There are many reasons not to attend church. So why is church important? What does the Bible say about the purpose and benefits of God’s Church—and how to find it?
More than a quarter of Americans are religiously unaffiliated—atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” Religion pollsters are calling them “nones.”
This group is growing rapidly, while among those who identify as Christian, church attendance keeps dropping.
These trends are not unique to the United States. In fact, most other Western nations experienced this decline in church attendance decades ago.
People are finding a lot of good reasons not to go to church.
“Why I don’t go to church”
Consider these reasons discovered in a Google search for “why I don’t go to church”:
- “I’m 29, single and a Christian. Moment of vulnerability here: I don’t like going to church. I used to like going and got SO much out of it, but now, not so much. My question is: Why should I keep attending?”
- “Mainly, because I’ve always found Church extremely boring. Sitting for an hour (or, even worse, an hour and a half if the priest is too inspired), half listening to a lecture while taking a glance at the clock every two minutes, is not something I like doing. Especially when it means I have to wake up early on a Sunday.”
- “I make no secret of the fact that I am deeply troubled by the state of organized Christianity. Most of what we call ‘church’ today are nothing more than well-planned performances with little actual connection between believers.”
- “I was taken aback by our journey to find the right church. It was almost unbelievable how most churches did not preach the truth. …
“Most people weren’t attending church in order to be edified. They just wanted to be pacified, and pastors were willing to feed their hunger for secular, inspirational messages; cute stories; clever presentations; emotional appeals; and, salesmanship. … Also there was usually an appeal for money, because it seems that most churches have a perpetual cash flow problem.”
Survey results: Why people don’t attend church
The hundreds of personal reasons combine into trends that the pollsters have measured.
Pew Research Center reported, “Overall, the single most common answer cited for not attending religious services is ‘I practice my faith in other ways,’ which is offered as a very important reason by 37% of people who rarely or never attend religious services. A similar share mention things they dislike about religious services or particular congregations, including one-in-four who say they have not yet found a house of worship they like, one-in-five who say they dislike the sermons, and 14% who say they do not feel welcome at religious services.”
Barna reported, “Millennials who are opting out of church cite three factors with equal weight in their decision: 35% cite the church’s irrelevance, hypocrisy, and the moral failures of its leaders as reasons to check out of church altogether. In addition, two out of 10 unchurched Millennials say they feel God is missing in church, and one out of 10 senses that legitimate doubt is prohibited, starting at the front door.”
Barna summarized that, across age and denomination, the top two reasons for not attending church are:
- “I find God elsewhere” (40 percent).
- “Church is not relevant to me personally” (35 percent).
What the “nones” have right
Those who mark “none” in the religion box on surveys are right to reject irrelevant religion. Why choose to go to a church that provides no meaning or help? Why go to a church if God is not there?
Many churches today are not in tune with the Bible and the practical help it gives and the real hope it offers.Many churches today are not in tune with the Bible and the practical help it gives and the real hope it offers.
Still, we strongly believe that the truth of the Bible—including the importance it gives to the Church designed and approved by God—remains relevant.
If the churches you have been to are not relevant, how do you find the right one?
What God intended for His Church to be
What does the Church Jesus founded look like? Why did He establish His Church?
God designed His Church to accomplish His work on earth (Ephesians 4:11-16). He made it an ideal place for the people He calls to grow to become His children.
God uses His Church to nurture, feed and protect His children. He provides education and training through the Church.
Members of the Church of God make up the Body of Christ—God binds them together and uses the abilities and gifts of each member to help the body grow and accomplish His work (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). God intends all to be connected together—not to try to go it alone as independent Christians.
The Church is evidence of God’s love. God has given ministers “to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
Christ’s sacrifice made it possible for our sins to be forgiven. Then Christ’s work as Head of the Church cleanses the Church “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (verse 27).
God wants us to worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24), to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34), to become His sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18). He wants us to preach the gospel and to prepare to serve in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:14; 20:25-28).
But most people today haven’t experienced this kind of Church—the biblically based and God-focused group of believers fulfilling God’s mission for the Church and growing in grace and knowledge.God’s Church is designed to help us do all these things and more. The Church of God is a gift God provides to those He calls.
But most people today haven’t experienced this kind of Church—the biblically based and God-focused group of believers fulfilling God’s mission for the Church and growing in grace and knowledge.
Where can this group of called, chosen and faithful individuals be found? What should you look for to locate the biblical Church of God?
How to choose a church
Consider some biblical reasons to go to church. Does the church you used to attend, or the church you are considering, provide the things the Bible tells us the Church should provide?
- Accurate biblical teaching to help you live God’s beneficial but narrow way?
- Christian fellowship that stirs up love and good works?
- Reverent worship of the Almighty God in spirit and in truth?
- Prayerful participation in the mission to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God in all the world?
Of course, God is working through fallible humans to build His Church, so those looking for a perfect church are sure to be disappointed. But God’s Church will be striving for these things.
Are you looking for the right things in a church?
Many people’s criteria for searching for a church include things like:
- Church near me.
- Church with my kind of music.
- Church with varied social activities.
- Church that always makes me feel good.
But the Bible doesn’t promise that any of these will be signs of God’s “little flock” (Luke 12:32).
And the biblical approach to church is not just about our needs or what we can get.
What should you give to the Church?
With a nod to the 1961 U.S. inaugural address, we should “ask not what the church can do for you—ask what you can do for the church.”
The Church of God is designed to be a place of peace and encouragement, but God doesn’t call people to just “get” from the Church. We are also called to give.
- We are called to serve our spiritual family (Galatians 6:10).
- We are called to “stir up love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
- We are called to encourage and build up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
- We are called to prayerfully support the preaching of God’s good news and the nurturing of new disciples God calls (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15).
By serving in these and other ways, we not only do our part, but we grow to become more like our Heavenly Father.
Is God calling you to His Church?
Many are surprised to learn that the Bible doesn’t really support the idea that you should “attend the church of your choice.” In fact, Jesus said the initial choice is really the Father’s: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).
The Bible describes this as God’s calling—He leads or impels people to come to the Church of God when He determines it is the best time. Not all are called to recognize their sins at the same time. Not all see the need to change, be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. (Receiving that Spirit makes someone part of the Church, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:13.)
But when God does choose to open our minds to understand the Bible and recognize His precious calling, we do have a choice. It’s the most important choice in our lives!
Will we repent, be baptized and become part of God’s Church? Or will we ignore God’s calling and forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25)?
If God is calling you to the benefits and growth opportunities He gives through His Church, study everything you can to make sure you choose the right church for the right reasons.
Our biblical study Where Is the Church Jesus Built? can help. Download it and study carefully with your Bible “whether these things [are] so” (Acts 17:11).