I was a junior in high school and had little success on the relationship front. Truth be told, I had no success on the relationship front, not until this one girl came to church camp. Word spread around camp that she thought I was cute, and I thought, “Wow . . . a girl thinks I’m cute!” I started talking to her and eventually got up enough nerve to ask her to go out with me and some friends. She said yes, and we started dating, mostly in settings where we would hang around with our friends. Everything was going well until one phone conversation.
I decided I was tired of having to talk on the phone every night, so I told her that God, my family, and my schoolwork were more important to me than her. She was not thrilled at my priorities, and our dating experience came to an abrupt end. I was fine with the relationship ending, that is, until she started dating a close friend of mine, at which point I wondered what in the world I was thinking. I blew it. That moment of realization began the process of getting to know this girl all over again, becoming best friends with her, and eventually marrying her.
It is often said that Christians approach church attendance like dating relationships. In our contemporary church culture, we hop from one church to the next based on how we feel on that particular Sunday morning. We attend one church one week and a different church the next. Being a Christian is what matters most; we are part of the global church, after all. Why would we need to commit our lives to one local church? What’s the point of becoming a member—to vote in business meetings? That certainly doesn’t seem worth it, so we end up dating a church (or multiple churches) for years, never really making a commitment.
There are a lot of reasons why we date the church. At least six are worth noting.
1. We date the church because we are independent people who live in a very individualistic culture.
We are self-made, self-reliant, and self-sufficient. The thought of mutual commitment, submission, accountability, and interdependence in a church seems foreign and frightening to us. A lot of us are skeptical: if we have experienced hurt at a church in the past or been burned in some way, then we may be guarded. Many of us are skeptical of all institutions these days. We look around at the world and see scandals, corruption, and abuse, including inside the church, which makes the thought of commitment to an institution feel scary. In the end, we like our independence, so we keep our distance.
2. We date the church because we are indecisive.
We cannot decide which church we really like. We apply the consumer mentality to the church, shopping for the best package for the best price on Sunday morning. We like the music at one church but not the preaching. Or we like the preaching but not the programs for our kids. We are always looking for a better deal, which often leads to a critical attitude toward the church. We can find something wrong with every church we visit, and even when we begin to settle down in one place, we keep a mental list of the things we do not like.
3. We date the church because we are immature in our faith.
Oddly enough, I have often heard people use their supposed maturity in the faith to explain why they date the church. They believe they can grow in Christ and accomplish more on their own. Some even admit, “I love Christ . . . I just can’t stand the church.” But the Bible calls the church the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7; Eph 5:23). Imagine walking up to a husband and saying, “I like you, but I can’t stand your wife.” He probably would not receive that well. The Bible also calls the church the “body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27). What if a wife said to her husband, “Honey, you know I love you, but have I ever told you that I can’t stand your body?”
4. We date the church because our view of the church is incomplete.
Sometimes the church is reduced to a place where you simply sit and listen to a sermon. We ignore the many other ways God has designed the church for our good, as well as the many ways we can be useful in serving others and in obeying the Great Commission. With such a truncated view, it’s little wonder that we feel compelled to invest our lives in a body of believers.
5. We date the church because we are inundated.
Church gets choked out because our lives are tied up with all sorts of events, obligations, etc. Whether it’s our job or our kids’ travel sports teams, we feel pressure to get other things done. Committing time to the church just seems like too much for our already busy lives.
6. We date the church because we are indifferent to the church.
Many have never really thought about why committing themselves to a local church is important. Churches have contributed to this indifference by treating church membership as insignificant. But it hasn’t always been this way. There have been times in church history where membership in the church was highly valued and extremely important.
So what does it really mean to be a member of a local church? Is it something more than the ability to vote in a meeting? If so, many people are uninterested in that kind of commitment. The name of the game in the church today is to make it as easy as possible for people to follow Christ and be members. According to many church growth experts, the last thing the church should talk about is church membership, that is, unless it hopes to decrease in size. But this kind of thinking is out of step with God’s Word.
The Bible teaches that committing yourself to meaningful membership in a local church is critical to your life as a follower of Christ. Commitment to a church should be a high priority, a priority that shapes your other priorities. It should shape the way you think about work and sports and a million other things. Amidst busy lives and families, commitment to the church is designed by God to be a revolutionary reality.