Why Church Matters: Discovering Your Place in the Family of God


"Christians belong in churches--the only places where we can thrive and grow spiritually. In Why Church Matters, Joshua Harris makes this case with wisdom, clarity, and graciousness."
--Charles W. Colson

Church isn't where we go. It's who we are.

We were never meant to live our faith in isolation. The church is the place God uses to grow us, encourage us, and use our gifts ...

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Why Church Matters: Discovering Your Place in the Family of God

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"Christians belong in churches--the only places where we can thrive and grow spiritually. In Why Church Matters, Joshua Harris makes this case with wisdom, clarity, and graciousness."
--Charles W. Colson

Church isn't where we go. It's who we are.

We were never meant to live our faith in isolation. The church is the place God uses to grow us, encourage us, and use our gifts for His glory. In this honest, personal, and practical book, Joshua Harris shows you why it's time to say yes to church and how to find the right one for you--the place where you can fall in love with the family of God.

What you miss when you miss church
Ten questions to ask before you join
How to get more out of the best day of the week

What Readers are Saying:

"This book shows the place of great honor that church holds in Christ's heart and encourages us to value what He values. I've bought multiple copies to give away."
--Mike Neglia; Cork, Ireland

"Josh Harris does an excellent job of addressing our impulse to church hop."
--Garrett Watkins; Atlanta, Georgia

"When our family was in the midst of a transition, Why Church Matters helped us find the right local church. It will do the same for you."
--Andrew Hall; Ilderton, Ontario

Previously published as Stop Dating the Church

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Why Church Matters

“Instead of asking what they can give or how they can serve, too many churchgoers are only interested in what they can get. The church deserves far more than the halfhearted commitment or apathetic neglect it so often receives. In fact, as Harris astutely observes, the Christian life can never be lived to its fullest apart from a genuine passion for the church. It’s time for believers to take the church seriously, which is why the message of this book is so essential.”

“Evangelical Christians have a good and appropriate emphasis on personal salvation. But that emphasis has not been balanced by the inherently corporate nature of the Christian life. Christians belong in churches—the only places where we can thrive and grow spiritually. In this book, Joshua Harris makes this case with wisdom, clarity, and graciousness.”

“Joshua Harris reminds us of the great kingdom work we are missing in our lives when we avoid the personal contact that commitment to a ‘home’ church brings. Many people seek to be comfortable and well fed in a church, but community is where the real issues of our hearts get worked out. Through the church, Joshua Harris writes, ‘The power of the gospel is not only changing individuals, but is also creating a whole new kind of humanity.’”

“Joshua Harris has a gift for addressing issues that matter in a way that’s clear, powerful, and memorable. Why Church Matters is the same kind of writing Josh’s readers have come to expect and love—he’s right and he’s real. He winsomely shows the fallacy of those who want a relationship with Jesus, but not a committed relationship with His people. I believe the Lord will use this book to kindle in the hearts of many a love for what Jesus loves—His bride, the church.”

“Pastors, are you looking for a good book to help visitors understand why they should join a church? Here it is! Clear, simple, well-illustrated, and compelling. This little book reflects Christ’s love for the church and explains it in terms that are simple and passionate. Read it and use it.”

“In Why Church Matters Joshua Harris passionately communicates the urgency of God’s people becoming the counterculture we’re called to be and gives us tools to get started. I appreciate that Josh has written this book with more than instruction; he writes it as one who also struggles with us to discover our own place in the body of Christ.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781601423849
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/16/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 975,379
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

JOSHUA HARRIS is senior pastor of Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He is the best-selling author of Dug Down Deep: Building Your Life on Truths That Last, among other books. He and his wife, Shannon, have three children. Find out more at www.joshharris.com.
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Read an Excerpt

Can This Relationship Be Saved?
What We Miss When We Don’t Commit

Jack and Grace met through a mutual friend. From day one they seemed to be the perfect match. Grace was everything Jack had always wanted. She was beautiful, outgoing, and caring—always there when Jack needed her.

For the first five months they were inseparable. Jack could hardly think of anything but Grace. He didn’t need to look further, he told friends. “She’s the one.” Now almost three years have passed. Jack still enjoys the comfort and familiarity of being with Grace, but the spark is gone. Grace’s flaws seem more obvious. He’s not sure he finds her as attractive as he once did. And he’s beginning to resent all the time she wants to spend with him.

