Over the years I’ve seen and heard of many who have stopped going to church for one reason or another, and sadly the trend just seems to be growing. On several occasions I have had conversations with people who have stopped going to church, and for them they feel very justified in it. Most not only shared why they’ve stopped going, but were also very transparent into their thought processes that they felt legitimized their decision. There were also some who acknowledged they had stopped going to church but couldn’t point to any particular reason except to say that life got in the way. While there are numerous reasons why people stop going to church, I believe that there two core reasons that are the basis for the countless other reasons people give, and I want to take a look a brief look at them.
Before we get into the core reasons why I believe many stop going to church, I first want to remind ourselves of what Paul tells us in Hebrews 10:24-25, and also to take a look into some of the reasons some have given for not going to church.
Paul tells us in Hebrews 10:24-25 (NKJV); 24. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25. not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Paul tells us three things in this passage; 1) to consider others by, 2) not forsaking or neglecting the gathering of “ourselves” together and, 3) especially all the more as we see that day of His return approaching. Paul is telling us that our time gathering with other believers is not just for us, but it is for others. To not go for reasons focused on self is simple selfishness. Apparently there was an issue in Paul’s day with people not being faithful to the assembling together of the brethren for him to address it, so it’s not a new issue. Paul also instructs us to make sure we are faithful more and more as we see that Day approaching, yet in the midst of so much prophecy unfolding before our very eyes alerting us to His soon return the churches are becoming more and more empty. Something is wrong with this picture, would you agree?
I want to set the record straight by saying that our attendance record in gathering with other believers at that house of God is not the determining factor to your place in eternity, but the reasons behind that attendance record could be. Some try to make an issue of one’s attendance record to church as an eternal one, and that is wrong. The issue shouldn’t be so much what our attendance record is as much as the reasons behind it. Let me explain with an example. A person may work at a hospital, a prison or even a fire department, and because of it there are times that they are required to work a shift that conflicts with getting together with fellow believers at times, and I would consider those as legitimate reasons. On the other hand, and I’ve seen this a lot, a person may ‘conveniently’ accept a job, work overtime, or even request specific shifts that will conflict with church as an excuse for not going. They have no intentions on going, and if they can ‘conveniently’ work when the two conflict then it helps their conscious and keeps others and their questions at bay.
So, what are some reasons people have given for not attending church? One of the biggest reasons given is hypocrisy. They note how some claim to be Christians but in their opinion aspects of that person’s life or character do not seem to match that claim, and they don’t want any part in it. Another reason is because they’ve been hurt in some way by others in the church, and they don’t see why they need to stay and be vulnerable to getting hurt again. Oh, and what about this one? For whatever reason they expected God to move in some way in their life but when He didn’t as they thought He should they concluded it wasn’t real and that it was just a scam of some sort to get people’s money. Even though the list of reasons could go on and on, I want to through one more out at you. Some have stopped simply because they got caught up in life, whether it was in some form of recreation and hobbies, the pursuit to make more money or further a career, business or education, to travel, to rest, or to just hang out with friends or family. No matter what the reason given is, they always seem justified in them.
I recently wrote an article called, “Yes, but God understands …”, and you can almost see the same mindset I shared in that article in these reasons to not be faithful to church. God understands each of the reasons one may give for not going to church, so whether or not God understands is not the issue or the question. The question is, however, does our view of God’s understanding of our reasons truly match up with God’s understanding of them? In other words, does our picture of God understanding accurately and truly match up with God’s understanding of them?
