Folks attending the membership class at our church are often surprised at the emphasis we place on attending our Lord’s Day gathering. However gifted someone might be at talking to teenagers or working on the website, we insist their presence at corporate worship is a far more essential and significant way to serve the flock. This priority isn’t just a particular quirk of our church; it should be a biblical priority for every church.
Let’s look at four reasons the Bible prioritizes gathering, followed by four ways that gathering is currently under threat.
FOUR REASONS THE BIBLE PRIORITIZES GATHERING
1. The presence of the Lord commends it.
The Lord Jesus promises his presence at the gathering of his people: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20).
In light of the whole biblical narrative, this passage shows the extraordinary eschatological implications of the gathering. God’s presence was lost in Eden (Gen 3:8), but it returned in some capacity in the tabernacle (Exod. 25:8, 22), the land (Num. 35:34), and the temple (1 Kgs. 8:10–11). But his presence with Israel was always limited: “Will God indeed dwell on the earth?” (1 Kgs. 8:27).
In the coming of Christ, God came to dwell with and die for his people (John 1:14; 10:11–15) so that those who receive the Son might become the gathered children of God (John 1:11–13; 11:51–52). And now, since the risen Christ is present among his gathered people, we have the privilege of joining with him as his brothers and sisters, praising his Father and ours (cf. Ps. 22:22; Heb. 2:12).
The very word that Jesus chooses for his community, ekklesia, implies that the church is “a society of men called out of some place or state and congregated in an assembly.”  We are still the church during the week as we are scattered, but we are only the church during the week because we gather on the Lord’s Day.
Our present, earthbound gatherings anticipate the time when he will dwell with us visibly (Rev. 21:3; 22:4). What a privilege and a promise! Who would want to miss out on that?
2. The command of the Lord requires it.
Gathering isn’t just a privilege, it’s also a command that creates a solemn responsibility. “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
Throughout the New Testament, we see the weekly gathering of the church on the Lord’s day as both a pattern and a precept (1 Cor. 5:4, Luke 24:33 John 20:19, Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2).
3. The community of the Lord needs it.
Gathering is commended and commanded for our good. One of the primary purposes of gathering together is mutual edification. True, the church can be built up through informal and small group conversations during the week. But the New Testament repeatedly emphasizes that the church is edified when it “comes together” (1 Cor. 11:20, 33, 34; 14:26).
4. The pictures of church imply it.
The images Scripture uses to describe the church highlight the necessity of gathering. The church is the body of Christ that recognises the other parts of the body particularly as they gather together as one body (Rom. 12:3–8, 1 Cor. 10:17, 11:29, 12:12–31, 14:1–19). The church is a temple where all the stones are built together through the mutual edification that occurs as they gather (1 Cor. 3:16–17, Eph. 2:19–22). The church is a family where we feed one another with the Word of God (Col. 3:16) around the table of the Lord. The church is a flock of sheep that are together in the sheepfold.
FOUR CONTEMPORARY THREATS TO THE CORPORATE GATHERING
1. “Virtual meetings” are convenient.
The past year has highlighted for some that virtual meetings seem safer and more convenient than real meetings. Certainly, the pandemic posed some legitimate reasons for temporarily abstaining from assembling. But it should never set an enduring precedent.
2. Inadequate meetings make us cynical.
Finding a healthy church can be hard. But the prevalence of unhealthy churches should motivate us to find and join a healthy church. It shouldn’t cause us to retreat into a churchless Christianity.
Our private devotion ought to complement and supplement the gathering of the church. It should never compensate for its absence or supplant it entirely.
3. We concentrate on friendship elsewhere.
Pastors commonly notice that members sometimes attend church infrequently because they’re visiting other churches—perhaps rubbing shoulders with friends and family.
Of course, it’s not wrong to visit friends in other churches. But we harm the body when these visits are frequent rather than occasional.
Additionally, social media has made it easier to feel continually connected to those who live at a distance. But when our wider friendships diminish our ability to grow together with our local church family, we are spreading ourselves too thin, and the life of the local body will become shallower.
4. We spend our time with non-Christians.
Opportunities to build new relationships with those who don’t know Christ are precious and sometimes difficult. As a result, some suggest that for the sake of mission Christians should prioritize spending time with non-Christians over time with their local church. Sure, the church gathering might build you and other believers up. But you’re already saved! So why party in the lifeboat while others are drowning? Furthermore, in a post-Christian society, fewer and fewer of those souls would ever darken the doors of a church.
I love the evangelistic zeal behind such an appeal. But I fear it’s short-sighted and self-defeating. How will the congregation be equipped and motivated to reach the lost without a weekly, glory-anticipating gathering? How will all people know that we are Jesus’ disciples if our love for the lost is greater than our love for one another (Jn. 13:34–35)?
This last year the Lord, in his sovereign goodness, removed from many of us the ability to gather regularly for worship, edification, and service. I pray that as we’re able to gather once again, every member will return. Remote, virtual, disembodied fellowship simply isn’t enough. We’ve made do with it. But hopefully it has caused us to value all the more the close, real, embodied gathering that anticipates how we will spend eternity—together in the presence of our Lord.
 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology Volume 3 (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R, 1997), 6.