I have often wondered why professed Christians who are not physically inhibted and have means of transportation regularly skip out on church. I am not talking about the occasional missed Sunday. I'm talking about a regular habit of life.
I know that there are a lot of reasons people stop attending. They are jaded, cynical, angry. They have been hurt. They have seen the sinful side of Christians, and they don't like it. They decide they can do it on their own. They can listen to sermons online, participate in Christian social media circles, and ask for prayer on Facebook when they need it. Who needs a local church? And yet, I think there is something so much better than virtual fellowship.
A friend and I were talking recently about the difficulty of nurturing communities. It's easier to start a group than it is to maintain it. I get that. Honestly, there are times when it's so much easier to extend kindness to strangers than maintain relationships with people in my local church. Being part of a church means that people get to know us, and we get to know them. Expectations grow. Accountability exists. Conflict ensues. Pride interferes. All of a sudden, it's work.
Have you ever made a friend only to find out after getting to know her that you really don't like her? I have, and I'm sure people have begun to dislike me after getting to know me. Regular contact with a group people, serving together, having fellowship together, rejoicing, and praying together means that inevitably, people will find out who we are. If we choose to avoid church altogether, we can keep ourselves to ourselves, and maybe even pretend to be someone we are not. To really open up and share with someone means exposing ourselves, and some people don't want that vulnerability.
Most of my life, I have tended to be too open with people too soon, without knowing them well enough. That has resulted in hurt. There have been times when I have let my hurt feelings cause me put up walls to protect myself. However, being behind walls can be lonely. We were created to have relationships with other people. Yes, at times, we may have to keep up boundaries, but we can't stop being part of the Body of Christ because it's hard.
The local church is more than a group of likeminded people who like to drink coffee and have potluck dinners. We are one in Christ. If we belong to Christ, we are part of the Body of Christ. If we opt out, that doesn't mean we aren't part of it, but it does mean we are interfering with the unity of the Body. Perhaps we struggle to overcome fear in becoming known by others. One thing I have learned is at times my concern with how people will react when they get to really know me is more about my pride than anything else. Keeping myself carefully to myself can actually reflect a desire to control.
God knows us intimately. He knew us before we were born. He knows our thoughts, our hearts, and every single weakness. And yet, through Christ, he has opened up a way for sinners to be reconciled, and invited us to become part of the Body of Christ. If God will do that, we should not fear what others may discover. There will always be uncharitable Christians in and among the people of God. We are all sinners, and we all make mistakes. But there are always people who know how to extend love and grace. Sometimes, instead of focusing on how others will respond to me, I need to ask how I can encourage others in my local church. It can be hard, but inevitably, it is worth it. Ultimately, a member isolated from a body will suffer and stagnate. We may think that we can do it on our own, but we were saved to be part of a something: the Body of Christ.