At the core of many of the reasons people give for not being faithful to church are one of two reasons. The first reason is found in that it is not a priority. We tend to view church and gathering with other believers as something optional if it’s convenient and we feel up to it. One of the things that gets under my skin is when people put more stock and importance on being faithful to work or school even when it’s not convenient or they’re not feeling good, but when it comes to church they have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. God, Jesus, the Creator of the ends of the universe, desires and instructs us to be faithful in gathering with other believers, where we can receive from Him in much greater ways than we ever could from an employer or teacher. There is something to be said when believers gather together to seek Him in a corporate setting that you won’t get in any other venue of any size. We should value time with Him, the Creator of the ends of the universe, and with fellow believers more importantly than anybody or anything else. It’s not just an issue of priorities regarding His place in our lives, because many will argue they can pray and worship Him just as well if not better at home or with a small group of people, but do we value and prioritize His instructions to us, His “followers”? Many try to separate their relationship with God apart from their interaction with fellow believers and His Word, but that can’t be done. If you value interaction with fellow believers and obeying His Word as unimportant, then your relationship with Him is lacking and not what you think it is. So, one of the core reasons many stop going to church is because they do not place a high priority, in fact the highest priority, on Him and His Word. When He’s not the top and highest priority in your life, then something or someone is an idol to you, and He strongly frowns upon idolatry.
The second core reason why many stop going to church is because their eyes are on man more than they are on Jesus. When one’s eyes are more on a man than on Jesus, they then become very vulnerable to allowing the hurts, the offenses, and the ungodly (un-Biblical) teaching of some to push them away. We will all experience hurts and at times be offended by someone, that is a given, but when our eyes are more on man than on Jesus it becomes extremely difficult to overcome and press through. When we’re hurt and offended it’s easy to start using others as an excuse for not following Him and His Word, excuses Jesus will not allow or accept when each of us stand before Him to be judged. When we allow someone to keep us from being faithful to church for whatever reason, we’ve then allowed them to be more influential to us than Jesus Himself. Yes, we could talk about those who have hurt or offended us that keep us away, but it could also be because we value other people and their opinions more highly than Gods. In either case, our eyes are more on man than on Jesus, which is also idolatry. Since my youth I have observed something that touches on this, and as I share it keep in mind that we are simply asking the question, “What is keeping you from church?”, and how that our eyes being more on man than on Jesus plays into that. It could also fall under the area of Jesus not being in His rightful place in our lives as well. As I mentioned, ever since my youth I have observed something regarding people and going to church. We’ve been mentioning some of the ‘negative’ reasons for this, but there is a reason that in itself doesn’t seem to be negative but is just as dangerous. I’ve noticed how that when people have friends or family visiting them they deal with this in either one of two ways. One way that I’ve observed people handle this is that they invite their visitors to go with them to church, citing that following Jesus is the highest priority in their life and for their family, and one way that is lived out is to be faithful as a family to church. I’ve heard how that there have been times the visitors went with them, or they chose to leave, or to wait at the house for when they returned. Sometimes the visitors were also Christians, and sometimes they were not, but the approach was the same. The second way that I’ve observed people handling this is to just not go. It didn’t matter if they were friends or family, Christians or not, they were content with staying home with them. Sometimes their rational was that they wanted more time to sit and talk or to do some activity with them, and at other times it was because they were afraid of offending them in some way. Wow, what does that tell God? Here we are ambassadors of Christ with the task of reconciling men to Him, yet we ignore or downplay opportunities to do just that because we want social time or afraid of offending someone? If they’re not Christians, wouldn’t we want to take them to church where God might reach them and they can have an opportunity to meet fellow believers? Besides, if they don’t see and believe with our lives and our priorities that God is the most important person in our life and of the highest priority, then what message are we saying to them as to how important He is, or is not, to us? And if they are Christians, how awesome would it be to go and worship God as a family especially when those opportunities may be few? What it comes down to is if our eyes are more on man than on Jesus?
So, what is keeping you from heeding Gods instructions for us to be faithful and not neglect the assembling of “ourselves” (which includes YOU) together with the brethren? Maybe you are being faithful, and that is great if you are, but if you’re not then you need to take a few steps back and re-assess what is keeping you from church and why? If Jesus were to appear before you tonight to have a chat, and he were to ask why you haven’t been faithful to church, knowing He knows your heart, what would you tell Him? If you haven’t been faithful then I would suggest that now is the time to change that. The news headlines are pointing to Jesus’ very soon return, and I don’t want you to be caught unprepared for Him.