Recently, in an online faith community I frequent, there has been much discussion on the subject of church attendance. Perhaps surprisingly for an online community, the vast majority of participants are committed church attendees, a number being actively involved in the life of their churches well beyond basic Sunday attendance. I have been like that too. But part of the discussion included this blog post in which the writer promotes the view that it's not possible to be a Christian unless you regularly go to church. Allow me to disagree.
But, before I disagree, it must be said that there are ideas about being a Christian and what church is that do support that blog writer's point of view. If by 'church' you mean an institutional church and if by 'Christian' you mean a member of an institutional church then, of course, Christianity and church attendance are inextricably entwined. But, I submit, Christianity is not an institutional thing, it's about a person, an individual we call Jesus Christ, and to be a Christian is nothing more nor less than being a follower of Jesus Christ. 'Church,' in this context is the universal fellowship of Christian believers and not the building down the road. In this understanding, we create a serious problem if we attempt to make being Christian dependent on institutional church attendance.
Of course, none of that precludes church attendance. But it does tell us that our Christianity can't be confined to a church nor defined by our attendance at a church. Christianity is a lived faith, not an institutionalised belief system. At its core, Christianity is a faith where our relationship with God is mediated by only one person - the Christ who makes us Christian (and not only in language terms). Where the institutional church and its professional clergy do have an important role to play, is in guiding us flock of Christians towards a spiritually mature participation in the Kingdom of God. Historical power structures may have made it otherwise in the past but here, in the twenty-first century, the institutional church must take up the role of servant-guide and foot-washer if it is to avoid a slide into irrelevance. (I loved that the Pope modeled this over Easter.)
And here's the thing; you couldn't keep me away from a church that was interested in helping me and everyone else to become better at this Christian thing. Not better Anglicans or Catholics, not better Baptists or Pentecostals, nor better Methodists or Adventists (the list goes on) - just better Christians, lovers of God and our fellow human beings. Religious dogma doesn't fix social injustice, it doesn't heal the sick nor bind up the broken hearted. I need to know how to pick up my cross and carry it as Christ said I should. Where is the church that's more interested in those things than the state of its roof, the sex of its ministers or whether the weekly tithe will cover the bills? Take me to that church.