourage you to read some early church history. See also 1 Cor 11:17-18; 1 Cor. 14:26, etc. The epistles were letters that were written to local churches that were read when they “assembled together.” Sure there may have been house churches (some houses were pretty large from what we read in church history). There is something to “the church” gathering which is emphasized in the epistles. We are not prescribed a certain “size” for a church, but there is something to the church “meeting together” that is much more than coffee and donuts as someone’s house.
I’d attend i hope you know that but I’m what they call high risk I’m unable to leave my house except for work Wed. mornings, crazy? Yeah I think so to. I just hope and pray for you John, Stephaie and the rest of the congregation…take care everyone and God bless