Did you go to church this week? When Gallup pollsters ask Americans that question about 40% say, “yes”. But further research has found that what we say we do and what we actually do differs, by quite a lot. An article from Christianity Today noted that, “Kirk Hadaway, an Episcopal Church researcher, argues that the actual attendance rate is 20.4 percent, about half the Gallup figure.” And he has the numbers to back it up.

So is going to church on Easter Sunday enough? It’s the big one, so that’s the important part, right? Attending church once or twice a year is like only watching the trailer for The Lord of the Rings. Sure you’ll get the gist of things, but you’ll miss out on the best part of the story.

It’s almost impossible to grow in your faith without the church. I remember my pastor preaching a sermon on the church and its role in our spiritual growth. He said that you can’t force yourself to grow, all you can do is put yourself in a place where you can grow and let God do the work.

I love the way The Message translates Matthew 6:27, “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?” The same is true of our spiritual growth. We can’t focus really hard and squeeze out some growth. All we can do is put ourselves in a posture where we’re available to God. The church is that place where you can grow. Put yourself in church and you can be sure that growth will happen.

Church is a community, not a place. If you’re not in the habit of regularly attending church you might have slipped into thinking that church is a place. But church is a community and community takes time. You have to show up, over and over, and put in the work. Once a year is not enough.

It can be hard to regularly attend church if you’re busy, introverted, can’t find the right fit, have young children, have children who play soccer, are divorced, are tired or just need some family time. I know, it’s hard, but it’s important.

Relationships take time. Your relationship with God and with the church is no different. To reap the benefit of the community you have to do the work of community and that means showing up and pitching in. It means not being the last person in and the first person out the door when the service is over. But here’s the really great news: when you put the time in, a healthy church community is an incredible blessing.

Church is not just for Christmas and Easter. Church is for the Tuesday morning when no one is ready and you’re late and you need a little more patience. Church is for the times when you’re celebrating and the moments when your heart is breaking.

To truly appreciate what Jesus did on Good Friday you need to know the backstory.  You have to know what He gave up to come to Earth in the first place. You have to understand how much God loves you and you need a full picture of what would have happened if Jesus never came. Don’t settle for the highlight reel. Instead, settle in and take in the whole story.