“Church” basically means "the assembled," "the gathered," or "congregation." Take your pick. By this very simple definition it’s hard to think of anyone being able to defend the individualistic and independent attitude that is expressed by so many who call themselves followers of Jesus, yet are not connected to the local church on any level.
Of course I understand the personal part of our relationship with God. Spending time alone before Him in prayer and meditation is a given; I will stipulate that as being a valuable and practical aspect of our walk with God. But I am absolutely convinced, by scripture, history and experience, that the life that we have in Christ is worked out in community, in relationship with one another, and not in independence and isolation.
Frankly, I empathize with those who point to one horror story after another about the failure of the church, the abuse that has taken place, or the lack of consistency in relationship to our stated values that leaves so many disillusioned and disconnected. It is a complete and total shame that this happens, but it still doesn’t excuse dropping out and trying to work out our relationship with God alone. That simply isn’t an option.
The fact is here in our community and in thousands of others around the world, there exists every possible expression of "church" that one can imagine--- some incredible, some not so good and everything in between. We cannot know or express our call, our purpose, or God’s plan for us outside of "the gathering." Our faith is expressed and worked out within a context of togetherness. It’s how we are made. It’s how God set it up.
For those of you committed to the local church, I would encourage you to examine the level of that commitment. Are you marching in and out every Sunday? Are you known or unknown by others? If you aren’t there, is the church missing something?
If you aren’t a part of a local church, I would encourage you to find someplace where you can plug in, be a part, contribute and express the gifts God has given you. Notice I didn’t say anything about finding a place that meets your needs. I will say that it needs to be a place that expresses values, priorities and practices that resonate with you; a place that builds you up, strengthens you, and encourages you in your faith. If this is happening, then your real needs will be meet. The writer of Hebrews wrote to "not forsake the gathering of yourselves together as some are in the habit of doing, but consider how you may stir one another up to love and good deeds." It can happen in a home church or a megachurch, but I am certain of this: "church" cannot happen alone, separate from connectedness, anymore than one of your limbs can function unattached to your body.
P.S. I fully understand that church can happen in a home without incorporating, without hierarchy, without institutionalizing.