I hear it all the time in all sorts of places when people find out I am a pastor. “Oh, I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church.” “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, I worship God in nature.” You know the kind of thing … Do you think you don’t need the church? Do you consider yourself a lone wolf?
You might want to think again.
At last census 52% of Australians identified as Christians. But Church attendance in Australia is declining. The recent National Church Life Survey (NCLS) data shows that over the last four decades the proportion of Australians attending church at least once per month has more than halved from 36% (1972) to 15% currently – not even a third of those professing to be Christians actually attend worship. However, this is still a significant proportion of the Australian multi-cultural population and indeed twice as many Australians attend church at least once per month (3.495m) as attend all AFL, NRL, A League and Super Rugby games combined per month (1.684m) during the football season.
When you look at younger people in particular, the news is even more depressing. Along with an ageing national population, the NCLS data shows the church going population is also ageing with an average age of adult church attenders being 53. While the 70 plus age group is strongly represented in church (comprising 12% of the population but 25% of all church attendees), the age groups under 50 are under-represented. This divide is increasingly evident with the younger generations, for example the 20-39 year olds make up 34% of the population but just 21% of church attenders. There are plenty of reasons why millennials are leaving the church and the one key reason is the feeling that the church isn’t needed anymore. If they want to hear messages that convict or encourage them there are literally thousands available on YouTube and via podcasts that they can listen to while sitting on the couch in their trackie dacks. But those recorded sermons can’t replace the community that is needed when difficult times come. In the wild, wolves need a pack to take down larger animals in the winter when smaller prey are in hibernation and not available. A lone wolf is no match for an elk. Without the help of others, the lone wolf will starve and die.
Using winter as a metaphor for the struggles in life that visit everyone at some point, like health problems or the loss of a job, the church might be likened to a wolf pack – we need each other. Fellow Christians will help you survive the tough times.
Here are four important reasons Christians need church.
We need other Christians. If you want to know what you believe, listen to what your friends say. The more time we spend around people who ridicule God, the more we allow their attitudes to affect our thoughts and attitudes … The psalmist notes in 1:1-2 “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.”The more time we spend with God’s people and in his presence, the more like Jesus we become. That’s why the writer of the letter to the Hebrews encouraged Christians at that time not to give up meeting together. If we want to hold unswervingly to our faith, we need to surround ourselves with people who will encourage us to follow Jesus even when it’s hard, to have faith when everything seems hopeless, and to rely on Jesus even when we think we can do everything on our own (See Heb. 10:23-25).
We need opportunities to discover our spiritual gifts. Every one of us has a spiritual skill and capacity that God wants to use to help others know him and follow him. The Bible calls these skills spiritual gifts (See 1 Cor. 12), and we discover our spiritual gifts the same way we discover any other kind of special talent. Kobe Bryant realised he was great at basketball when he started playing basketball. Guy Sebastian discovered he could sing when he started singing. We will never uncover what God has equipped and called us to do if we don’t get involved.
We need authority. We don’t have to believe anything anyone tells us about God. He appointed men and women in the church to lead us and to teach us (See Heb. 13:17). God gave us the Bible and the church so we can know what’s from him – and what isn’t. Through the church’s authority structure, we can test and see what’s of God and what isn’t when we can’t tell on our own. When we’ve prayed, read the Bible and still aren’t sure what to do, the church is where we go for advice.
We never stop needing grace. Church people are not perfect people. We are forgiven, but we are still sinners trying to do better. No matter how long we’ve been following Jesus, we are going to mess up at some point, or fall short and sin. And when we do, we need a place where we can come to be healed, restored and renewed. That place is the church. The sunroof in my little red Mini Cooper S has ruined me. I can’t imagine owning a car without a sunroof ever again. The same is true when it comes to church. As I made friends, joined a group and started serving, God changed me. I woke up one day and realised I couldn’t imagine not being involved in a church. Church is no longer just nice; it’s necessary. And I am so grateful I am part of this one.
Why not use this editorial as Bible study this week?