It’s happening all over the country. About 40% of church attenders have not returned to church, with some respectable pollsters estimating that half of this group may never return. If that’s you or someone close to you, I’m not judging. Pandemics are hairy, scary times and we’ve got a long road to travel before the “all clear” is announced over this mess. But I want to put a passage before you. Consider it an invitation: a thing to noodle over the next couple of months. You may find God surprises you by inciting some dormant desires that are vital to your spiritual health.
The author of Hebrews says, “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.” (Heb. 10:24-25)
As we think about recent attendance challenges, let’s be encouraged by some ways this passage connects attending church to our motivations for serving God.
First, our motivation needs community. Hebrews says, “Let us consider how to stir one another.” Full-stop there for a minute. When you think about pleasing or obeying God, how often do you consider the how-to given in this passage?
Real people are the how-to.
God could’ve organized our motivation in pretty much any way he wanted. He could’ve made us autonomous, isolated, or independent. He could’ve organized our growth so that the key to love and good works was mystical experiences or woodland retreats. But the reality is that God arranged his church so that our motivation and growth depend upon community.
We’re in this together.
Second, my motivation needs meetings. The author of Hebrews doesn’t leave us dangling on how to apply his instruction to “stir one another to love and good works.” He tells us exactly what to do: “don’t neglect meeting together.” Connected, embodied, live, face-to-face times together.
If we’re going to stir and stoke one another to love and good deeds, we need specific contexts within which to do so. It’s no coincidence that, as the church formed in Acts, believers met in the temple and from house to house. This wasn’t just a space issue (though when five thousand arrive in one day, space becomes an issue!). More than just needing different, larger venues, the people of God were looking for ways to share, as Paul writes, “not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:8).
It works like this. Something wonderfully spiritual transpires when two or three are gathered; Christ is present, and there’s a transfer of faith as my faith is built up by yours. We need to recapture our wonder for what happens through fellowship at meetings. The encouragement of one inspires another’s trust in God; your example elevates my desires to know God or apply truth. Meetings became God’s vitamin to boost the church’s endurance.
We need that now more than ever.
Third, this passage is aware that my motivation to meet will come under attack. I’m so glad that the Bible isn’t blind to my temptations. The writer of Hebrews knows that neglecting to meet together will be the habit of some. So he puts it on our watch list.
Let’s face it: Irregular church attendance is not a modern phenomenon. God knows we live about 4-5 inches—the size of an average remote control or cell phone—away from distractions: sports, social media, morning updates, or even the echo chamber between our ears. Our attention arcs inward and downward. We curve in; we push away. The enemy convinces us that, in our situation, the eye really does not need the hand (1 Cor. 12: 21).
Are we awake to the reality that meeting together is a point of attack for the enemy?
The largest battle of World War II was the Battle of Bulge. The U.S. lost eighty-one thousand soldiers; the Germans lost around one hundred thousand. In that battle, the Allied counterattack focused on the Germans’ fuel supply. The Allies knew that tanks don’t move forward without fuel.
Our enemy knows that the same is true for us. Without meaningful connections with others, Christians lose fuel. We don’t move forward.
Interestingly, that’s why we’re told to meet together more as the day of judgment draws near (v. 25).
In Daniel 12:4, the Lord reveals something fascinating to the prophet about the end of days. Daniel writes, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” That sounds like our time doesn’t it? People are always on the move and there’s information on every screen.
But it’s just a distraction.
As the news cycles turn and life gets busier, we’re called to meet more often, not less. We need each other. We need to meet together.
If you find your faith is flagging for lack of meeting together, don’t let your heart condemn you (1 John 3:21). These are complicated days where great wisdom is needed. But don’t try to solve this problem alone. Talk to Christians you trust and respect; consult with your pastor. If your motivation is flagging, it may actually be time to double-down on meeting. In fact, you may need to meet together because your motivation is lagging. It’s ironic, I know. But it’s one of the ways God fuels our heart for Him. The darker the days, the more we need Jesus and each other.
For now, just noodle it.