Christians are fond of demonizing other believers who do not attend church. They use statements such as “They don’t care about obeying scripture” and accusations of “church hopping.”
This topic is far more complicated than that.
I pose that there are actually valid reasons that one might not to attend a brick-and-mortar church.
First of all, The Church is a group of people –the Bride of Christ, those who have chosen to follow Him– and not a building with a steeple where you meet a few times a week.
The idea that The Church is the building is not biblical.
The command in scripture is to not stop gathering together with believers. Scripture is not specific in the manner that this must happen.
The Bible does not say “Do not forsake going into the church building.
Sometimes, it is not possible to meet with other believers in a church building for any number of reasons. Here are five right off the top of my head.
Reasons people don’t attend church:
1. They’re very sick.
Cancer, autoimmunity, chronic pain, the list goes on. Many people with these conditions are even homebound or hospitalized. Those of us who aren’t still face significant daily challenges.
While I sometimes hear people praised for attending church even though they are in serious pain, this doesn’t set right with me. My first responsibility is to my family. If I attend church and end up in pain for days afterward because of the seats at the church, I am actually doing a disservice to my family.
It may seem noble in the surface, but is it?
It would actually be rather selfish of me to choose to sit in a church service for one hour knowing that it would prohibit me from caring for my family –my first biblical responsibility– for days afterward.
I can’t make that choice for other people, but I can make that choice for myself. I think it lacks wisdom.
Along with chronic pain and inflammation, I get overwhelmed with people very easily. That makes church very challenging. I choose to do much my fellowshipping in smaller groups and from the comfort of my home. Sometimes online. Sometimes at a coffee house. Sometimes in small group meetings.
I am still learning, still not forsaking the fellowship of believers as is commanded in scripture, but it just looks a little different than the classic American Christian idea of what church should look like.
2. The environment doesn’t work for their special needs children.
The church simply doesn’t know what to do with special needs kids.
Sometimes they are unwelcome in the adult church service, but they cannot function in the Sunday school program (example: a child with dyslexia who cannot do the worksheets or reading in class or a child with hyperactive ADHD who cannot sit quietly and color like he’s supposed to without one-on-one attention).
Sometimes they are welcome in the adult service but the noise (worship music) is so loud that the child cannot handle being in the service (example a child with ADHD, SPD, or autism).
An autistic child may make noises which would make the parent uncomfortable keeping them in the service or make other people uncomfortable with the parent keeping the child in the service.
This doesn’t even address the issue of bullying of children when they are “different” that goes on –even in many churches.
I experienced bullying in my third grade sunday school class before my mother took me out and kept me with her. My oldest son was regularly criticized by his kindergarten Sunday school teacher who decided I was failing to “properly” homeschool him because he wasn’t writing sentences yet at age 5 (he has dysgraphia so it was a while before we was writing complete sentences). The same church had a huge bullying problem to the point that I wouldn’t let my children be around the other children unless I was supervising.
This is a real issue that churches need to be aware of. If the environment is not safe and encouraging for my special needs child, I am going to stay away in an effort to protect and support him.
While people debate the reasons, the truth is that the number of special needs kids in on the increase.
The church needs to have a better plan for these families.
3. They’ve been damaged by spiritually abusive people in the church.
I’m not talking about people who make up excuses like “There’re hypocrites in the church so I won’t go.”
I’m talking about people who have been so damaged by other people in the church –particularly spiritually abusive leadership– that they have PTSD and trauma as a result of their prior church attendance.
If you think this doesn’t exist, you’re not paying attention.
There is serious abuse going on out there in the name of Jesus.
Using the Bible or twisting the Bible to control or manipulate people is happening. I have seen it over and over with my own eyes.
Many who claim Christ have no evidence of Him in their lives –sometimes even the leaders. Look at the comments under any “Christian” organization’s Facebook posts. See how those “believers” behave. See how those “godly” leaders respond.
It took my husband and I almost 5 years to get to the point that we were ready to consider regular attendance again after we left a very legalistic, borderline-cultish church. It was the third such church I have attended in my lifetime.
I had to relearn to trust people after this church. It was that bad.
You had better believe there is lasting damage
I know I am not alone.
A lot of damage has been done in Jesus name.
I have had panic attacks over going back to church. Just the pews or the arches of wood in the sanctuary can trigger extreme emotional responses due to past trauma.
The problem is that our church buildings are full of people who are not real believers and their actions do not reflect the real body of Christ and how He would have us act.
Narcissistic and manipulative people weasel their way into positions of power.
Even those who are believers treat others harshly, making unbiblical judgements, refusing to give kindness and grace, and lording their authority over others.
I wonder how many people have been hurt in the name of Jesus by those claiming to be believers? It certainly doesn’t reflect the love that we are supposed to have for each other.
