Many people have an improper or unbiblical understanding of church attendance. Some people’s feeling about church attendance borders on legalism—they must attend every time there is any kind of service or meeting, or they risk God’s wrath. Some people experience guilty feelings whenever they miss a Sunday morning service for any reason. Sadly, some churches encourage this guilt by putting excessive pressure on people. While indifference toward church or a willful avoidance of church may indicate a problem in one’s spiritual health, it is important to understand that the quality of a person’s relationship with God is not determined by how often he/she is in church. God’s love for His children is not based on the number of times they attend formal services.
There is no doubt that Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, should attend church. It should be the desire of every Christian to worship corporately (Ephesians 5:19–20), to fellowship with and encourage other Christians (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and to be taught God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Hearing the Word is what produces faith (Romans 10:17). And gathering with other believers is a command (Hebrews 10:24–25); we really do need each other. Just as God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), so He is pleased with a genuinely cheerful church attendee.
Church attendance should be one of the priorities in the Christian life. Being committed to one’s local church is important. What then are appropriate reasons for missing church? It’s impossible to give a list that will work for everyone. Of course, it’s acceptable to miss church when one is ill. But, in other areas, the issue comes down to your attitude and motivation. If one’s motivation for missing church is to better serve the Lord elsewhere, to meet genuine needs, or to fulfill a God-ordained responsibility, then there is nothing wrong with missing a church service. An on-call policeman, for example, cannot be expected to ignore a call in order to take his place in the pew. But if one’s motivation for missing church is to fulfill the lust of the flesh, to pursue selfish ends, or to simply avoid Christian fellowship, then there is a problem.
Each situation must be evaluated personally and honestly. Is it ever acceptable to miss church to attend a sporting event? Yes, depending on one’s motivation and attitude. What about missing church while on vacation? Again, it depends on one’s motivation and attitude. We want to avoid legalism; we are not saved by church attendance but by grace. At the same time, a Christian should desire to attend church to learn about the greatness of God’s gift of salvation, to learn how to become more like Christ, and to have opportunities to minister to others.
In examining our motives for missing church, we should also examine our motives for attending church. Do we attend church to make ourselves appear spiritual? To interact with possible business contacts? Or do we attend because of the legalistic notion that says the more frequently we walk through the doors of a church, the more God is pleased with us? It’s true that there are many people who attend church regularly yet do not have a good relationship with the Lord. If your church attendance involves nothing more than sitting bored and inattentive through the singing and sermon, and then leaving immediately after the service ends, then you might as well have missed church, as you did not gain anything from it and you contributed nothing to it.
We should want to attend church so we can fellowship with others who have also experienced the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. We should avoid missing church, whenever possible, because we recognize the importance of hearing God’s Word, applying it to our lives, and sharing it with others. We should attend church, not to collect spiritual bonus points, but because we love God, love His people, and love His Word. Every Christian should attempt to attend church regularly. At the same time, missing church for a good reason is in no sense a sin or something that should cause feelings of guilt.
When you miss (do not attend) church, do you miss (have a longing for) church? If so, that’s a sign you have a good connection with church. If not, that is a sign you need to re-evaluate your choice of church and/or participation in church. God knows our hearts. God is not impressed by a person simply because he attends every service. God’s desire is to build us up in Christ, and His method in this age involves the local church.