Pastors don’t need surveys and polls to tell them church attendance is declining. Even “committed” members may now come only twice a month, seeing attendance as optional.
The answer, though, isn’t to lower expectations. It’s to clarify the high expectations that come with church membership.
A few caveats are in order. First, fevers and occasional family vacations are good reasons to be absent. Faithful church attendance means simply this: nothing will keep members from public worship on the Lord’s Day except that which would keep them from work or their children from school. Second, attendance is beneficial only if the church being attended is faithful to the gospel. Finally, while research attests to the benefits of attendance, it can’t guarantee benefits in every case.
But there is an undeniable correlation between weekly church attendance and positive benefits. Here are nine.
1. Church attendance pleases and glorifies God.
This is the greatest benefit of faithful church attendance. To glorify God is to think, say, and do the things that direct the world’s attention to his magnificence as the only true and living God. We can embody this in our eating, drinking, and doing good work (1 Cor. 10:31). But when we gather, sing, ponder Scripture, and pray together, our own attention to God is most sharply focused. This is the purpose of our existence. We were made to worship.
Our worship-worthy God knows what’s best for us, so in love he calls us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Heb. 10:24–25). In obeying this call to public worship, we glorify God. All other benefits of faithful church attendance become idols without this first and greatest benefit.
2. Church attendance is an act of love to your neighbor.
We’re not saved because we attend church; we attend church because we’re saved.
At church we engage in the means of grace, which God uses to increase our love and make us more like Jesus. In our culture of anger, Christlike virtues of love, patience, and kindness are in great demand but short supply. To paraphrase Martin Luther, God doesn’t need you to go to church, but your neighbors do.
3. Church attendance can make you smarter.
God reveals himself in a book and commands us to love him with our minds (Matt. 22:37). Reading the Bible for comprehension requires a working knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, history, and geography. The Lord gives us understanding, but he expects us to do the hard work of thinking (2 Tim. 2:7).
This exercise of the brain is good for body and soul. Reading can increase intelligence in children and protect cognitive function in adults, reducing the risk of cognitive decline as we age. Is there a better way to train the brain than studying the Bible with other believers?
4. Church attendance can make you healthier.
This is stewardship theology, not prosperity theology. If we believe our bodies belong to God, we’ll manage our health for his glory. A faithful church equips us to live wisely, practice self-control, pursue habits of holiness, and abstain from self-destructive activities that threaten good health.
This is stewardship theology, not prosperity theology.
Further, engaging in meaningful fellowship can reduce both stress and the risk of mortality by 55 percent among middle-aged adults. Faithful church attendance is an “underappreciated resource” that most physicians never think to explore with their patients. As Rebecca McLaughlin observes, faithful church attendance “could save your life.”
5. Church attendance can make you happier.
Desiring happiness is the normal instinct of a creature made in the image of a happy God. God delights in our holy happiness and commands us to “rejoice in hope” (Rom. 12:12). While the most desperate sorrow rises out of hopelessness, worshipers of the risen Lord have solid reasons to hope.
Harvard researchers concluded weekly church attendance effectively improved the physical and mental health of millions of Americans and reduced mortality by “20 to 30 percent over a 15-year period.” Other studies assert faithful church attendance helps prevent the despair that leads to early deaths by suicide and alcohol abuse. Weekly interaction with hopeful people is good for your mental health.
6. Church attendance can make you more generous.
Only at church will you hear that you own nothing and God owns everything. He entrusts his money to us, and someday we’ll give him an account for our management. Therefore, faithful churches teach their members “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18).
Even after giving generously to his or her own church, notes Ericka Anderson, “someone who attends church weekly has an 81 percent likelihood of donating to secular causes, while someone who doesn’t only has a 60 percent likelihood of donating to any cause at all.”
7. Church attendance can protect your marriage.
As earnest believers hear sermons exhorting husbands and wives to love one another, keep their vows, forgive one another, and reflect God’s grace in their marriage, the Holy Spirit does his sanctifying work. In the community of faith, God draws husbands and wives closer to himself and each other.
There are countless influences pulling spouses apart, but faithful church attendance “together reduces a couple’s risk of divorce by a remarkable 47 percent.”
8. Church attendance can limit the power of the state.
In 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the way Americans voluntarily and “constantly form associations.” Tocqueville viewed the church in America as the most potent voluntary association—a mediating institution guarding against tyranny.
Faithful churches lead members to love God, each other, their communities, and their enemies. The cumulative effect of countless acts of self-denying love reduces crime, divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, racism, poverty, injustice, recidivism, ignorance, hunger, homelessness, lawsuits, abortions, fatherlessness, the negative effects of natural disasters, and other problems the government is expected to address.
9. Church attendance can protect your family against delusional thinking.
As the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), the church holds up reality to a deceived world. When a culture reaches a certain level of moral rebellion, God’s wrath comes in the form of delusional thinking as he gives them up “to a debased mind” (Rom. 1:28).
As the ‘pillar and buttress of the truth,’ the church holds up reality to a deceived world.
It’s a detachment from historical, anatomical, hormonal, genetic, logical, etymological, and sociological reality to say a man can marry a man, a woman can marry a woman, a man can be a woman, or a woman can be a man. This is delusional thinking. If that assessment sounds odd or offensive, it’s because our generation has been conditioned to believe things that aren’t true. One of the only mediating institutions left in America that will clearly say so is a faithful church.
When parents don’t faithfully attend church with their children, they’re leaving them to be influenced by a world that has lost its moral sense.
Faithful church attendance can be difficult and countercultural, but that shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus was clear a disciple must “deny himself and take up his cross daily,” even on Sunday (Luke 9:23). But it’s easier to count the cost when you consider the benefits. Then we can say with joy, “Oh magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Ps. 34:3).