One of the greatest decisions of your life will be centered upon what church you should join. This will be where you receive the teaching of God’s Word, grow in the knowledge of truth, are blessed through the ordinary means of grace, and where your entire family will engage in worship, discipleship, and missions. This is no small decision. Often I run across people at conferences or through e-mail who stop attending church because they can’t find the perfect church. What if you don’t have the perfect church in your community—what should you do?
Nonattendance is Not an Option
If you’re not presently attending church because you have become disgruntled with your present church and due to the fact that you can’t seem to locate the perfect church in your area—you are in a very dangerous place. God has never intended His people to journey to the Celestial City alone. The journey is long and treacherous and God’s plan has always been centered on the church. We need one another for encouragement, friendship, partnership, and accountability.
Consider the words in Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
How is it possible to stir up your church to love and good works if you’re not in attendance with the church? How can you encourage your church if you’re not gathering together with your church family for the purpose of worship and service in ministry? The church gathers weekly for worship and service, and regularly sits together at the Lord’s Table remembering the sacrificial death of Jesus. Nonattendance was not an option for the early church and it shouldn’t be an option for the modern church.
Work Hard to Make Your Church Better
Perhaps that’s the reason you’re unhappy is because you’re searching for the perfect church. It’s like the husband who is unhappy with his wife because he’s consistently looking at other marriages and examining them as he searches for the ideal marriage. Perhaps if you stopped shopping around and became focused on your local church things would suddenly improve.
When talking to people about what type of church they’re searching for, words that often surface in such conversations include “authentic,” “missional,” and “serious.” Before leaving your church and looking for a better church, have you considered working to improve the deficiencies within your local church? As we consider the reality that all churches will have blemishes and deficiencies, we must not become a “Statler or Waldorf” who sit on the sidelines and criticize. The church needs more and the Lord deserves much better from us all.
As the church is often described through analogies of the human body, a building, and a family—the idea of slacking off and not pulling your weight within your local church based on complaints that you have is simply not biblical. Work hard to love one another (yes, we are called to actually go beyond liking one another), to serve with one another, to promote unity, and to engage in the mission of the local church for the glory of God.
Drive, Move, or Both
There are times when it’s necessary to leave a church. As you consider leaving your church, you must honestly evaluate your desires from a biblical lens. Are your concerns based on cultural preferences or essential biblical truth? This is a heartbreaking decision and should likewise be approached carefully and biblically. Never leave a church out of emotion, anger, or petty complaints.
If sin is not addressed by the church and if unrepentant sinners are allowed to persist in their rebellion—this may be a reason to consider leaving your church. If leaders within the church do not take their responsibility to teach the Bible seriously and if they replace serious exposition with silly sermonettes and puppet shows, this may be an indicator that you can’t stay. If unbiblical doctrines are being taught, you should leave. However, in all cases, it would be wise to confirm the unbiblical doctrines by meeting with the elders of the church to avoid any misunderstanding and to hold the leaders accountable.
If you find yourself searching for a church because you’ve had to leave a church on the basis of heretical teaching or if you’ve recently moved to a new city—don’t be persuaded that your couch and YouTube will be a sufficient substitute for a healthy local church. God has not given us another option in place of the local assembly of the saints. If you need to drive to the next town to attend church—do it. If you can’t drive and be faithful—consider moving. Yes, moving to be closer to your church may prove to be the best decision for your family. It will prove to be much healthier than spotty attendance that keeps you and your family disconnected from the life of the church. It may be that such a move causes you to have a longer drive to work each day, but that too may be the most healthy option.
Whatever you do—don’t choose YouTube and podcasts as a substitute for your local church.