Why Do We Gather?
Four reasons why church time together still matters
If we thought closing was difficult, reopening is proving to be even harder.
So much of our philosophy of church is at odds with our current reality. Our style of church has been built on being a place that makes people feel welcome and loved. They can even belong before they believe.
We do what we do for the sake of reaching people who don’t know Christ with the message of the gospel. This is coupled with a Pentecostal foundation that still prioritizes time around the altar and the laying on of hands for healing.
It’s hard to make people feel welcome when we have to take their temperature before they walk in the door. Amid the pandemic, there can be no handshakes or hugs, no hanging out in the lobby. There are no warm smiles, since they’re hidden behind masks. We can’t sit with people who are alone, since they have to be six feet from everyone else.
There is no ministry around the altar, and absolutely no laying on of hands. We no longer pass the offering plate as an act of worship or loiter in the sanctuary after services. Even singing is now regarded as questionable.
These jarring realities are forcing us to ask what all this is for. Have these practices become the essence of our faith? If they are not, why should we bother getting together at all?
This is a difficult time — not just churches, but for all industries and individuals. Every routine and relationship has been upended. Every family has been affected. Every nation has changed.
It is the greatest disruption we have faced in our lifetimes, and there’s no sign of it letting up. As the Church, we are blessed with the responsibility of being a place of hope and healing. But in this strange environment, where nothing can be as we have known it, why are we going to such great lengths just to gather?
Here are four reasons why, when it’s safe to do so, coming together for church still matters:
1. We come together to practice our faith. Many people remain hesitant to venture out, especially to unfamiliar places. That means this is not a time where we are seeing high numbers of visitors.
Perhaps the Church has become so visitor-driven, we have forgotten about the importance of the gathering of believers. We come together to do the things that strengthen us — to hear the preaching of the Word, to receive Communion together, to say the words of the creeds and songs that remind us of what we believe.Our time together inspires us to live out our faith as a beacon of hope in a discouraged world. This is part of our freedom of religion; this is part of the practice of our faith. We don’t do it because it’s well-produced, or even well-attended. We do it as an act of worship to God.
Our praise takes on new meaning when we lift it up in the face of adversity.
2. We come together to be in His presence. I don’t mind leading worship on Facebook. I have done it multiple times every week since we shut down in March. But there is still something powerful about coming together in person, in His presence.
Jesus said, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). This is true even if we are spread out all over the room.
I looked out this past Sunday and saw our faithful members wiping tears from their eyes as we sang the words, “Mercy is falling, falling. Lift up your hands, receive it now, here in the presence of the Lord.”
The sheer act of being together in His presence brings a special kind of joy and strength to weary hearts. As Pentecostals, the experience in His presence cannot be separated from the practice of our faith. We are people of the presence of God.
3. We come together to see lives changed. When I worked in banking, I regularly invited my co-workers to our church. Many visited, and some even became a part of the church.
One woman always seemed interested, but she never came. On one occasion, she even asked whether we had a women’s group. Over the past six years since I left the bank, I’ve made an effort to stay connected with her. I’ve gone to birthday parties and wedding showers. When I had a free coffee drink coupon, I would drop off her favorite drink. I stopped by every Easter and Christmas season and personally invited her and others.
In March, as the city shut down and panic set in, the woman started watching the worship sessions I would do in my living room on Facebook. Then she started watching our online service on Sunday mornings. Within a few weeks, she had joined a new Zoom small group for women. When we reopened, she came in person for the first time, mask and all.
I thought of Revelation 12:11: “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” Seeing the woman there in person was a powerful encouragement to me to overcome. Each story is meaningful to Jesus, and it is meaningful to me.
4. We come together to express our gratitude to God. More than anything, I hope this season is teaching us gratitude for what we do have: the people we love, the roof over our heads, and this simple act of seeing familiar faces. Our praise takes on new meaning when we lift it up in the face of adversity.
Let’s look beyond the physical world and grab hold of the spiritual strength that comes from worshipping God together. Whatever the future holds, we can trust the One who holds the future.
As Romans 9:37-39 says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”