I have friends in places where the church is now able to meet again. Here we are able to have small groups gathering for home groups (limited in number, and only outdoors). Eventually we will be able to meet on Sundays as a whole church. But even then, there will be limitations and hassle – social distancing measures, some restrictions, some unable to meet because of heightened personal vulnerability. It is going to feel complicated for quite a while!
So, after months of “meeting” online, or even just watching some elements of church services online, we have all grown accustomed to a much freer Sunday. It has become normal to just tune in on a Sunday, or if anything else is going on, to not bother at all without anyone knowing. And most churches will presumably continue to livestream in some way because some people can’t be there in person. So why return to church and meet in person if possible?
I was thinking about this and then saw David Gundersen’s article on the Crossway site giving 10 reasons to return to church. His reasons are: we’re embodied creatures, the church is one body, the Spirit is drawing us, we’re a spiritual family, preaching is a sacred moment, there’s nothing like singing together, we need baptisms and communion, you have a job to do, our worship is a witness, and greetings change lives.
Without repeating too many of those good reasons, here are 5 more reasons to meet, in person if possible, from me:
1. To let your shepherds shepherd you. I think I can speak for most in church leadership when I say that we have been trying, but it is much harder to care for people you can’t meet. So we have been praying for you, trying to stay in contact with you, and learning how to put elements of church online for you. But we’ve also discovered even more keenly how hard it is to shepherd without the regular interactions of normal church life. That is where little conversations and interactions allow people to notice when each other are struggling, or just “not themselves.” Meeting in person if possible is key to knowing where to pour pastoral energy.
2. To play your part in building the body of Christ. What is true for those in pastoral positions of responsibility is true for us all. Your brothers and sisters at church need you to care, encourage, ask questions, greet, smile, check in, share life, and every other aspect of lively fellowship. A normal Sunday may not seem spectacular, but just as others can make a difference in your life, so you make a difference in theirs.
3. To show yourself who you are. I’m not sure how to write this one, but let me try. You can say you belong to Jesus and are trusting Him for your salvation and with your eternity. But if active in person participation in the body of Christ becomes an option again, but instead you would rather be less inconvenienced and just watch a bit of church online, or maybe not at all … what are you really declaring to yourself? I’m trying not to move into guilt trip zone and twist your arm to be there because you should. I just mean what are you saying to yourself? We are all capable of self-justifying with the “I can worship God just as much on a walk in the woods or in my living room at home as I can at church” type of statements. But do you? Maybe it would be healthier to be honest with ourselves, “I love Jesus and his people a bit, but I love my own comfort and this TV show more.”
Drifting spiritually is a danger for us all and being honest about it is much more helpful. The red hot coal soon cools off when separated from the fire. Maybe you have decided you aren’t trusting Christ for salvation any more and don’t want to be part of his people after all – that is desperately sad, but say so, say it so you can hear it yourself and make sure you are settled on that course. Don’t just drift and deny you are drifting – that is such a rubbish way to go. And if you aren’t giving up on Christ, then jump back into in person church when you can – its actually only a small statement to yourself in the big scheme, but it is an important one.
4. To reconnect with family. Your church may have handled the lockdown differently. We have combined livestreaming with some Zoom gatherings. But some people really struggle with Zoom for various reasons. You may not have interacted with those choosing to only view the church service elements for months. In person if possible will be a family reunion. You are part of the family and it will be precious to be together.
5. Because the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion. John Wesley said that and he was right. As you read through Acts and the epistles you will see reference after reference that assume ‘in person if possible’ is the context for church life and health. Lockdown hasn’t changed that.