Is it Possible to Be a Christian without Going to Church?

Can I still be a Christian and not go to church? What does Scripture say about that?

Contributing Writer
Updated May 02, 2024
Is it Possible to Be a Christian without Going to Church?

Pew Research cites three main reasons why people might not attend church: unbelief, practicing Christianity in other ways, or dissatisfaction with the various churches they have tried. Other reasons include not being able to get there due to work or transportation issues. A lot of people express distrust and anger towards the church thanks to many news reports about “fallen” pastors. Another comment is that one “can still be a Christian and not go to church.” What does Scripture say about that?

The Call to Christian Fellowship 

Joe Carter wrote: “Christianity is not a choose-your-own path religion, and [...] the people we are to associate with have already been chosen for us.” In other words, Christian life is lived among a body of believers. Paul exhorted readers of his letter to the Ephesians to become more like Christ, behaving “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love”. All of these traits are visible in a community. There should be peace among the members of this community - this Body - because, together, they have inherited the Kingdom as co-heirs with Christ: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is overall and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6) Unity is strongly emphasized.

Jesus Christ expects his followers to unite under the same purpose - to love God, share his good news, and spread his fame. This is a corporate work which transforms the community and the individual. Hebrews 10:25 exhorts believers to meet together, “encouraging one another.” A constant theme of Ephesians is unity within the Body; Acts describes how the early believers “were together and had all things in common.” (Acts 2:44). A few verses later, Luke explains the impact of their “glad and generous hearts” and the way they were openly praising their Lord: the Christians had “favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (vv.46,47)

A Christian aspires to live in obedience to Christ, emulating his ways. Here are some of Jesus’ instructions for his followers. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) John 13:34 records this statement of Jesus: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Jesus prescribed the way to host a banquet, saying “when you give a dinner or a banquet”, (Luke 14:12, my itallics), not if. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) Christians love, share, and teach.

An Effective Army

The New Testament writers also provide information about the church, what it is, and how to love one another and others as part of this Body. Jesus “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23) Jesus is the Bridegroom, and believers are his Bride - collectively. The imagery of marriage should amplify the importance of interconnectedness.  

How can one invite, love, give, share, and unite with the Church without being involved at some level with that Body? How can the church be unified if God’s people are too busy for fellowship or continually find fault with their congregation and their pastor, or the church building, the music, the flavor of communion juice, and the style of bread? How can they exhort, support, and encourage in self-imposed isolation? And how does one prepare others for battle without first being armed and fed? Proverbs says “iron sharpens iron”. (27:17) Individualism dulls faith, hope, and effectiveness for Christ’s glory. Christians are engaged in a spiritual battle, after all, and in need of sharpened iron.

What does the leader of an army say when faced with the enemy as his soldiers, terrified, threaten to disperse? In The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, King Théoden surveyed the elephant-like behemoths determined to annihilate the men of Middle Earth and called to his troops: “Reform the line!” he cried. Reunite. Do not scatter. A broken line is especially vulnerable. A force united is far more difficult for the enemy to destroy.

The greatest example of the unified Body is the Trinity itself. In Experiencing the Trinity, Darrell Johnson wrote, “God is receiving the worship that God is worthy to receive. The Father is receiving it from the Son; the Son is receiving it from the Father. And I am invited - I am drawn by the Spirit - into that altogether worthy worship.” The Members of the Godhead opened themselves up to include believers. As the Trinity, they teach how we are to worship: together, with our eyes and hearts focused on God’s glory and loving others as Christ loved us.

Difficulties of Church

One objection among so-called believers is that the church is full of liars, gossipers, unkindness, and cliques. These are all facets of a sinful human community, and they remain present in the church. It is reasonable to search for a church where the gospel is preached faithfully, but the church is not a concert or an event. Christ’s teachings are challenging and uncomfortable. A healthy church becomes a family. We are asked to give up everything and follow Jesus, even into the mess that is a Christ-centred church. Abusive churches exist; false preachers exist; unfriendly churches exist. Perhaps, in some very good churches where the gospel is preached, where loving discipline is carefully administered, and where good examples of Christ-centered living are prolific, the community is less tarnished.

Are you looking for a place to learn and grow or a place to settle in comfortably, without ever feeling convicted, without growing? Do you seek a quiet Sunday of hymns and general moralizing where the cross and sin are not preached? If so, you aren’t looking for a Christian church. There is no resurrection, no triumph over sin, without the cross. There is no cross without sin. Any church that overlooks these themes is perhaps preaching secular humanism, pantheism, or a close but distorted copy of Christianity.

Sin is a problem in the church because the church is made up of human beings. The Body learns the gospel partly by experiencing and offering grace when mistakes are inevitably made. The Church grows more Christlike through their imperfect interactions with one another, and their imperfection is a constant reminder of Jesus’ perfection. The Church is accountable to each other and to Christ. The church is not just where you go to get help when YOU are in need: all participate in a healthy church that has a heart for the lost outside those four walls, even if all you can do is pray. From within this Triune setting, Christians can effectively tackle the enemy.

There Are Exceptions

Many believers would attend church if they could, but something legitimately gets in their way. Distance to the nearest gathering, lack of public transportation, infirmity, and the oppression of a spouse or caregiver. A missionary might live in a country where sharing the Gospel is dangerous or already be in prison, cut off from fellowship for sharing Jesus with the lost. In the meantime, these would-be churchgoers long to be physically part of the fold.

Part of God’s mandate to his people is to help our brothers and sisters when they are in trouble. “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2). Christians are not self-serving. Of course, the human heart is naturally selfish, but the disciple of Jesus seeks to love him and, therefore, to love others, including the isolated believer. We cannot call ourselves Christians and not actively love others. Although we are not saved by works, true salvation changes our hearts and causes us to seek opportunities to help one another.

Can the isolated person be a Christian? Yes—one who has not chosen isolation and desires to be part of the Body understands the deep privilege of being part of this group. When we believe in Christ alone for salvation, we will love better, and our love will be active—both outward and Godward.

Go Back to Church

The question, then, is, why aren’t you going? Please reflect on what it means to be a “Christian” and realize that someone in the Body needs you today. No one can force you to attend Bible study. No one can coerce you, but if you are worshiping the idol of Sunday comfort, maybe you have not heard the gospel in full - go hear it. The truth is freeing and exciting and will fill you to the point where going to church on Sunday could overcome every obstacle in your heart.


Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/AJ Watt

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.

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