I’m lucky to have grown up in a Christian home, so I’ve always known Jesus. But there were a few years as a teenager where I wasn’t going to church. I made plenty of excuses—we’d moved house, I just hadn’t settled in yet, there weren’t many young people at the church, and I was involved in my university Christian group. Looking back, I see how foolish I was. Out of selfishness and laziness I was disobeying God’s instructions, and depriving myself of blessings.
Other people have made compelling cases from the Bible about why all Christians should belong to a church (see here and here). It’s important to see this as a matter of obedience. But in this article I want to focus on the blessings rather than the command. What do we lose out on when we don’t regularly gather with God’s people in a local church?
1. Intergenerational friendships
Campus ministry is a great opportunity to build friendships, and some of my closest friends today are girls I met there. But most students are in the same life stage, so you miss out on diverse kinds of friendships. Now at my church I have the joy of befriending the generations older and younger than myself.
My perspectives on life and God are changed by getting to know people with different life experiences. I can soak up the wisdom of older friends as I see them serving Jesus through seasons that are far off in the distance for me. Younger friends tend to have energy and zeal that lifts me up when I’m cynical. Often the years fade away and I can enjoy rich, close friendships with people that I would never have come across at university.
Recently I read a sweet interview with two contestants from the reality show The Great British Bake Off—a 33 year old man, and a 68 year old woman, who forged a strong friendship during the show. One the interviewer’s comments was telling: “It seems like it’s pretty rare these days, to have close relationships with people of another generation outside of your family.”
The whole interview portrayed this friendship as unusual. I’m so grateful that this is normal among the church crowd. How wonderful is Jesus that he can bring together saints of all ages, with a bond deeper than a shared love of cooking.
2. Corporate worship and the sacraments
My campus ministry had public teaching each week, but this wasn’t the same as actually being a church service. We are robbed of some of the most meaningful elements of our Christian lives when we’re not committed members of a local church. The preaching at church is far more meaningful coming from a pastor who knows us and so can personally address his flock. We live as the body of Christ as we commune with him through the Lord’s Supper, and sing praises together.
Singing at conferences is often deeply moving, but there’s nothing like standing beside your brothers and sisters at church and praising God with one voice. When I know the trials somebody is going through, hearing them belt out worship songs fans the flames of zeal in my heart.
This can even extend beyond the Sunday service. Our last monthly ladies fellowship event was a music night. The cold weather kept many people away, so there were only seven of us—one friend my age, plus several older saints. Our voices were feeble but we sang together anyway. It was deeply encouraging to hear these women sing with such joy, knowing only a portion of the suffering they’ve faced in their lives. That’s something you don’t get outside of the local church.
3. A new family
The people at my church are more than just friends. They’re my family. I’ve got grandparents and parents, children and siblings. We’re not bound together by DNA or family traditions—we are united by the blood of Jesus Christ. We should take to heart what he modelled for us when he called his disciples his family (Matthew 12:46–50). Families care for each other practically, as my church does with meal rosters for sick members and helping those who are moving house.
These family relationships are particularly meaningful for me as a single person. I have a wonderful biological family, but with no nieces or nephews nearby the church allows me to play an important role in the lives of children. I’m an aunty to my friend’s kids, and give advice to the teenagers at youth group.
4. Seeing the reality of life
University is a pretty sheltered environment. Of course people can face suffering at any age, but for the most part my friends were happy and prosperous. When you’re part of a local church, you walk beside people as they face suffering that is far different (and generally far worse) than your own. You help friends through grief, sickness, anxiety, and conflict.
It’s so encouraging for me to watch people sacrificially serve Jesus while also juggling a family and full-time job. I’ve seen the joyful obedience of people who’ve had different life paths than me, and perhaps haven’t had many of the same privileges.
All this means that I’m more prepared for what lies beyond my current season of life. I see what might be ahead of me, and I’m assured that God will sustain me through whatever happens—just as I have seen him sustain others. Seeing the death of elderly saints at church keeps me mindful of eternity. As a young adult every disappointment can seem like the end of the world, but my perspective shifts when I see my church family worshipping God together.
These are just a few of the blessings of committing yourself to serving a local church. There are hard parts, of course. In a lot of ways it’s easier to just associate with people in the same life stage. But the benefits of diving into a diverse community outweigh the hardships. God is so kind to bless us through the messiness of church life. Let’s keep loving the people who Christ died for and has given to us.