By Chris McCurley

Do I have to be there? It is a question that many Christians have asked themselves when it comes to church attendance, primarily, church attendance on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. Even the nominal Christian would concede that Sunday morning is a must, but what about other meeting times? Is my absence on Sunday night and Wednesday night condemnable?  Some conclude that, aside from Sunday morning, corporate worship is optional. Occasionally I have heard someone say, “Prove to me that I have to attend on Sunday and Wednesday nights!” It must be admitted that such a statement reveals a rather sad condition of the heart and soul. The question, “Do I have to be here?” says something about the commitment level of the individual. 

Throughout the Scriptures we find the irrefutable fact that God must be first in our hearts. The Old and New Testaments reveal this truth. The first of the 10 Commandments clearly states that God is to have exclusive rights to our hearts: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3). In Mark 12:28-30 a scribe asks Jesus, “What commandment is foremost of all?” Jesus responds, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” God must be first in our hearts. When God is first in the heart of the individual Christian it affects every area of his life. Spiritual things receive top priority. This includes, of course, worship and church attendance. A heart that is given to God will worship. A heart that is given to God will understand the necessity of church and why one needs to be there. The person who constantly tries to justify why he does not have to attend is the person whose heart is not completely devoted to the Lord. Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength will naturally motivate one to be at church and to engage in worship with fellow brothers and sisters. Jesus stated, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33). Attendance will not be an issue to the one who is seeking kingdom things first. “Do I have to be there?” is not a question for the one who loves the Lord his God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

The elders of any congregation have a scriptural obligation to “feed the flock” (Acts 20:28). The “sheep” have a scriptural responsibility to submit to these shepherds and follow their lead (Hebrews 13:17). Elders are to tend to the spiritual needs of the flock, and the congregation is commissioned to follow that lead so long as their leadership does not violate God’s Word. Therefore, if the elders set reasonably appointed times to nourish the flock, the Christian does not have the right to willfully excuse himself from the assembling of the saints. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” How does one consider another? How do we stimulate one another to love and good deeds? How do we encourage one another if we are not present? How does my staying at home serve to stimulate others? How do I encourage others from my couch? When we miss services, we miss a golden opportunity for growth and encouragement, for love and support, and for praise and worship. Let us realize all that we are forsaking when we willfully forsake the assembly. 

At its core, the question, “Do I have to be there?” is a selfish one. It is not a question for the one who seeks to serve the Lord with every fiber of his being. Church attendance should be a decision made one time. We resolve to assemble with our fellow brothers and sisters at every opportunity, barring any unforeseen circumstances. We must be committed to the life and health of the body of Christ. Also, consider this: If the church was a part of God’s eternal plan from the beginning and Jesus Christ purchased the church with His own blood, then why would I ever treat His precious commodity as non-essential, or attempt to justify my lack of participation?