CMDA's The Point

Why You Need Church

March 28, 2024

by Amy Givler, MD

Pandemics are isolating. Four years ago, so much was unknown about COVID-19, but one thing was certain: It spread from person to person. Hence the need to keep people separate. This meant avoiding group gatherings, which was painful, because we are social creatures. For Christians, the gathering we missed the most was church.


I know none of us want to go back to those early months, even for a minute. For medical practitioners in particular, the confusion of the unknown was compounded by the sorrow of knowing so many people were sickening and dying. I was glad to stay away from church for that reason. Also, when the world shut down, I’m enough of an introvert that being home wasn’t a source of suffering, at least at first.


However, it didn’t take long for me to miss church and the physical presence of other believers.


A 2023 report by Pew Research Center reported that 13 percent of Americans reported attending in-person worship services in the summer of 2020. I was not one of them. Until we had a vaccine, I did not want people gathering in groups. In fact, I was distressed when our church started having in-person services again in the fall of 2020. I didn’t return until the fall of 2021, and I was one of the few wearing a mask.


So, the pandemic was a major disrupter for in-person church attendance.


This is not the first time in history this has been the case. During World War II, the Nazis tried to silence faithful Christians, shutting down churches. This included Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s church, who was a pastor later killed by direct order of Adolf Hitler.


While teaching at an underground seminary, he wrote Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community, in which he expressed his deep appreciation for the ability to gather as believers.


“It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing…


“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer…


“The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians. Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body…


“The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.”


Followers of Jesus who are prevented from gathering together, for whatever reason, have an increased appreciation for church. Poet and pastor John Donne found himself in that position when he was bedridden during the 1623 bubonic plague.


“If our greatest misery is sickness, its greatest misery is solitude. Fear of contagion daunts the helpers I need, and even the physician hesitates to visit. As a result, I lie here alone, isolated, a torture that hell itself does not threaten…


“(W)hen I’m sick and might infect, (the helpers) have no remedy but to stay away, abandoning me to my solitude. Contagion…blocks those helpers who truly want to assist, because they would risk becoming carriers of infection to others…


“A long sickness will weary the best of friends, but an epidemic wards them off from the outset. To patients like me, it seems a kind of prison sentence, separating us from both companionship and charity.”


Sadly, there has been a drop-off in church attendance, but this did not start with the pandemic. It’s been a 30-year trend, starting in the 1990s. Actually, post-pandemic church attendance is basically the same as 2019, if you add “online” with “in-person” participation. The difference is that one out of five who attended in person in 2019 now only participate online.


The widespread availability of online church services was a lifeline during the pandemic—it certainly was for me. Most churches continue to offer an online option that is much appreciated by ill or homebound members. However, watching a church service online doesn’t meet our emotional need to connect with other humans, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Donne so eloquently stated.


The 30-year decline in church attendance is a concerning trend. I’ve gleaned 13 reasons people give for staying away from church in a roughly escalating order of importance:


  1. Got out of the habit of attending
  2. Watching online is more convenient
  3. Disagreeing with how the church leadership handled the pandemic
  4. Wanting congregation to consist of a different demographic
  5. Disliking that churches have an authority structure
  6. Friction with clergy or other church members
  7. It’s too big and the service is more like an event than a family gathering
  8. It’s too small with not enough families to offer Sunday School or youth group
  9. Music not to my liking
  10. Feeling unsafe because the church’s denomination is struggling with scandal
  11. Perception of racism or misogyny
  12. Having been hurt by church leaders or church members
  13. Lack of orthodoxy


Regarding this last point, a difference in theological conviction is a time-honored, valid reason for changing churches. After study of the Bible and careful thought, anyone who disagrees with the foundational theology taught by the church should be finding another church. Does the church’s teaching line up with the Apostle’s Creed? We need discernment, but changing churches is a different thing than leaving all churches for all time.


