A Case for the Local Church

A Case for the Local Church

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2537_largeA few years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about church. We were discussing its importance. "Honestly," he said, "I wonder if my time Sunday morning would be better spent serving the homeless down at the city park."

I understood where he was coming from. Sometimes Sunday morning (or Saturday night) church can feel a little arbitrary as we gather in pews to sing some familiar Christian songs and listen to a sermon. Sometimes it may even feel like a consumer activity. In that sense, my friend's question was valid. If you're not engaging with the church in the way God intended, it is probably of little value in your life.

In today's featured article, "Love the Church," Courtney Reissig makes a case for being involved in the local Body of Christ. She talks about her own experiences with those who seem to be attracted to the more gritty forms of serving Jesus while avoiding the local church. She writes:

"I began to notice a disconnect between the desire to 'do something for Jesus' and commitment to the local church. Many friends of mine were all about going on a missions trip, helping the homeless or sponsoring a Compassion child (which are all really, really good things), but often they were apathetic to the local church. If they were even regular attenders somewhere on a Sunday morning, their commitment to the church was limited to the late service usually filled with college students."

Reissig points out that serving Jesus and being connected to the church are nonexclusive:

"The local church actually provides the necessary safety net that all of us, especially vulnerable college students and young adults, need. It is within the local church that we not only hear the Word of God preached, but see it applied in our daily lives. It is here that we are given the tools for ministry, the resources to serve, and the fellowship and support that we all desperately need as we walk through this Christian life."

And if you're questioning our Lord's feelings on the church, you only have to take a look at the New Testament.

"Jesus, and His messengers, cared a lot about the establishment and continued growth of the local church. God never intended for us to be lone rangers. Even Paul, the greatest of all apostles, most often traveled with another believer, and he always was about strengthening local churches."

The urge to "do big things for Jesus" is a good one, but the example of early Christians along with the truthful words of Scripture emphasize that ministry must be fueled by a love for Jesus and a love for His bride, the church.

"He has big plans for you that do not start first with your exotic missions trip or urban ministry. Jesus' mission for your life is first and foremost to make you holy, and one of the primary ways He accomplishes this mission is through the local church. Our ministry to this lost and dying world should never be divorced from the church — and more importantly, the local congregation that you belong to."

So serve the homeless. Go on a missions trip. Sponsor a child in poverty. But love the church, too. Jesus does.

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  • Comment by  Dave:

    If they were even regular attenders somewhere on a Sunday morning, their commitment to the church was limited to the late service usually filled with college students.

    Is there something more holy about going to church earlier in the morning?

  • Comment by  Alicia:


    I think the point of that phrase was the fact that such services can be almost exclusively attended by students: so it's pretty easy for students to go to church on Sunday but never meet any of the wider church beyond their peers, and never get involved with the serving aspects of church. So the community of the church becomes artificially split up and the students don't get to bless or be blessed by members in different stages of life.

  • Comment by  SuzanneHadleyGosselin:

    Dave #1,

    Before this conversation takes a turn, you make a good point. I don't believe that is what the author is saying (if you read the entire article). What she's probably meaning is that they are ONLY involved in the late-night service and not plugged in with ministry and fellowship that takes place at other times.

  • Comment by  Dave:

    Re: #2,3

    Why not consider the different services involving largely non-overlapping people to be functionally different churches?  (I'd say the same about multi-site churches).  

    Why should a person feel more obligated to plug into things with those at other services than with those meeting at other locations?  (And why should a person prioritize getting involved in some random ministry run by their church rather than helping out at, e.g., a christian homeless shelter downtown?)

    I've gotten to the point of more-or-less abandoning trying to connect with people at church in anything other than a fairly shallow conversation over coffee before or after church.  Getting shot down about 95% of the time if I suggest grabbing coffee or a bite to eat (whether in a restaurant or made-by-me) starts to wear on you after a while...

    Still dragging myself through a church's doors on a semi-regular (though not nearly as frequently as in years past).

  • Comment by  Justin:

    "It is within the local church that we not only hear the Word of God preached, but see it applied in our daily lives."

    Oh? When? The Word may be preached, but the messages are often forced by tearing verses out of context to make them 'relevant'. As for seeing it applied in our 'daily lives', considering the local church meets maybe...2 maybe 3 days out of the week for a an hour or two each day I don't see how.

    "It is here that we are given the tools for ministry, the resources to serve, and the fellowship and support that we all desperately need as we walk through this Christian life."