One night, when she asks if they can define the nature of their relationship, Jack blows up. “We’re together, aren’t we?” he asks angrily. “Why isn’t that enough for you?” Obviously, Jack isn’t ready for commitment. And it’s unclear if he ever will be….

Have you ever been in a relationship like this? I’m writing this book because I believe God has something better for you. He wants you in a relationship defined by both passion and commitment. But before you can take hold of this wonderful plan, you need to know something about this couple. There are millions of Jacks walking around today. And Grace isn’t a girl.

Grace is a church.

Traveling Solo

This is my third book on relationships, but it’s unlike any of my previous books. You won’t find anything here about how you should relate to the opposite sex. Instead, this book is about how you should relate to the family of God.
The story behind this book is closely tied to my own journey. I was raised in a Christian home, but even though the church played a big part in my life growing up, for many years it didn’t have a big place in my heart.

My first home as a child was across the street from the little Baptist church my parents had gotten saved in during the Jesus Movement of the seventies. My dad was a pastor till I was seven and even planted a church in Texas. But after two disillusioning church splits, he left the pastorate and started speaking across the country on homeschooling. Over the years our family attended a wide spectrum of churches—mainline, evangelical, charismatic. One church gathered at a run-down commune complete with hippies and llamas. Another was a seeker-sensitive megachurch.

When I graduated from my church’s high school youth group, I started visiting around. I loved God and had big dreams for how I wanted to serve Him, but I didn’t see any reason to get too involved in one church. By then, I thought I knew all there was to know about church, and I wasn’t impressed. Most churches struck me as out-of-date and out-of-touch. There had to be better, more efficient ways to accomplish great things for God.

For me, that meant becoming the next Billy Graham. But I was only nineteen, and invitations for me to lead a worldwide media crusade weren’t rolling in. So I threw my energies into opportunities that were closer at hand. I
started a magazine for fellow homeschoolers. I began to speak at my own conferences for teenagers. Before long, I
had written my first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

The message of that book was that singles should avoid directionless relationships that were romantic and physical but had no intention of moving toward commitment. The irony of this was that even though I had stopped playing the dating game with girls, I was perfectly happy to keep playing it with the church. I liked attending on weekends, and I enjoyed the social benefits of church, but I didn’t want the responsibility that came with real commitment. Like Jack in our story, I wasn’t interested in settling down. So though I gave the appearance of commitment, I mostly just flirted with different churches and kept my options open.

Then something happened that I never expected.

A Passionate Encounter

A friend sent me a set of sermons on tape called “Passion for the Church” by a pastor in Maryland. I’m still not sure why I listened to those tapes. For a confirmed church-dater like me, the title alone was baffling. “Passion for the church”? The words passion and church absolutely did not connect in my mind! The series might as well have been called “Passion for the Laundry Mat.” But for some reason, as I drove around my hometown of Gresham, Oregon, I popped those tapes into the cassette player and began to listen.

The preacher taught from the book of Ephesians. He showed that the church was actually God’s idea—not some plan or program invented by humans. In fact, the church is the only institution God promised to sustain forever. This is where passion came in. To be part of the universal church isn’t enough, the preacher said. Every Christian is called to be passionately committed to a specific local church. Why? Because the local church is the key to spiritual health and growth for a Christian. And because as the visible “body of Christ” in the world, the local church is central to God’s plan for every generation. I have to tell you, the biblical truths in those messages picked me up, turned me over, and gave me a good shaking. Out of my pockets tumbled an avalanche of well-worn attitudes about the church. Most weren’t carefully thoughtout, it’s true. But all of them were misguided, and some were unscriptural and dangerous. For the first time I realized that a wholehearted relationship with a local church is God’s loving plan for me and for every other follower of Christ.

It is not just what my parents want for me. It is not just what some pastor thinks.

And it is not optional.

Can You Spot a Church-Dater?

Today we live in an increasingly fragmented world. That mind-set has influenced the way we approach our relationship with God. Faith is a solo pursuit. These days, experts describe America as a nation of “believers” but not “belongers”—and the numbers confirm it. According to pollster George Barna, while the adult population in the United States increased by 15 percent during the nineties, the number of adults who either didn’t attend church or only went on major holidays increased by 92 percent!

Can you spot what I’m calling a church-dater? Here’s a quick profile. Do you see one or more of these characteristics in yourself?

First, our attitude toward church tends to be mecentered. We go for what we can get—social interaction, programs, or activities. The driving question is, “What can church do for me?”

