Things I am asked: Why go to church?


You’ve probably heard people say: ‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.’ The statement is, of course, partly true. The act of going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you a car. But behind this statement is a question about obligation. Should those claiming to be Christians go to church?

There are good churches that are faithful to the consistent principles of Scripture, and there are bad churches that aren’t. Please go to a good one. Go to one that will teach truth and which will encourage you to do things as a team that you couldn’t do on your own. Go to a church in which you can use your gifts to do the things that Jesus is calling you to do.

The question: “should I go to church?” is fundamentally a theologically flawed one. The church is not a building or a place. The church is people… people who seek to make Jesus the leader of their life. Church is who you are when you are part of Jesus’ community. The American-Canadian theologian, Gorden Fee, writes: ‘God is not just saving individuals and preparing them for heaven; rather, he is creating a people among whom he can live and who in their life together will reproduce God’s life and character.’

If you are a Christian, your priority is no longer yourself; it is Jesus and his agenda. So, if you think you are a Christian because you believe in God and have good morals… you will, of course, feel perfectly free to play golf on Sundays instead of going to church. The problem with this, is that “belief” and “morality” are not what makes a Christian – although, of course, it is part of the deal. Being a Christian is about putting your faith in Jesus’ death on your behalf, and making him the leader of your life.

So, the right question is: Does Jesus want you to be in community with other Christians; to meet with them regularly to be encouraged, to encourage others, to use your abilities in ministry, and to do things together that you couldn’t do on your own?

And the answer is “yes.”

You may feel you can worship God better on a nature walk rather than go to a church service. But that is not church. That is worship… and it’s different. Doing church is doing community. Doing church means embracing the oddness and idiosyncrasies of each other. Being church challenges our predisposition to deify ourselves, our opinions and our preferences. It’s about “otherness.” As church, we acknowledge God, worship God, submit to God, and minster to his glory – together.

And we had better get used to “community,” because the whole reason God created the universe was so that he could expand the orbit of his love to include as many people as possible. God’s future kingdom will be his community – and we, the church, get to prefigure it.

From this it follows that, rightly speaking, there is no such thing as a Catholic church, or an Anglican church or a Methodist church. There is only one church, and that is Christ’s church (Ephesians 4:15-16). In order for there to be divisions in the Christian church, people, at some point, will need to have strayed from Jesus, for unity is only found “in” Christ (John 15:5-8). Church denominations are institutional responses to theological preferences. They are symptomatic of a lack of faithfulness and unity of people at some point in history… and that is very sad. So don’t get too hung up about denominations. Find a vibrant church that is faithful to the consistent principles of God – as recorded in the Bible. All else is simply human accretions – clutter from history that can sometimes help and sometimes hinder.

The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us not to neglect meeting together, but to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). That’s pretty straight-talking. It is also good advice. Just as a burning coal will lose its heat when removed from the fire, we need to be put back in the fire regularly with other pieces of coal so we can share our heat and help each other to burn brightly.

The reality is: without you being in community with other Christians, the church is incomplete (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.

Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.

He blogs and records podcasts at

Nick told his life story to Eternity in ‘Deadly storms, heroin addicts, cancer and my faith.’