    What tools? A message on how badly we need the Gospel to people who are already saved? A message on how to Tithe? I get more from my daily bible study than I do from a single sermon.

    As for resources...Don't make me laugh. Most of your average church's resources go to mortgage payments, bills, and paychecks. By the time all those are paid, there isn't enough left to use for effective ministry.

    My problem with the local church is this; the teaching is basic and shallow, resources are misappropriated, and the authentic community church should be is totally absent. Meeting twice a week is not community, it's a social club.

  • Comment by  James:

    Justin (5)

    You do realize there are an abundance of different Churches out there.  Not all are good, some outright false... so, I would say find one that you respect and does the things you talked about.  Don't take the easy out by saying they're all like that so it's all a waste of time.  Do the homework and find one.

    I'm blessed to have grown up in well balanced Churches, with many role models I will remember and try to live up to for the rest of my life.  Church isn't everything, but it is an important part of a believers growth...if they have any interest in that.  If not, keep up with cynical attitude and see how far it gets you.

    On the flip side, a bad Church can really mess people up. I have a few coworkers who have that history and have turned from the faith.  I can't really speak on that subject since I didn't experience it, so I just try to listen and learn.  It's a real problem out there.

  • Comment by  Johnathan:

    Re: #5 Justin

    Your comment is a common complaint about church that really makes no sense.  Many people argue against the local church because they've had these horrible experiences, much like what you described in your post.  Obviously no one can argue with your experiences.  But just because you've had one or more bad experiences doesn't mean you abandon the idea of it.  Experiences aside, it really boils down to whether you believe the local church is necessary.  If you believe it's not necessary on a Biblical/theological level, then just come out and say that.  But it doesn't make much sense to say you believe we're supposed to be part of the local church but you don't due to your experiences.  It'd be akin to me going to a bunch of restaurants, and hating the food at all of them, and then saying "Clearly I've had so many problems with food, I'm denouncing it as a whole."  Might be a somewhat absurd example but it's the same argument.

  • Comment by  Keith:

    In my experience, it is the fault of the church that young adults don't attend. Generally speaking churches don't welcome young adults, encourage them to become a members, lay down expectations, offer them areas they can serve, or provide them with a future and life path.  Yet when one gets married those things seem to become common place. When I was single it was really hurtful that no one cared if I belonged and no one cared if I came or disaappeared.

  • Comment by  Alicia:


    I see what you mean about multi-site or multi-service churches being essentially different congregations. Fair enough, but in the specific scenario where it's a service made up near-exclusively of students, that's not 'church' in the healthy, Biblical sense, but more an extension of the university Christian Union. The same applies to other one-demographic congregations. The church is meant to be a community made up of all kinds of people, united by Christ.

    I'm sorry your church sounds so hard to deal with. It might be worth looking for another, friendlier one, especially if you're the one making the overtures which are being rejected. It doesn't sound like a good place to be.


    I really think you're generalising 'the local church' with the faults of individual churches. You may disagree, but I think your complaints rarely come all together in one church, and most are ones which church leaders and officers really have a burden to improve. Your point about the church being prone to be just a social club is a good one, but it's just not the case in the churches I've experienced. Community in church is not something you can institute from the top down, it's a phenomenon which only comes about when Christians take seriously Jesus' command to love one another. It can happen, and does. So don't give up on local churches.

  • Comment by  marykate:

    Re #5 Justin:

    It's criticisms like these that have less and less people (like myself) in our 20s and 30s going to church. It can really seem pointless. I think especially for men.

    I attend a very large seeker-oriented church, and I hear a lot of people my age complain that the Sunday service 'doesn't feed them.' Well, no, it doesn't always. But, these are the same people who don't engage with our church's many awesome and powerful outreaches. Because of our size, we're making huge changes to our county's foster care system, to the way our working poor are helped out of poverty, to injustice and inequity in South Africa, and to the sex slave industry in India. We've also done a lot of post-Katrina rebuilding in New Orleans.

    I guess my point is you get what you give. If you show up twice a week and maybe have coffee and conversation afterwards, you have a social club. If you serve together, and share your life, and get vulnerable with people around you, then you have The Church. Which do you want? Which are you willing to work for? Are you ready to commit? I've noticed that a lot of my guy friends are not. Some of them complain that "there's no one to hang out with anymore." Well, no, there isn't; those of us who aren't married have committed to different ministries and services. We want more than just 'hanging out.'

    Also, a lot of people are picking up on a growing trend in churches--the smaller, "acts church' style of church. A group of believers who live in close proximity and often have a common purse. They literally 'do life together.' I've seen a couple of these here in the Cincinnati area and while they're not for everyone, they're really an awesome example of authenticity and of the power of the local church.

