Written By Abigail Ellington, USA
I belong to a small church which used to meet all of my preferences.
But now, five years and many unforeseeable changes later, our numbers are dwindling. I am the only person of my age at the church, and I do not feel satisfied by my experiences there.
What would you do if you were me? Would you hop from church to church for better music, sermons, and social events, combining different encounters for the “optimal experience”?
Some would argue that this is akin to going to different grocery stores to find the necessary ingredients for a good meal, and that my satisfaction and sense of God’s presence should be the governing criteria for church involvement.
But what I’ve realized is that when we combine different surface-level experiences and move between churches, we rob ourselves of the joy and depth of belonging. Growth happens when we put down roots and commit.
Through Bible study, I’ve become more and more convinced that church membership is a significant spiritual foundation that we cannot do without.
This summer, my best friend and I talked about visiting churches together in the fall. She was preparing to move into college and needed a congregation closer to her campus. She encouraged me to move on and find a church with peer community. But I felt I wasn’t ready to make that decision. Besides valuing church membership, I didn’t want to make a switch just to follow a friend. I told her that I would pursue ministry opportunities within the church, and pray about God’s will for my future.
This process forced me to examine my true motivations for attending church. Was my primary criterion that church meet my social and emotional needs, or was I attending for a greater purpose? No doubt I often feel unmotivated to attend my church and wish that I had gone elsewhere, but I care about the other members around me, and I know that I am needed all the more as our numbers decrease. Even though I feel like my role is limited and unsatisfying, I know that this is where God wants me to be for this stage of my life.
My current circumstances are not ideal or gratifying, but I know what really matters. I am hearing the word of God faithfully preached, praising the Lord with believers, taking communion, and sharing life with people whom I have promised to care for, love, and protect.
Church membership provides a context to live out the “one another” commands of Scripture—loving, forgiving, encouraging, and bearing one another’s burdens. As I choose to invest in others, they invest in me, and we have the opportunity to be known and loved by a community, chosen and cared for not because of common interests or shared activities, but because of Christ.
Without commitment to a church, one can still listen to sermons, sing songs of praise, and grow in faith through personal devotions. But God did not design us to live out our faith in isolation. The New Testament brims with instructions for church life, and it describes the church as the bride of Christ, His body on earth, and the nexus through which spiritual growth and community occur. Going to church is not an experience but being with a family, and is a fundamental spiritual habit which gives order to our lives, independent of momentary whims.
I do not trust myself enough to attempt Christian life on my own. I need the input of other believers to challenge my interpretations, push me towards ministry, point out sin in my life, and support me. I know that if I ever stopped attending church, people would pursue me; and that if I were to be in conflict over a decision, unsure of God’s will for me, other members who know and love me could speak into my life. I am in the position to do the same for them, and I do not want to discard these relationships based on temporary dissatisfaction.
Being in a church is not about my comfort level, sense of fulfillment, or ease of connection with others. Rather, it is a covenantal relationship, and no matter how I feel, I know that the other members and I are keeping watch over one another; there is accountability. Although this type of obligation might seem burdensome, I know that it is worth it.
Even when I feel unconnected, I know that I am seen, loved, and appreciated, and that God has me at my church for a reason. I stay not out of apathy or obstinacy, but in faith, knowing that God works through small and everyday things, working out His purposes through those who are committed and willing.