I grew up going to church. A lot. My home church in Iowa had full-on worship services on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, and we were always there—rain or shine. As a child, it never really occurred to me to ask the question, “Why do we go to church?” We just did. I suppose it could have been because of a religious notion of appeasing an angry God, but the vibe I got was that it was something different, something much better.
You see, my parents not only loved Jesus, but that love flowed outwards towards others, especially towards brothers and sisters in Christ, because of the common bond of faith that we shared. I experienced this common bond of faith as we sang songs of worship together, as we read the scriptures together, as we gave offerings together, as we shared The Lord’s Supper together, and as we prayed together. I experienced it as we hung out together before and after the services, talking, playing, and laughing together.
You see we can do all these practices of worship on our own, but the point of gathering was to do these things—together. Jesus seemed to point to this when He said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Does that mean that Jesus isn’t with us when we are by ourselves? No! He gave us his Spirit that lives in us always. But there is something mysterious and wonderful that happens when we as believers gather together. We experience His presence in a special, unique way.
Experiencing Christ through these practices of worship together helps reorient our desires. Part of the effect of The Fall is that we desire so many things more than Jesus. Corporate worship is a central way that the Spirit works through to help reshape us so that we desire God more than anything else, and so that we love Him with all that we are.
This can also happen in a small group of people in some ways that are particular to small group gatherings (which we will explore in the next post), so why do we feel the need to gather in a large group as well?
Large group gatherings have two particular strengths. First, (and I can’t explain this in concrete terms), there are many things particularly encouraging and inspiring about doing the practices of corporate worship in a large group. But more particularly, when a large group of the Body is gathered together, there are typically more resources of gifted-ness together. This means that often times we experience the practices of corporate worship in particular ways that are unique to the large group gatherings.
This doesn’t mean that one is better than the other? That would be like saying, “Which is more important, my right eye or my left eye?” We need both large and small group gatherings!
Here is a closing thought from the writer of Hebrews. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching.”
In our culture, with so many activities, it is a challenge to make gathering together in both large and small groups a priority—let’s choose to make it so!