  • Comment by  marykate:

    Oh and one more thing:

    It's about more than serving. I have been caught in the trap of "I just need to serve more." If you aren't being transformed by the serving you're doing; if it isn't something that you really enjoy, it can really wear you out.

    But let's stop judging the church and starting committing to it and making it what it's supposed to be.

  • Comment by  KW:

    @5. Justin

    It seems that you have been the unwilling victim of bad preaching.  For that, I am sorry.  Likewise, I can certainly understand your concerns about church finances as well.

    What concerns me is the tone of bitterness in your post.  Brother, you are harboring bitterness against the church.  Some of these concerns are justified, but despising the bride of Christ is never justified.  These are people for whom your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died.  We are called to do good to others, especially those of the household of faith.  Even if the pastors you hear aren't preaching to your standards, they are still a part of the church as well.

    I also sense some bitterness towards the gospel.  Preaching the gospel to those who are already saved?  Brother, the gospel is saving you now as you read this even as it saved you when you first believed and will save you you upon the return of Jesus.  We are called to believe it even now more so than when we first believed.

    Let me first encourage you to repent of your sin of bitterness.  Jesus died for that sin.  Embrace the grace that has been given to you through the gospel and turn away from this sin, and run as fast as you can.

    So what does repentance look like in this situation?  Start loving the church, warts and all.  The church is imperfect because it is made up of imperfect people.  How do you love the church?  Start serving.  Go serve in the nursery, offer to bring dinner over to a married couple's house and get to know them.  Do the dishes afterwards.  Find out who the elderly are at your church, offer to come by their home and get to know them and pray with them.  The opportunities are boundless if you are intentionally seeking them.  Spend all that energy you've spent in harboring bitterness to scheme good for the people of God.


  • Comment by  JEThompson:

    I like this article! As I look back on my college years (which ended 3 years ago), I can greatly recognize how a great many of my Christian friends were misled to serving in missions/outreach contexts without being part of a local church body.  Some who graduated with me and before me still hold that opinion.  I was nearly misled to that myself.  

    Fortunately, God blessed me and helped me to discern that a balance is needed, to be actively involved in a church, active in ministry, and active in my personal time with God all at once.  I am now leading the Young Adult ministry at my church and encouraging them to be involved in the church as well as in various forms of outreach.  Since starting it, some of the group have become members of the church and other members have recognized how much of an impact we make when we work with the church.  We need the church and the church needs us.

  • Comment by  Tami:

    I have been WAY hurt by church, and so I understand many of the complaints here... most of which are very valid, accurate, and true.

    But: I haven't given up. If you're in a technically-not-false-but-still-not-especially-vibrant church, onsider that perhaps your role is to be a change agent. Perhaps God has gifted you with a desire to make change in that body. Note, I'm not saying "serve more" or "get more involved" (unless all you do is check in and out on Sundays... then yes, get more involved). I'm saying pray, speak the truth, and encourage others to go deeper. It doesn't happen automatically, but if the Lord intends to work, He will. And enjoy, and get to know, the people God has put around you. Maybe they don't know what they're missing... and being around you will stir a desire for a deeper walk.

    In the meantime, soak up as much teaching as you can. Listen to good teaching online or on the radio. Read good books by good authors (especially classic books). Find a small group and/or service opportunities with other churches or parachurch ministries, where you can serve, learn something, and get to know other like-minded believers outside the context of your particular body. Take it as a time of preparation where God will both bless you with what you need, and equip you to serve.

    And I totally agree that if your church is not preaching the true Word, find one that is. Not every pastor is given to tickling attendees' ears. Some are just as convicted as you are that the Word needs to go out fully and rightly. You might not find that preacher at a particularly "cool" or large church... but they're out there.

  • Comment by  Melissa:

    I love the church.  I even really love the local church that I am in right now.  Not gonna lie, I'm a part of her but sometimes I get upset and irritated.  There is a reason that Paul exhorted people to love one another.  He knew we would be more likely to fight than agree.  Jesus knew and Paul knew that loving others in the church was going to be a challenge.  We have to lay down our own rights and share the burdens of others.  

    I could argue semantics and context in this discussion.  Just because it isn't called a church doesn't mean it isn't THE church.  We need to be connected to Jesus in the context of other believers who also happen to be in our local context (community, serving, discipleship).  We need to serve one another.  Does that have to look like one thing over another?

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