The pandemic lulled me into a new church rhythm. The kids slept in, and I slowly sipped coffee. They eventually woke up and we logged into YouTube from our smart TV to watch the livestream for the second service.
Months later, when the church launched in-person worship, I hesitated to join the fanfare. Why?
If I’m honest, it’s easier to consume rather than connect—to hide at a safe distance without corralling my three kids out of bed, feeding them toast with cream cheese, and shuttling to church.
Isolation can also feel tempting for those who experienced harm from others who profess to follow Jesus but live the opposite.
Going to church is hard sometimes, so let’s explore why church can be hard and why going to church is still worth the struggle.
Church can be hard
The church in Acts epitomized beauty. Everyone sold their possessions and distributed to those in need as they gathered from house to house, singing, praying, and devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42–47).
Unfortunately, not long after the birth of the church, Paul wrote to churches scattered throughout the known world to correct them for the same kind of ungodliness we see in some churches today.
- Division, sexual immorality, and religious snobbery (1 Cor 1:10, 5:1, 1:12)
- Unhealthy legalistic leadership (Galatians)
- Quarreling over disputable matters (Rom 14:1)
If the early church struggled to live up to the Acts 2 experience, maybe the household of God is more like a pioneer family in a covered wagon, roughing it together on a mission to gain ground on the edge of the kingdom of God (Eph 6).
Sometimes things get messy on the plains.
The messes can sometimes feel so painful, we want to walk away.
When I wanted to give up on church
I almost quit the church in college.
God used Caleb, a college pastor, to draw me back into life-giving Christian community. After a while, though, pastor Caleb became judgmental. He criticized how I used my time, who I dated, and how I made my choices.
We argued. I hung up on him. It felt like a modern version of Romans 14, and the friction tempted me to walk away from the church.
Yet, I prayed. And prayed. The Holy Spirit prodded me to stay—to persevere under trial (Jas 1:12).
I also realized that some of the judgment I felt was love. I needed my sin called out, even though the idols of my heart shrieked in rebellion (Eph 4:15).
Pastor Caleb and I both grew in Christlikeness when we worked through the difficult relationship instead of walking away (Phil 2:3; Col 3:13).
God also continued to use his friendship in our family’s life after I married. He was there when my husband was licensed for ministry. He was there when God called our family to seminary and we moved to his town. He was there when we prayed for a job and he connected us with our current church family.
I would have missed some of God’s greatest blessings in life had I walked away from the local church because of a hard relationship with a brother in Christ.
The local church can be beautiful
Yes, the local church is full of people on the path of sanctification (which gets messy), but the local church can also show itself beautiful.
- We carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
- We teach one another (Rom 12:7)
- We love one another (John 13:35)
- We encourage one another as we wait for Jesus’ return (Heb 10:25)
- We equip each other to use our gifts to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11–13)
- We share the hope of the gospel with the world (Matt 28:18–20)
The local church is a family
We go to church even when it’s hard because the local church is a family.
I’ve seen the family of God in action.
When my brother-in-law died a few years ago, my husband’s prayer partner in our small group stepped up like a blood-brother, calling him and meeting him for lunch and walks. It was like he spiritually carried my husband on a mat and lowered him through the roof for Jesus to heal his heart (Luke 5:17–26).
In grad school, we couldn’t pay rent and called out to God for help. The Holy Spirit moved in the hearts of a church family member to cover our expenses. They helped carry our burden (Gal 6:2).
Since both of my parents have died, older Christians in the faith have become my mothers and fathers in the faith and life. They listen and encourage me, they stop by with a warm lasagna on a busy day, and correct me in love when I need it.
Jesus called his followers his brothers, sisters, and mothers (Matt 12:50). Paul described the church as the household of God (Eph 2:19).
No family this side of heaven is perfect, but family is worth the hard.
Church family is worth the hard
It may be easier to sit on the couch and consume a well-crafted sermon—but we go to church even when it’s hard because we need one another.
We help one another learn sound teaching, carry one another’s burdens, encourage each other, equip one another, stand firm against the enemy together, and share the hope of the gospel with the lost.
We lose so much more than we gain when we choose to not go to church when it’s hard.
Wherever you are on your church journey, here are five tips to help you when going to church feels like a struggle.
1. Honestly assess why going to church is hard
- Is it because of the inconvenience?
- Do you have sin you are struggling with and would rather hide?
- Are you disconnected, so going to church feels like a checkmark rather than gathering in community?
- Are you at an unhealthy church where there is abuse of power or an unbiblical culture?
- What else might it be?
When you are self-aware about why going to church is hard, you can seek a God-honoring way to move forward.
2. Remember the purpose of going to church
We gather to do something—not just to hear something.
- We gather to learn the teaching of Scripture in community (Acts 2:42)
- We gather to fellowship (Acts 2:42)
- We gather to participate in communion (breaking of bread) and prayer (Acts 2:42)
- We gather to speak with one another and sing spiritual songs together (Eph 5:19)
- We gather to witness the baptism of new believers (Acts 2:37–41)
We gather to build-up one another and equip each other for the work of service (Eph 4:1–12)
3. Overcome obstacles
What is your greatest obstacle to overcome to going to church regularly?
- Social anxiety? Start slowly by saying hi to just one person, or take someone you know with you.
- You’ve been hurt? Maybe working through the hurt with the one(s) who offended you (Matt 18). If you have tried and reconciliation is not possible, maybe finding another church where you feel comfortable as you transition back into community.
- Too busy? Maybe rearrange your schedule or make some hard choices to honor your commitment to God and the Body of Christ.
- The church is not your style? As long as the church is teaching sound doctrine from the Word, sometimes we need to set aside our preferences for the sake of unity.
- What else is your reason for not going? How can you keep it from hindering you in God-honoring church community?
4. Connect into the life of the church
Commit to showing up by connecting in deeper community, which will help you to not give up meeting together (Heb 10:25).
- Join a small group. This is a great first step to get to know others and grow together.
- Volunteer. Your local church is always looking for willing people to serve in practical ways. This helps you bless the community with your gifts, but also lets you get to know others on a more personal level.
5. Be the change
Does something bother you about the local church you attend?
For years I prayed for revival for my church, until I realized I needed revival. Sometimes the change we want to see needs to begin with us—as we continue connecting in Christian community.
The local church is still worth it
The local church is still God’s plan for us to grow up in him and make disciples of all nations (Eph 4:11–13; Matt 28:18–20). If going to church is hard for you, seek out healing you might need, then take your next step toward community.
The family of God needs all of her members.