"Well, OK" I said. "If that's how you feel about it." Tom looked slightly disappointed. I think he expected more of an argument from me, since I'm a minister.
“To change the subject, Tom," I said, "How's your football team doing?" Tom's head came up, and his face brightened.
"They're in first place," he said.
"Every game is great, huh? Never a dull moment?"
"Well, not really," Tom sighed.
"They started the season well, but lately they've gone into a slump."
"So I suppose you don't bother to go to games now."
"Of course I do," Tom said. "My team needs my support whether or not they're winning! Besides, it's exciting to be rooting for your team with thousands of other fans."
"But don't you have other things to do on the weekend?"
"Sure," Tom said. "But mowing can wait."
"I suppose you get into those games for free?"
"Free?" Tom snorted. "Hardly. The tickets cost $50 each."
"They ask you for money?"
"It's expensive," Tom admitted. "But you support what you believe in." Suddenly he grinned at me rather sheepishly. "You really didn't change the subject, did you?"
"No," I confessed, "I didn't. Isn't it curious that watching football with others is a high priority for you, but worshipping God with others isn't?"
Some parts of the practice of religious faith are best done alone. Great men and women of faith have always spent solitary time with God. But to sustain an active, living faith, you must also share with others. When God began to teach His people how to maintain a relationship with Him, He told them to build a sanctuary, a gathering place, where He could " 'dwell among them' (Exodus 25:8). The early Christians, too, knew the importance of worshipping together. "Let us not give up meeting together," wrote the author of Hebrews (10:25).
Let me give you four reasons why attending church is important.
The benefit of learning together
When the apostle Paul visited a city called Berea, people listened attentively. And after he finished preaching, something even more important happened: They studied together to see if what he said was true. So, the Bible calls the Bereans people of "noble character (Acts 17:11).
One of the best reasons for going to church is that church is the place where we learn about God. We learn from preachers, to be sure. But we also learn from searching the Bible together, from sharing our insights with one another. Educators will tell you there is no better way to learn than to study with others.
We also learn from the example of other Christians. The Bible says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise" (Proverbs 13:20). A young man said to me once, "You know what made me decide that I wanted to be a Christian?" He nodded in the direction of an older gentleman standing nearby. "It was when I met Jim. I thought, That's the kind of person I want to grow up to be like." We learn to live the Christian life from those who have lived it well.
The joy of shared enthusiasm
Do you love the Lord? If you do, wouldn't it be nice to be with others who love Him as you do? Unless we encourage one another in our love for the Lord, that love may fade. One of the most powerful reasons for being part of a church is that it keeps our love for God active and alive—just as going to your football team's games keeps your enthusiasm for your team high.
Of course, football is just a game. But faith is about life and death. About how we live in good times, how we stand through hard times, how we face the end of this life, and our hope for eternal life. As we share with others our enthusiasm for the Lord, we strengthen our commitment.
The strength of community
To every life will come some hard times, sometimes when you'll need to rely on friends for help. "Two are better than one," says the Bible, because "if one falls down, his friend can help him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10). That's what churches do so well. A church is a family—a place where people love one another enough to help one another through hard times. A friend of mine recently lost his wife to ovarian cancer. "I don't know what my children and I would have done without the support of our church family," he said. "They prayed for us, they encouraged us, they brought food to us and helped us in a thousand ways, and in the end they wept with us. The people in our church were there for us when we needed them." And, it should be added, the church was available for that family because that family had spent many years building up those relationships. In the words of Solomon, "Pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
The miracle of changed lives
In churches, people's lives are changed for the better. I have seen people who have gone through great crises get back on their feet again through the support of a church. I have seen those who struggled with temptations overcome them. I have seen folks turn their lives around 180 degrees, from self-destructive and hurtful to joyful, happy and peaceful. There is something about being an active part of a church that gives God the opportunity to touch people's lives and change them.
Are churches always perfect, and members always happy? No. Churches are made up of human beings who love God but are still quite human. Even ministers can sometimes disappoint. Still, God's church is a wonderful place. As one author wrote, "The church is the theater of God's grace in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts."
I can't think of a better place to be.
This article originally appeared in Signs of the Times magazine, February 2011.