I know I am not alone in this because I have counseled homeschool graduates who have run away from home to get away from their family’s cultic churches.
It takes a while to relearn grace and recover from the significant damage left from the ongoing abuse of spiritual power.
It’s so bad that you don’t even realise how bad it is until you get away from it and then you think, “How on earth did I not see how incredibly messed up this was a long time before now? I can’t believe we waited so long.”
4. They have mental health issues which are rejected by the church.
Most Christians I know (unless they have these issues themselves) believe that conditions like ADHD, bipolar, anxiety, autism, and other psychological and developmental problems are either made up conditions or sin issues.
If you already live with social anxiety, it’s pretty stressful to go to church where people believe that you’re in sin for your mental health condition.
We visited a church a few times where the pastor felt he needed to confront my husband to try to get him to “repent” from his mental health disorders.
No, I am not kidding or exaggerating.
I have friends and family whose mental health conditions are such that medication doesn’t help –that there aren’t even medications available to treat the conditions.
They have found help controlling their serious conditions using nicotine and cannabis oil, neither of which would be accepted in the church.
The father of a close friend in highschool had social anxiety.
He was a believer but didn’t attend church regularly. The church sent people to their home repeatedly to try to convert him and get him to make a profession of faith.
The thing is, he was already saved. He could answer all the questions like “How do you know you are going to heaven?” correctly, but the church members didn’t believe he was saved.
They believed that if he was saved he would go to church regularly.
The Bible does not command the manner in which we fellowship and gather.
5. There’s no good, Bible believing churches near them.
I have heard people say that this is not possible. But it is indeed possible. I know because I have been forced to compromise my beliefs to attend the churches available to me.
Hear me out.
I am not interested in emotionalism or watered down half-truths.
I am not interested in attending a church that thinks we need to changed the social and political climate of our nation. Or a church that thinks we can usher in Jesus’ return if we can make the world a better place when the Bible clearly teaches that things will continue to get worse until Jesus returns. Or a church that teaches God just wants us to be good and happy and would never send people to hell.
I live in one of the spiritually driest areas of the country where most churches function like social clubs and daycares. Bring up the topic of theology and doctrine and even those who claim to be faithful start acting like you are a fanatic.
I am not even addressing the differences in interpretation and applications between denominations which is based on genuine differences in how you approach scripture.
False doctrine –true disregard for the Holy Scriptures as the final authority in the life of a believer– is rampant. I cannot speak for other areas of the country or parts of the world, but here where I live in the Pacific Northwest this is a real, prolific problem.
Everyone has their limit of how far away from ideal they are willing to stray when choosing a church, when trying to fulfill the command to gather with other believers.
In order to explain where I am coming from, let me paint a picture.
It’s the latter half of the 1800s, and your family has moved to the midwest.
People are few and far between. The only church in your little community is Mormon.
Would you attend?
There is no other church. There are no settlements for hours in either direction.
Do you go to the LDS church simply to obey the command to not forsake the gathering?
Is it even gathering with believers if the church is filled with people who are part of a cult?
Where do you draw the line? I know some people who would say to go anyway. Not me.
Now, let’s repeat the same scenario only this time the only church is a Roman Catholic church. Do you still go? Many people still consider the Roman Catholic church part of the real church, the Body of Christ, but I do not.
Now, let’s take it a step further.
If every church you know is subscribing to teachings that are clearly unbiblical and heretical, where do you go to church?
Do you just pick the least offensive and attend there?
That’s what we have done (and I greatly struggle with this decision), but I can see how others would choose not to go to church if they can only find a church where they are battling, not only differences in bible interpretation, but outright disregard for scripture and abuse of power.
Maybe where you live it isn’t this bad, but it probably will be eventually. Things will continue to get worse until Christ returns.
Are you really even fulfilling the command to gather with believers if most of the people in the church believe heretical teachings and most likely aren’t even saved?
If the pastor is not teaching truth like grace by faith alone but is adding to what is expected in salvation and what is required to be in obedience to Christ?
Is it still the gathering of believers then?
This is the reality that many Christians find themselves in.
Some of the most devoted Christians I know do not attend a brick-and-mortar church.
The Bible does not command the manner in which we fellowship and gather.
So, don’t go around accusing Christians of not caring if they are obeying the bible commands. They are still gathering, but they aren’t gathering in the way that is considered acceptable in our postmodern churches.
The acceptable way may not even fulfil the command because the majority of churchgoers today are likely not even saved.
If those in the church building are not saved, you will have to go outside the church building to fulfill the command to not forsake the gathering of believers.
It’s way more complicated than not caring about scripture and church hopping.
This is the direction the American church is heading, and one day all we believers will find ourselves in this position of having to choose between the American church concept and the actual Church, the Body and Bride of Christ.
When you are faced with that, what will you choose?
May the Lord give us wisdom.