The Importance of Gathering

“Dad, do we have to go to church today?” I’m sure my parents grew weary of me and my siblings whining this ad nauseam when it was cold… or when we were tired… or when our van was giving us issues, which was often the case in our lower to lower-middle class home. You think we would have stopped asking because the answer never changed. “As long as that mailbox says G.L. Pitts and you live in this house, you are going to church.” But we continued with our insanity expecting a different result because that’s what kids do.

Now, as a 43-year-old with four daughters, age 19, 16, and twins at 14, I’m grateful for my father’s example that now encourages me to do the same. Why? Because I’ve experienced the true joy and reward of growing in discipleship, community, and generosity. My pastor, our church community, and my parents all led the way in denying themselves and taking up their cross. What I learned is that a life laid down, generous, and open-handed with possessions and dollars is the best way to be human.

I watched my parents give when they didn’t know where next week’s grocery dollars were coming from. And I shared most of what I owned when my parents made a point to help other families in our community who found themselves in need.

I learned to be generous and open-handed through watching other believers closely and through a regular rhythm of gathering with the saints.

I benefited from a community of believers who held on to the truth of scripture:

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 more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

My experience in life tells me that gathering is the better and more loving way to live, even when it seems to cost me something. 

I imagine if online church existed when I was a kid, I would have been begging my dad to do church online. I would have likely suggested that “it’s the same thing.”

But the numbers say otherwise, showing marked differences in lifestyle and generosity between those who have limited interaction with church and those who faithfully gather together with the saints.

A recent study done by Dunham+Company in partnership with SecureGive, Post-COVID Church Attendance and Giving, found that donors who reported attending live services only are more generous than those who attend only virtual services. Live-services attendees give three times more annually to a place of worship compared to their virtual-only counterparts ($888 vs. $262, respectively). Additionally, research found that the more a donor is engaged in their faith the more charities they support. Forty-five percent of regular church attendees supported 4 or more charities and 20 percent supported 6 or more charities. Not so with nominal attendees and non-attenders, whose percentages dropped to 36/13% and 24/9%, respectively.

What this says to me is that those who attend live services are more engaged in their faith. And that gathering with other believers brings about more generosity within that local community, which also overflows to organizations and Kingdom missions beyond the local church.

As I kid, I don’t remember a single sermon my pastor preached. He didn’t teach in well-orated sermon series or have well-crafted strategies for fundraising. But I do remember that he cared deeply. And that care bubbled over to encouraging us to be laid down and generous on a regular basis. The Kingdom is better because of this. And the Kingdom is better because my dad understood the influence of our pastor over us as his children.

And I would like to suggest that the Kingdom will be better when we take this responsibility seriously, as well.

As fundraisers and those of us who sit outside the four walls of the church, do we take seriously our responsibility to encourage believers to be involved and accountable to a local church body?

As pastors, do we take our responsibility seriously to gather the saints and not just settle for their attendance online? Do we realize that an online experience will likely not bring about the level of discipleship that God has for our people, in generosity and in other areas?

Let’s embrace the importance of gathering to turn the hearts of God’s people towards the mission of Jesus.  May we be those who are motivated to ensure we gather and instill in our children, their children, our constituents, and generations to come, a generous heart and open hands that come with a laid-down life for Jesus.


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