Are you a spectator or a participant?

Last Sunday was a very important one for Kinnoull Parish Church as we had a congregational meeting where various plans for the future were laid out and the congregation were invited to ask questions or to make comment on the plans. One of our members asked a very good question about our plans to live stream the worship over the internet. He asked whether I thought people would stay at home, just as the greater use of TV has affected attendances at football matches. My reply was that I did not think it would as participating in worship is very different from being a spectator.
It’s surprising to me how many Christians struggle with the idea of church attendance. We are at a crossroads in our nation on the importance of going to church. According to research, church attendance has been dropping for the last few years, in Perthshire alone, over the last four years, by almost four percent. But it isn’t a new problem. Since the beginning of Christianity, the early leaders had to challenge this mindset, saying, “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
A popular Christian social media catch-phrase is, “You don’t go to church, you are the church.” While I understand the sentiment in some ways, this is an unhealthy view, pitting “being the church” and “going to church” against each other. If we are truly “the church,” then we will surely get together with other believers regularly. We cannot “be” the church, if we don’t “go” to church. Not fully anyways.
The “church” never connotes a single, individual, lone ranger Christian just going about his Christian duties and never gathering together to worship with other believers. The “church” by its very nature means multiple believers: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).
This is both the biblical and historical pattern set forth for us by the first followers of Jesus. They would get together weekly to worship God together, and at times even daily. They would also share community together in each other’s homes. Paul and the other Apostle’s letters were actually sent to these church communities that gathered in various cities to be read aloud together. Church means getting together with other believers to worship Jesus Christ, and hear the Scriptures together, and encourage one another in the faith.
If you are ill, housebound or away on holiday, yes, listening to the service over the internet is a good thing to do but there is something better. To worship God together and be committed to worship Him together, to hear His Word together. Do not reduce church to listening to a podcast. It’s so much more than that. It’s community. It’s worshiping with other, praying for others, hurting with others, serving others with others, being involved in the lives of others. In worship you are not the spectator cheering from the terraces but the participant on the pitch, let us never forget that.

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