By Mike Willis
Nearly every congregation among us is troubled by hit-and-miss attendance at worship. Some churches have as few as 50% of their Sun-day morning attendance back for their evening services and mid-week Bible studies. In some of the larger congregations, enough members do not return to Sunday evening services to constitute a pretty good local congregation (in excess of 100 people). Because this problem is wide-spread, brethren need to examine what the Bible says about attendance at the worship services.
The Lord Established the Local Church
Brethren need to remember that the local church exists because the God of heaven planned it and the Lord Jesus built it (Eph. 3:10; Matt. 16:18). The Lord planned both the universal church (all of the saved of the world — Eph. 5:23,25) and the local church. He gave the divine pattern for its organization (1 Tim. 3:1-15), worship, work, terms of membership and such like things. The local church is a product of the mind of God.
The Lord established the local church for the good of man. God recognized that Christians need one another and, therefore, commanded that they work together in the local church. There they meet for corporate worship (1 Cor. 11:20), exercise corporate discipline (1 Cor. 5:4; Matt. 18:15-17), and work together to do the Lord’s work on earth. In the functioning of the local church, members support one another. They suffer with those who are suffering and rejoice with those who are rejoicing (1 Cor. 12:26), provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24), and otherwise edify one another (1 Thess. 5:11).
A local congregation comes into existence when several Christians (1) agree to work together, (2) submit to common oversight, and (3) have a common treasury. Each of these is scriptural. There must be agreement to work together (Acts 9:26-28), submission to common oversight (Heb. 13:17), and a common treasury (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Phil. 4:15-16).
Those who habitually miss worship services undermine every one of the basic elements necessary for the local church to exist. (1) They undermine the agreement to work together. When members agree to work together but do not show up to do what they agreed to do together, their agreement is meaningless. (2) They undermine common oversight. When the church decides, either by the leadership of the elders or by a men’s business meeting, that a certain program of work will be done, each member has a responsibility to support it. This is the essence of agreement to have common oversight. When members refuse to attend and support what those who oversee decide, they undermine the principle of common oversight. (3) They under-mine the common treasury. When members do not attend, they usually do not give, limiting the work that can be done through the treasury.
The fundamental principles which create a local church are under-mined by those who habitually and erratically attend worship services. The net result is that these kinds of conduct will destroy the local church. If every member was just like the member who habitually misses evening services or who erratically attends, would there be an evening service, mid-week Bible class, or Sunday morning Bible study? If every member was just like the member who habitually misses and erratically attends, would the building be cleaned, the Lord’s supper prepared, and the yard mowed? The answers to these questions demonstrate how hit-and-miss worship attendance under-mines the local church.
You will also observe that what is said in this section applies to all of the services decided upon by the local church, not merely the Sunday morning assembly. There are some who insist that they have an obligation to the Sunday morning assembly but not to the other weekly worship services and gospel meetings. This is not true! The attitudes displayed by missing the worship will eventually destroy the local church.
Each of us would react with anger to anyone who tried to destroy the Lord’s church. The local church could be at-tacked by persecution and all of its members killed. We would cry to heaven in protest, and properly so. However, the same thing can be accomplished — the destruction of the local church — by neglect and indifference. Unfortunately, some cry to high heaven only when the preacher says something about the spiritual laziness and neglect that are destroying the local church. If we truly love the church for which Christ died, we will do all we can to cause it to grow, not destroy it by neglect and indifference. The wise man observed, “He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster” (Prov. 18:9).
The wise man observed the effects of laziness. He said, “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction” (Prov. 24:30-32). Wonder what the wise man would see if he went by a local church full of spiritual sluggards? Would he see a parking lot half full on Sunday night, a group that had to beg people to teach their children classes, and a handful of people doing 95 percent of the work? If that is what he would see, I suggest that he could visit most local churches and see the evidences of spiritual laziness and neglect!
Missing The Worship Assemblies Is A Sin
There are several reasons to reach the conclusion that missing the worship assemblies is a sin. Consider the following:
1. The Lord commanded that Christians not forsake the assembling of the saints. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Do you see any word in this verse which limits its application to Sunday morning worship services? Those who miss the worship assemblies violate these plain statements of Scripture: (a) to observe the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:23-25); (b) to give of their means (1 Cor. 16:1-2); (c) to assemble with the saints (Heb. 10:25).
Those who habitually miss worship assemblies generally have the wrong attitude toward the service of the Lord. Paul commanded that Christians abound in the work of the Lord; he said, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). None of those whom I have witnessed habitually missing worship services and attending erratically try to “abound” in the work of the Lord. They generally want to get by with the least they can do.
Those who miss worship assemblies and claim that they can sing, pray, and read their Bibles at home generally do not.
Those who miss worship assemblies do virtually nothing to build up the local church. They never bring visitors to worship with them (since they are not there), teach a Bible class, participate in public worship, or otherwise promote the growth of the local church.
Those who miss worship assemblies and attend erratically are a discouragement to others. Our assemblies are to provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:25). We should be edified from our assemblies. When I come to worship and witness nearly half the congregation absent, I for one am discouraged. I frankly get discouraged because the singing does not sound as good, absence from the Bible classes says to me “I don’t care how much preparation you have made to teach this lesson or about the people who are there.”
For these reasons, I unequivocally state: Those who willfully miss the worship services of the local church are guilty of sin!
Sometimes Christians offer such pitiful excuses for not attending worship. Here are some I have heard.
“I have a headache!” Would the same headache keep the person home from work, away from the shopping center, or movie theater?
“The children need to get to bed early for school. “Would the same excuse keep them from going to the basketball game on Tuesday night, play practice on Thursday night, or shopping?
“I got home from work so tired. ” To see how refreshed a person can come home from work, watch his change of conduct when one suggests going shopping, to a ball game, or out to eat. Others work long hours every day but somehow are never too tired to attend worship. Why the difference?
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 2, p. 2
January 21, 1993