by William J. Stewart
Attendance is one of those awkward topics to preach on. It is not that the Bible is unclean, nor that it is a difficult topic to speak on, but often, those who are needing to hear such a lesson are not in attendance. Let us consider today some things regarding the need to attend the assembly.
Why Do We Assemble?
There are several reasons which we might list as our purpose in assembly,. The most basic and crucial purpose is to worship God. Jesus taught that God is seeking people who will worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Consider the desire of David to be where God’s people are worshipping:
My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God… For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:2, 10)
The Scriptures command us to remember the Lord Jesus through the memorial which He instituted, the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). This is done when the saints are assembled together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). If we are not assembled on the Lord’s day, we cannot fulfill this command of Christ.
Also, we have a responsibility to encourage our brethren (Ephesians 4:11-16). The Hebrew writer says we should “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). If we are not at the assembly of the saints, we CANNOT stir our brethren up to love and good works, but rather become a source of discouragement to them.
The story has been told of a gospel meeting which C.R. Nichol held, whre the attendance was very poor on the first night. In response, Nichol stayed away the second evening. When asked where he was, he simply replied, “If some can stay home, I can stay home.” This was spread around and the attendance through the remainder of the meeting was much increased.
What Do The Scriptures Say About Assembling?
In our modern day, most congregations of the Lord’s people assemble perhaps 3 or 4 hours each week. Usually, 2 or 3 assembly occasions on Sunday, and a midweek study. This amounts to approximately 2% of our week. How sad that some fail to approach these times with zealous determination, and seemingly do not consider their presence to be essential.
As we look at the first century church, consider that they met daily. Of those who obeyed the gospel on the day of Pentecost, we are told, “…they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. …continuing daily with one accord in the temple…” (Acts 2:42, 46). This pattern of assembling daily continues through the description of the early church (Acts 5:42; 17:11; 19:9).
Why assemble so often? The disciples took seriously their commitment to the Lord. They sought to encourage each other in the faith. They understood the importance of learning what God expected of them, so they might live faithful. They were aware of the danger of falling, even as we have been warned:
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-13)
What If We Forsake The Assembly?
There may be valid reason that keep us from being at the assembly of the saints. Sometimes severe illness, treacherous weather or unforeseen emergencies will prohibit our ability to be with God’s people. However, we need to be of a mind to make every effort to assemble. Some excuse themselves from the assembly with a variety of “reasons.” Let us consider a few of them:
“I’m not feeling well.” If you are down with a cold or the flu, stay home and get well (and don’t share it with others). Beyond these seasonal illnesses, it is completely understood that some live with regular pain and illness which sometimes can be so acute it affects one’s ability to function. However, if an individual is able to consistently go to work, shop, go out for meals, or function in other capacities, but unable to assemble with the church—it is a heart problem, not a health problem.
“I’m discouraged.” We all encounter things in life that will be a discouragement to us. Satan, our enemy seeks to discourage us. But how will not being with God’s people be helpful in conquering discouragement? Part of the purpose of assembling is to encourage others and be encouraged ourselves. If we stay away because we are discouraged, the end result is that we remain discouraged and we have also discouraged our brethren.
“I’m traveling.” Vacations are nice. Though we may take a break from our regular weekly schedule, the assembly of the saints is different. Is it right to take a break from serving God? When we are going out of town, we ought to prepare beforehand, finding a congregation of God’s people with whom we can worship.
“I was there on Sunday.” Great! But that’s no reason to not be there midweek. We shouldn’t look at assembly with a view towards an acceptable minimum or quota. We should endeavour to be with God’s people at every occasion possible.
Friend, if all Christians took seriously the responsibility to assemble, we would see a great difference in the spiritual maturity of God’s people. So long as individuals do not give the attention necessary to faithful attendance, they will fail to be what God wants them to be, and place their soul in jeopardy.