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Would You Move to Live Closer to Church?

Americans move. I’m not entirely sure if we move more than other cultures around the world, but I have a suspicion we do. I’ve seen some studies suggestion we will move an average of about 11 times in our life. However, an article in The Hill suggests we may be moving less frequently than before. Nevertheless, job changes, education & school, climate preference, family concerns, cost of living, and a host of other reasons all combine to prompt us to move around quite a bit. When choosing a home, even for Christians, proximity to a church isn’t always top of mind. But this raises the question in my mind: Would you move just to be closer to your chosen church?

Back when I was in college, my family and I lived in Plainfield, CT. The church we chose to attend was Immanuel Chapel in Upton, MA, which was about an hour’s drive. We regularly attended both morning and evening worship services, but I think we all knew that the drive was less than ideal. Eventually, we all moved up closer to this church and are now about 15 minutes away. But I wonder if Christians today think that living closer to their church should be a priority in their spiritual lives? In other words, if you were otherwise settled in terms of job, family and overall satisfaction with the local climate and culture, would you sell your house to be closer to your preferred church? Should we, as Christians, prayerfully consider this option?

Maybe another way to ask this question is this: Does the current distance that we live from our church impact our attendance at some of its fellowship and teaching ministries? Would you come to Sunday school if you lived closer? To evening worship? To the mid-week prayer meetings or Bible studies? If your answer to any of these questions is “yes” or even “maybe” then I guess my question stands: Would you move in order to live closer to church? Should we even consider it?

I guess the question is this: Should living close to the church be a priority? The Bible, of course, doesn’t provide an ideal distance. There is no “thou shalt live within 100 cubits of the church” commandment. And there may be circumstances that simply forbid living closer to the church where you are currently a member. But it would be wrong to suggest that the Bible is utterly silent on this subject.

The Bible uses language to describe “the church” that may at the very least help inform our decision (if not totally settle it). The very word itself, in the Greek, suggests an “assembly together before the Lord.” For a good, brief article on the meaning of “church”, see THIS post by Pastor Derek Thomas. But my point is that “gathering” is necessarily going to involve some degree of commuting (putting aside the “virtual” attendance issue for now).

Other words used to describe the church also tend to focus on the “closeness” of the members to one another. We are called a “family”, and thus approach the Lord as “Our Father.” The church is like a plant, connected to the vine. Even more pointedly, we are called a “body” and expressly told that we must function as such. The very idea that a part of your body could function well, being significantly detached in terms of distance, is obviously absurd.

None of these metaphors for the local church end the argument about how far you should live from the place where the members gather for worship. These truths simply help inform the discussion. As with so many other issues like this, the “heart” dimension must not be ignored. Is living a far way from the church a “convenient excuse” to not be more involved? That’s a heart issue. Are there things that you enjoy in your current town or home that you are unwilling to give up (have they become an ‘idol’?) to be closer to God’s people regularly? That’s a heart issue. Do you think it is spiritually healthy to drive out for 1 worship service weekly, and otherwise to have no tangible connection to the people and other ministries of the body of Christ? These, again, are “heart questions” and not matters of law or commandment.

I found an article on the topic written by Nathan Finn, PhD, at The Gospel Coalition website. I thought his approach was balanced and Biblical. He seems to be a respected, mature, and thoughtful Christian leader. He writes “It’s normally best to live close to where your church gathers. The longer the commute, the greater the sacrifice involved to be a meaningful part of the church’s life and witness.”

I found another article on the Ligonier Ministries site, written by Jonathan Leeman, entitled “Your Church and Your Life Planning.” Jonathan again seems to be a well-studied, pastoral voice worth considering on this topic. He writes “If you are able, “consider others better than yourselves” and “look to the interests of others” by living geographically close to the church.”

I can tell you this as someone who has now lived “close” to his church for over 30 years, that those who must travel a great distance (let’s say 45 minutes or longer…just as an example), rarely seem to get regularly involved. This rule has its exceptions. But for the most part it is simply hard, too hard, for most Christians to involve themselves meaningfully in the lives of their church when living at a distance. Maybe the best advice I could give would be, “do your best” to live close to your church.

That being said, I would also caution believers NOT to think that “living close” automatically means we are meaningfully involved. It doesn’t. A member can live right down the road and still treat the church like a gas station that they go to once a week to “fill up” and have no practical connection to the rest of the week. A family with a “heart” for fellowship can make the 1 hour commute seem like nothing. While the member who is too wrapped up in himself or herself to think of others, could be 5 minutes down the road and never get involved.

I’ll close with a related question: Do you love the church? Our loves drive our choices. Our love for God and love for Christ drives what we do and think and say. The same is true for our love for spouse, parents, children and friends. Do I love the church? If so, what am I doing about it?

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