The Importance of Staying Connected
Church attendance should grow—not decrease—as we near the end
The COVID pandemic has left many unwanted consequences in its wake: More government control, division over the true meaning of science, a shrinking work force, inflation, supply line issues, and all manner of shortages. But one spiritual result has been especially troubling—in many places, in-person church attendance has diminished significantly as a result of the pandemic.
About 25 percent of all pre-pandemic churchgoers are still missing from in-person worship services. Churches all across America have contracted. That should be deeply disturbing to every believer.
There are all kinds of ways to express the need we have as God’s people to connect with others: Togetherness. Connection. Connectivity. Networking. Fellowship. Doing life together.
But whatever you call it, we all need it. Clearly, not every person can be in church. Some are precluded by health issues or advancing age. But most believers are able to be in church with some degree of regularity. Yet increasingly, an alarming number are simply choosing not to come.
Why? I’m sure there are many reasons, but one simple one is that it’s easier and less demanding to be “home alone.” Many have fallen into the habit of skipping church altogether or just watching online.
As the Day Draws Near
Hebrews 10 addresses the need to live in meaningful community with one another. But notice that the motivation to heed this command is tied to the nearness of the coming of Christ:
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 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 10:24-25
The signs of Christ’s coming are lighting up like runway lights preparing the way for Christ’s return. The Middle East remains a global hotspot. Israel is in the crosshairs, surrounded by a swarm of enemies. Globalism and government control is mushrooming. North Korea is a nuclear menace. The Russian bear is roaring in Ukraine and possibly beyond. Iran is crossing the nuclear finish line.
Even those with a superficial knowledge of end-time prophecy realize this world seems to be getting near closing time. Of course, no one on earth knows the time of Christ’s coming, but we have every reason to expect the coming of Christ at any moment. This hope and anticipation should energize every believer with a renewed sense of urgency to be about the Lord’s business.
Hebrews 10:25 clearly states that a key aspect of that business is to stay connected with one another through the fellowship of the local church. The words “the day of his return is drawing near” or “as we see the Day approaching” indicate that believers today should be gathering together more frequently—not less—as we see the approach of the Lord’s coming. Exuberant, consistent church attendance should dramatically increase as we near the events of the end times.
With all we see in our world today, churches should be packed. Yet, sadly, we’re seeing the exact opposite. Malaise and indifference have set in.
Do you remember what it was like in the wake of 9/11? Churches were filled to capacity. In many cases, they were over-filled. Faced with the fragile nature of our existence, people sought solace in God and evaluated what’s important in life. Of course, the spike in attendance numbers waned quickly as life returned to normal. Peopled settled back into a pattern that fails to prioritize regular attendance at public worship.
The aftermath of COVID has followed that pattern. Those who were forced to watch livestream services—and became comfortable with it—have settled into the habit of staying home on the Lord’s Day.
Commanded to Connect
The writer of Hebrews leaves no doubt that regular attendance of public worship is not an option for believers; it’s a command. Regardless of this stern admonition, more and more professing Christians today fail to take church attendance seriously.
In troubled times, as the Lord’s coming draws near, we all need encouragement and hope—and Hebrews 10:25 says gathering together is a source of that mutual encouragement. We need encouragement to read our Bible, to pray, to love our spouse, to sacrifice for others, to share, to witness, and to turn from sin.
For me, as a pastor, just seeing God’s people on Sunday morning is an encouragement—more than you will ever know. Author and pastor Kevin DeYoung highlights the importance of being a vital part of a local fellowship:
The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration. He showed people how to live, to be sure. But He also called them to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church. The Lord “didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church.”
The call to assemble is urgent. Erwin Lutzer wrote these words in his book Where Do We Go From Here? Hope and Direction in our Present Crisis:
“Never before in American history has it been so important to become an active part of a network of other believers for worship, encouragement, instruction, and prayer. Bible studies, prayer groups, and discipleship train believers to be change-agents in their world. The day of the casual Christian is over.”
Find Your Way Home
The church is a place of safety and protection as believers come under the supervision and care of pastors and shepherds who care for them and look out for their well-being (Hebrews 13:17). Failing to have a church home and meet with God’s people regularly leaves you isolated, alone and exposed. Remember that strays from the herd are always the easiest for the lions to pick off.
Far too many believers today are voluntarily leaving themselves and their families spiritually exposed outside the church—in the devil’s domain.
I like the story author Anne Lamott tells in her book, Traveling Mercies, about a 7-year-old girl who got lost in a big city. The girl frantically ran up and down several streets, looking for a familiar landmark. A policeman saw the girl, realized something was wrong, and offered to help. So, she got in the car, and he slowly drove through nearby neighborhoods. Suddenly the girl pointed to a church and asked the policeman to let her out. She assured him, “This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.”
Many people think the church is an archaic institution, no longer relevant in our modern world. Yet I am convinced that a church that faithfully teaches the Bible and proclaims the good news of salvation through Christ provides exactly what we all need to “find our way home.”
As the world darkens and Christ’s coming draws near, never have so many needed to find their way home. Being a part of regular corporate worship and fellowship is a strong beginning point.
I hope you are making a good connection with a local church as “the day of His coming is drawing near.”