You can’t turn on the news these days without hearing controversy about churches regathering in light of COVID-19.
There are many good questions about safety procedures and methods for regathering. But I believe we must answer a more fundamental question, “Why do churches need to gather at all?”
I have heard the cliché, “Don’t go to church, be the church” more times than I can count. While I understand the underlying sentiment that believers should live out our faith every day and not just on Sunday morning, this phrase misunderstands the definition (and purpose) of the church.
A church is, by definition, a congregation, a gathering, an assembly of believers.
In Acts 2, after 3,000 were saved and baptized on the day of Pentecost, all of the believers were “together” in some form of gathering (Acts 2:44, 46). When Jesus speaks of the church in Matthew 18, He assumes that it includes believers gathered together using the keys of the kingdom He gave them (Matthew 18:20). Hebrews 10:25 commands believers not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Gathering is essential to being a church.
Some may reply, “But the church isn’t a building, it’s the people.” While correct, that reply misses the point. A local church exists wherever her members are gathered. So, a building is identified with that body because it is the place they usually gather. Even if they build a new building, or worship outdoors, the same church exists because the same group of people are gathered together.
The UK Wildcats illustrate this point. They don’t need Rupp Arena to be a team, they are a team wherever the players gather together to play basketball. They are a team because they share common goals and commitments which cannot be fulfilled by the teammates sitting on the couch on Zoom.
In much the same way, what binds a church together are shared goals and commitments which can only be expressed in gathered worship. Just like the Kentucky Wildcats would cease to exist if they never gathered to play basketball, so the local church ceases to exist when she ceases to gather.
We would think it crazy to say, “Don’t get together as a team, just be the team.” “Don’t go to church, be the church” may sound nice, but it confuses the responsibilities of the church with the responsibilities of individual believers.
Individual believers are to “be the church” by being salt and light in the world around us. While the church exists to gather believers together for the purpose of worship, obedience, and common encouragement.
Hebrews 10:24-25 shows the connection between the church and the individual believer, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Faithfulness to gather as the local church is meant to encourage individual faithfulness in our local communities.
The church is defined by her people gathering. There are a variety of ways local churches can and should care for its members and the community during COVID-19.
Nevertheless, gathering remains essential. Now is the time for our local churches to be the church by gathering as the church to worship God and encourage one another.
Matt Shown is the pastor of Crossroads Fellowship in Cadiz. Crossroads exists to make much of Jesus by making disciples of Jesus. Matt is a Daviess County native and is married to the love of his life, Dana.