There are a lot of reasons why people join churches. Some are born as part of a church with family ties dating back to its founding. They were baptized, confirmed, and married in that church and consider themselves lifelong members. They may not attend often but they have an idea that some pastor serving that church will bury them when they die. Some come to a church because of marriage. They marry a person who is part of a church and adopt that church as their home church because of the ties they have through marriage. Some actually choose a church. They have done their share of "church shopping" and finally found a church that they feel comfortable with and enjoy attending. All of these are part of most local churches.
The puzzling thing about church membership to many pastors is why some who are part of the local church due to all the reasons stated above decide to intentionally separate themselves from the life of the community of faith. Some members simply choose to not attend worship services or go to church events. They become inactive members by their lack of participation. Others may have been hurt by someone in the community of faith and rather than talk to the offender and try to find forgiveness and healing they just stop attending. Still others find a multitude or reasons to do other things, considering themselves to be "active" members even though they rarely attend. These members show up for funerals and weddings and the occasional baptism, but not much more.
So, why do people intentionally separate themselves from the very thing in their lives that will give them strength when difficult times come? When people find themselves ill or experiencing the death of a loved one or they have lost a job and do not know that the future may hold for them, where do they turn? If they have distanced themselves from the Christian community, then they rarely return when circumstances bring them distress. A few do find their way to the church during times of stress, but most who have become independent from the church just muddle through and try to make it on their own. The pastor may hear about their circumstances from others in the church who know them but they will usually not share what is happening in their lives with the pastor.
I think about this situation in practical terms. I compare it to the need for proper nutrition in our lives. If I follow a good diet for my life, eating those things that I know will give my body strength then I will have the energy and stamina to face most of my daily challenges. If, however, I intentionally begin to not eat healthy food, either by just not eating or by eating the wrong things, such as junk food and food high in fat and sodium and calories, then my body will begin to give me signals that all is not well. I may feel weak and out of sorts and not able to cope with stressors because of my lack of nutrition.
Being an active part of a Christian community gives us strength in our spirits just as nutrition gives us strength in our bodies. When we worship regularly with the Christian community we receive spiritual food that our spirits need to grow and thrive. When we fellowship regularly with others in the Christian community, we receive strength from our interactions because we assist each other as we share our joys and sorrows together. Being an active part of a local congregation equips us with the skills and tools we need so that we can face the future unafraid because we gain confidence that God's presence will be with us at all times. We remind each other of the grace that is available through faith in God because each of us have a measure of faith to share with one another.
I need you. You need me. We need each other. When we begin to think that we do not need others and we can be the Lone Ranger in life then we will find that life will be lonely and unfulfilled. When we admit our need for fellowship, friendship, and spiritual companionship then we will find there are many just like us on their journey of life. We are not enough in our own selves. We need each other.