A friend asked this question of those of us who have not been able to attend in-person church services for months at a time due to restrictions imposed by pandemic protocols: What have you missed about church attendance if you have been a regular church attender?
Note: I’m not addressing arguments against either the potential misuse of political power in church closures or the potential lack of consideration for the vulnerable in defiant church openers right now. That discussion tends produce more heat than light when many people in church leadership are doing the best they can with information that is still changing.
This is what I miss about attending local church on a Sunday morning. I miss seeing people who are not on the internet. Some people cannot or choose not to participate on Zoom or other media meetings. Sadly we are losing touch.
I miss corporate worship that includes children and young adults and, well, everybody together in the same place.
I miss celebrating the sacraments together.
I miss hugs and kind touches on the shoulder.
But thinking about my response to this question has made me realize something. Quite a while ago I learned that if I wanted to go deeper in knowing the Lord I could not depend on once a week attendance in a pulpit-centered church in a dedicated building no matter how much I liked the pastor/s. We have moved and been moved several times throughout the years. Every group seems to specialize in favourite doctrines and passages of scripture after a while. Many pastors teach at a level that new believers will understand. Steak dinners are rare. Easily digested blender-processed food is more plentiful. It’s risky to address mystery and pursue what it means to know God at a deeper level without appearing elitist or annoyingly holier-than-thou. I learned to appreciate what was offered and seek more through books, podcasts, webinars, courses, and conferences myself.
Some popular churches focus all their efforts into looking after God’s P.R. and continuing to do what they do best. I admire them, but eventually, something always seems to be missing. Although I’ve gone kicking and screaming, the Lord seem to arrange circumstances that kick me out of the nest if I get too comfortable in places like this. Sometimes, it’s the drive to know Him that pushes me out of the box.
I’ve taken courses from all sorts of lovers of Jesus who are outside the local church and outside my usual tribes. I’ve been involved in both online and face-to-face “parachurch” ministries for quite a while. I now realize that, for me, parachurch organizations have often been a healthier example of being the church than the pulpit and pew crew. The causes parachurch groups support may be different, but they have this in common. Participants are passionately involved and have actual relationships that are the result of working together in hard-won unity. They go beyond “fellowshipping” with the back of someone’s head. The ones that aided spiritual growth the most realize the necessity of prayer and worship and acknowledge the problems of being limited to denominational-style distinctives and limited forms of expressing praise. They recognize diversity and that people flourish in an environment where creativity is honoured and lay people can offer their best.
The question I am tempted to ask now, instead of what do you miss about church services, is this: What do you miss when church means only in-person attendance at a traditional time and place? If your local church has been closed or has switched to online services, has this time of being the church out of the brick and mortar box revealed anything to you? In what ways are you seeing signs of new growth? What has blossomed in your life?
There is a divine mystery—a secret surprise that has been concealed from the world for generations, but now it’s being revealed, unfolded and manifested for every holy believer to experience. Living within you is the Christ who floods you with the expectation of glory! This mystery of Christ, embedded within us, becomes a heavenly treasure chest of hope filled with the riches of glory for his people, and God wants everyone to know it! (Colossians 1:26,27 TPT)