I have been thinking about the subject of out-of-town church attendance (especially on vacation). In fact, I just got back from vacation--today. We have the blessing of attending a church that has four congregations spread out across the city of Chicago. Since we got back early afternoon, we knew we would enjoy the fellowship of saints with our brothers and sisters at the North Side service which is at 5pm. Not everyone has this kind of church structure, however.
Some of my friends with whom I have discussed this don't go at all. "There is no church like our church", they say (which loyalty I applause); they are lazy and want a break from church; or they are uncomfortable about being in a strange setting. Other Christian families will hack their own service (foot washings and all! just kidding). I'm sure there are other reasons. Consider the following questions:
What's the purpose of going to church in the first place?
Let me be frank here. I loathe the phrase "go to church." Churches are organized organisms (covering all bases here=+) made of people who have been regenerated by the blood of Jesus Christ. They "go to church" to hear the Scriptures taught, pray, praise God through song, observe the ordinances, give their resources to the work of the church and to the needy w/in the church (Acts 2:42-47). Unfortunately, this is the "rap" that alot of American Christianity has-- the major share of our "going" is to meet with each other. While the Scriptures enforce the need for mutual celebration of the Gospel in praise and Word (Hebrews 10:25), the church is a going entity TO THE WORLD (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Perhaps, we should retrain our parlance to include words like "worship Jesus" or "meet with believers for unified praise to the Savior". 'Nuf said for now.
Is community the only consideration in making the decision?
For some people who don't bother going to church when they are out of their own church, their argument rests often on the fact that their "community" isn't the one at which they are vacationing. Therefore, "why bother with going to church where I am not going to have long-lasting community?"... goes the line of thinking. I am glad for the deep fellowship already cultivated on the home front. Well (for one), the subject of "community" is over-hyped and nearly becoming cliche. It is almost like the concept of missional-- it has a lot of different meanings depending on who you ask. While well-intentioned, this particular line of reasoning is myopic. We easily waltz over the passages of New Testament Scriptures that record the instances when displaced or missionary believers were seeking out the fellowship of locals and vice versa. I would dare say that not only is this rationale myopic but very American. And lest I be called out for nationalizing a particular sin, it is quite Adamic. There. If anything, healthy body life in your own local church should arouse such passion and curiosity for how the Gospel is being fleshed out in other assemblies outside of your "Jerusalem."
When you're with extended family, should you attend with them or should you maintain that your one-off/out-of-town attendance be in concert w/ how selective you are on the home front?
For some people, your theology matters a lot, and that is good. However, I would say that if you are concerned with maximizing time w/ your believing family who you are visiting and building unity, you should show how deeply the Gospel runs in you so as to elevate your extended family over your strongly-held preferences. Of course, you could not go at all if it is a heretical church or you could seek another church and meet up for lunch later. But that won't really aid the "unity factor"; it will only remind everyone of certain "wedges" of preference that exist in your family. Some forthrightness or creativity on the front end will help alleviate tension along w/ much love.
How about going to church out of town to hear a certain favorite preacher?
Definitely. You better believe it, but realize that there is real body of hurting and healthy peeps that show up every week to hear your favorite dude preach. Check them out, too.
Just don't do that at your home church. One of the not-so-fondest memories I had of attending one church for a while in Greenville, SC was seeing how many members (!) didn't show up to church when the "rock star" pastor wasn't behind the sacred desk. When you join a church, you are in a sense wedding yourself to that assembly until death, heresy, excommunication or relocation doth thee part.
Here are a few things to reflect on the next time you leave town:
1) If at all possible, try to get back to your own church for Sunday worship.
2) If you are a father with small children and the normal levels of getting out of the house on a Sunday are stressful, you should seek input from your wife on what it would be like for her to get to church on the alien turf. Ask her every time.
3) If possible, stretch yourself and make the effort to worship with believers that you don't know. Remember: Christ is your first commonality; not your geography or ethnicity. Expose your family to the wonderful "thing" that Jesus is doing all around your country and the world.
4) If you vacation to the same place, find a church and keep coming back to it. Extend your community. I know some people from Detroit who do that regularly when they escape away once or twice a year to their regular spot on Florida.
5) Put your "experience" way down on the list. Don't make experience a high priority. If worship is all about experience, then we should all give up on regular gathered worship. This might be simplistic, but I don't think experience as an end should be a driving motivator to attend or not attend church (whether at home or away).
6) Don't just do away from home what you do at home. In other words, join a church at home; stop church hopping. I suspect that if you church hop at home, this little article won't even cross your radar.
Perhaps, I have overthought on this.