A recent Barna study of 18-35-year-old Christians revealed that nearly half believe attending church is "not an essential part of their faith." The majority of those who do participate, do so primarily to grow in their faith (63%) and learn about God (61%), which may be why almost half of those polled attend church less than once a month.1 If you can stream the best preachers in America from your bedroom and listen to professionally produced worship music in your pajamas, why go to church on Sunday mornings? When resources for growing in faith and learning about God are available in the app store, why go out? In today's society, we seem to have defined church as no more than an opportunity for personal growth, whether through intellectual gain or emotional reassurance. But is this God's vision for His church? Is this the best way to grow in faith and learn about God?
The Christian trying to proclaim the greatness of God alone is like the individual claiming to be a nation—a single stone claiming to be a temple.
When asked what is missing from the church today, these same Christians noted a general lack of relationship: my friends attending (18%), social gatherings outside worship (14%), support groups (13%), my family attending (12%), and regularly meeting with a mentor (12%).2 When so many neglect to meet together and consider the church as nonessential to faith, the whole body of believers feels their absence. The church is not meant to be a digital resource center for our personal and spiritual growth. Rather, as seen in God's Word, it is a highly relational gathering of people grappling with people, striving to humbly submit to one another in love as their Lord and Savior called them to do. Church was not and is not an event you attend; it was and is a community to which you belong that both refines and strengthens your faith as the Truth of God's Word is lived out in relationship. The church needs you, and you need the church.
WE CANNOT BE LONE RANGER CHRISTIANS
The apostle Peter uses two different images to help us understand the identity of the church: a stone temple and a chosen nation. "[Y]ou also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). Peter shows us that the body of believers is both the temple and the priesthood of the Living God; it both enjoys fellowship with God and guides others into His presence. And when Peter says, "you," he does not mean a single person, but a group of people. He's basically using the southern y'all. "Y'all are living stones. Y'all are a temple." Everywhere, the "you" is plural: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).
You alone cannot be the temple of God, but y'all can. You alone cannot be God's holy nation, but y'all can. At the center of the Christian life, God placed a community, a body. In fact, even in the Garden of Eden—before sin had entered the world—man still needed a helper, a partner. The Christian trying to proclaim the greatness of God alone is like the individual claiming to be a nation—a single stone claiming to be a temple. But as a part of God's people, His church, we each are a part of His special possession: a stone in the glorious temple of God and a citizen in His nation of light.
What a wondrous calling! And yet we neglect the church because living in community also means personal sacrifice. The appeal of an individualistic society is that everything is catered to our specific needs and desires. My music. My style. My age and stage. As a result, we treat church like a buffet for our own personal growth. We sample the sermon, complain about the under-flavored worship, and avoid relationships that give us allergic reactions. But the church is not a buffet; it is a family meal. We gather around the table together, break bread, eat from the same dish, and grow in our shared identity. This means our favorite entrée isn't served every meal, but that's not the purpose of a family meal. And that's not the purpose of the church either.
TRUE TRANSFORMATION COMES THROUGH FELLOWSHIP
When we take our place in the church, we find true growth and true discipleship. Real life change comes not just with more information and training, but in the context of transformational relationships. This was the case for Jesus' disciples. He called them to walk with Him, to eat with Him, to serve alongside Him. Whether they were distributing bread to the 5,000 or going out two-by-two on mission, it was the community as much as the content that produced change. The same is true for us today. We cannot expect to grow in Christ while only sampling the meal He has provided us. Full membership in His family means being known, being challenged, being held accountable. It means giving of ourselves to a people and a mission that are our own. It means living out the Gospel by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ even when it's hard—and so bringing glory to the name of the Lord.
FOLLOWING CHRIST'S CALL TO COME TOGETHER
We should not be surprised by Peter's communal view of the church. He learned it from Jesus as one of His disciples. In fact, Jesus' final night with His disciples was spent in a shared family meal. During this meal He washed their feet to show how they should serve one another (see John 13:2-17). He entreated them to love one another as a witness to the world of the Truth (see John 13:34-35). He described them as branches on the true vine—Himself (see John 15:1-8). He prayed for them to be one, just as He and the Father are one (see John 17:20-23). This meal defined the church.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus affirmed that togetherness is essential to the Christian life. This family meal cannot be digitized, downloaded, or delivered. It is the birthright of the family of God. It is time we eat of it together.
1 "What Young Adults Say Is Missing from the Church." Barna, https://www. barna.com/research/missing-church. Accessed 30 December 2019.