There’s a danger in searching for the perfect church—first and foremost because it doesn’t exist. Churches are made of people, and people are flawed. That includes me and, sorry to say, you. Not only that, but every church has members who are not actually following Jesus. As J. Gresham Machen wrote,


“It is indeed inevitable that some persons who are not truly Christian shall find their way into the visible Church; fallible men cannot discern the heart, and many a profession of faith which seems to be genuine may really be false.”


So why do we attend church? First of all, church is a gift. As Machen wrote, it is where we “seek refreshment for the soul.” It is where we hear Scripture preached and can then apply it to our lives, thus growing spiritually. This keeps us centered theologically. Otherwise, it is so easy to drift.


In church we worship God and give Him the glory He is due. We pray as a group, and we take communion as a group. We connect with other Christians in friendship, and together we serve each other and our larger community. Human beings are relational because we are made in the image of God who—in the love exchanged between the three persons of the Trinity—has been relational since long before humans were created.


Belonging to a church body gives each one of us a sense of identity. Humans are wired to need to identify with a larger group. If we reject church, we’ll look for another organization to attach our identity to, but precious few organizations are weighty enough to support and sustain this attachment.


Finally, being part of a church combats loneliness. A remarkable 2019 Polish study followed 6,403 adults over six years. I say remarkable because it controlled for numerous possible social and psychological cofounders, including social and civic life participation, leisure time and friendship satisfaction, and trust in others, as well as baseline emotional and physical health and health behaviors. Initially participants were asked how often they attended religious services, and at the six-year mark they were asked, “Are you lonely?”


Compared with those who never attended religious services, those who attended one to three times monthly were 23 percent less likely to be lonely. Those who attended weekly were 42 percent less likely to be lonely.


Staying connected to other Christians protects us from attacks by the enemy of our souls. That is, the devil. Church is part of our armor as described in Ephesians 6:10-12:


“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (ESV).


Just as a predator will look for a young, slow, weak or injured prey at the edges of the herd, so will the devil find it easier to attack the “lone Christian.”


The style of various churches varies wildly. Traditional or contemporary, hushed or loud, big or small—all can glorify God, as long as our worship is focused on pleasing Him, not ourselves.


The church is a melting pot. Some fellow members will be temperamentally compatible. Some will, er, um…not be. At. All. And yet, with time, I have found that my affection grows for even the prickliest fellow church member. We all have something to contribute. Hanging out with Christian friends is no substitute. Peter Adam wrote, “You choose your friends because their ideas and style are similar to your own. God puts different people in a congregation so they can learn from each other.”


The following quote is a bit of a gem. It is from Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts by the artist Steve Turner. In it, he urges us to not hang back and sit on the edge as an “outsider,” but rather to fully engage in church life:


“The church humbles us. It is one of the few places in our societies today where we sit with rich and poor, young and old, black and white, educated and uneducated, and are focused on the same object. It is one of the few places where we share the problems and hopes of our lives with people we may not know. It is one of the few places where we sing as a crowd. Although the church needs its outsiders to prevent it from drifting into dull conformity, the outsiders need the church to stop them from drifting into individualized religion.”


So who should attend church?




You need the church. It is God’s gift to you, enclosed in gilded wrapping paper. Open it up. It’s the gift of community.


About Amy Givler, MD

Amy Givler is a family physician in Monroe, Louisiana. She and her husband Don met in 1980 at a CMDA student event her first year of medical school, and they have both been active members of CMDA ever since. Amy graduated from Wellesley College and Georgetown University School of Medicine, and she then completed her family medicine residency at the same indigent-care hospital where she now works part time. She also works at an urgent-care clinic and is the medical director for a Shots for Tots clinic. Amy loves to write and has written many articles and one book, Hope in the Face of Cancer: A Survival Guide for the Journey You Did Not Choose. She and Don have a heart for missions, and hope to do more short-term trips now that their three children have launched from the nest. Connect with Dr. Givler at


  1. Avatar DWight Hastings on April 4, 2024 at 9:34 am

    Excellent information and presentation. We all need to hear more of this content.
    Thank you very much. People need the LORD, and Church.

Leave a Comment