(adapted from Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever)
Perhaps you have met someone, or you’re related to someone, or maybe, you ARE someone who doesn’t believe in “organized religion.” You might prefer to keep your faith a private matter between you and God – after all, the experiences you’ve had in church or with church people have not been positive.
I get that. I have had my share of experiences, too. However, Jesus (who had considerable conflict with “organized religion”) does not give us the option to abandon the church. After all, the Church is His bride, His body, and His people. He has established His Church and is building His Church. And He continues to stand as the head over every church – even the ones filled with broken, imperfect, and (even, at times) ornery people.
We could say much about God’s design for His people, Christ’s work in the gospel, and the Spirit’s application of salvation; however, for the sake of time, let me present five reasons every believer should be an active member in a local church.
(1) Believers join a local church to express their faith. (John 14:21; 1 John 4:20)
“Membership in a local church is intended as a testimony to our membership in the universal church.” Church membership is an expression of our faith. As believers, we want to obey our Savior, to do what our Lord commands – and He expects his people to be united together, living faith alongside one another in the context of a local church.
(2) Believers join a local church to embody the gospel. (1 Thess 1:1-10; Phil 1:27)
“The church is the gospel made visible.” In the church, we are called to display the glory of God in the gospel of Christ. We should see community, reconciliation, forgiveness, transformation, love, humility, care, and comfort. It is in the church that we are called to live out our faith in tangible, concrete, and observable activities. It is a sort of laboratory for gospel experiments: what happens if we live life together like the Bible says?
(3) Believers join a local church to edify the church. (Col 3:1-17; Heb 10:19-25)
Our gatherings are a time of encouragement. If you do nothing else but show up faithfully, your presence infuses boldness, and comfort, and faith into the lives of those around you. The way we prioritize one another and relate to one another confirms & strengthens faith.
The church is built up as every working part pulls together to do what God has called and equipped each part to do. Instead of joining a church for what we get out of it (while there are benefits), we should join a church for the service and gifts we bring to that particular church.
(4) Believers join a local church to evangelize the lost. (Mtw 28:18-20; Phil 2:1-4)
“A local church is, by nature, a missionary organization.” As a church, we are to give attention to spreading the gospel… locally, nationally, and globally. This is our “one purpose.” It is our “great commission.” The unity and love we demonstrate (in no small part when we meet) are crucial elements of this mission.
(5) Believers join a local church to exalt their God. (1 Thess 2:1-12; Col 1:1-12)
Above all else, God is honored and shown to be great when we abide together the way His Word commands. Church-hopping in a consumerist fashion not only stunts our spiritual growth but dishonors God. Superficial relationships may make us feel good, but they do not build us up. More than that, maintaining a unity based on pleasant feelings with those like us (while we hide our faults) is contrary to the gospel. On the other hand, maintaining unity with those unlike us (especially when our faults are exposed and our feelings are hurt) brings glory to God. That magnifies the gospel!
Suppose we are going to live out our faith according to the Lord’s design and display the gospel powerfully before a watching world. In that case, we must identify with, join, participate in, and submit to a local body of believers.
Our faith may be personal, but it is not private. We are wired for relationship. Faith is designed for community. Participating in a local church is foundational to our growth as disciples, experiencing His plans and purposes, and walking in fellowship with our Savior and our God.