A second sign of a church-dater is being independent. We go to church because that’s what Christians are supposed to do—but we’re careful to avoid getting involved too much, especially with people. We don’t pay much attention to God’s larger purpose for us as a vital part in a specific church family. So we go through the motions without really investing ourselves.

Most essentially, a church-dater tends to be critical. We are short on allegiance and quick to find fault in our church. We treat church with a consumer mentality—looking for the best product for the price of our Sunday morning. As a result, we’re fickle and not invested for the long-term, like a lover with a wandering eye, always on the hunt for something better.

Take my friend Nathan. He attended two churches on Sundays—one because he liked their music, the other because he liked the preaching. And his involvement in both went no deeper. At the first church he’d slip out just before the last song wound down and drive to the other church five minutes away. He even factored in time to stop by McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin. He timed it so that he’d be walking into the second church just as the pastor started to preach.

I guess you could say Nathan was two-timing. If you see yourself in any of these descriptions, I want you to hear this from a former church-dater: God has something better for you and me than dating the church. What practiced daters like Nathan and Jack don’t realize is that what they assume is working for their personal gain is actually resulting in serious loss—for themselves and others. I’m writing this book because I want to share with other sincere followers of Christ the profound blessings that come with living a life committed to the church. I want to show that the church matters to God and it should matter to us. I want you to catch a glimpse of the beauty of God’s plan for the church in each believer’s life and the unimaginable power that could be unleashed through even one generation embracing that plan.

And why shouldn’t that generation be ours?

But before we look at the benefits of commitment, consider what is lost when church dating becomes a way of life.
When we resist passion and commitment in our relationship with the church, everyone gets cheated out of God’s best.

• You cheat yourself.
• You cheat a church community.
• You cheat your world.

I hope you have the courage to stay with me, because the biblical insights we’re looking for in this book have the potential to bring tremendous change for the better in your life.

Let’s start with the last idea. Your world.

Your Life Is Bigger

Step back for a minute. Remember how high the stakes really are for every human life. Each of us lives out our earthly days in a visible world that just barely conceals a larger invisible reality. What we see won’t last forever. We’re in a cosmic conflict against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). At some point in the future, every human being alive today will be dead, and there will be an accounting. Every one of the seven billion souls on earth will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. That’s why every human being alive today needs to hear the Good News of the gospel!

The Good News is simple and powerful—Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins, and there is no other way of salvation (see John 14:6; Romans 5:8). To receive the free gift of salvation Jesus offers, we must turn from our sin in genuine repentance and trust in Him and His sacrificial death on our behalf (see 1 John 1:8–9; Romans 10:9;
Ephesians 2:8–9).

Have you heard this Good News before? Have you responded to it and had your sins forgiven through faith in Christ? I pray that you have!

Now I want you to see how the church and the Good News connect: The church is the vehicle that Jesus chose to take the message of the gospel to every generation and people.

Are you seeing the bigger picture? The church matters because Jesus chose it to tell and show the world the message of His love. And this message, carried forward through history and lived out for all to see, is the world’s only hope.
Paul David Tripp writes to Christians:

Your life is much bigger than a good job, an understanding spouse, and non-delinquent kids. It is bigger than  beautiful gardens, nice vacations, and fashionable clothes. In reality, you are part of something immense, something that began before you were born and will continue after you die. God is rescuing fallen humanity, transporting them into his kingdom, and progressively shaping them into his likeness—and he wants you to be a part of it.

Isn’t this amazing? God has not only saved us; He has invited us to participate in His master plan of redeeming a people for His glory. Through the local church we take part in His eternal plan to rescue men and women from their sin and totally transform their lives. This is the mission of the church. It’s our duty, our calling, and our privilege.
But as you’ll see in the pages ahead, another powerful dimension is at work when we decide to take our role in the family of God seriously. As we become genuinely involved in the church’s work in the world, we put ourselves in the best possible place to allow God to do His work in us. That’s because the church is the best context—God’s greenhouse, if you will—for us to flourish spiritually. It’s here that God grows us and conforms us to the image of His Son. (And when I say “the church is the best context,” I’m not only talking about what happens in the pew, or prayer room, or anywhere else inside the walls of a worship facility.)

The church community is where we learn to love God and others; where we are strengthened and transformed by truth from the Word; where we’re taught to pray, to worship, and to serve; where we can be most certain that we’re investing our time and abilities for eternity; where we can grow in our roles as friends, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. The church is earth’s single best place—God’s specially designed place—to start over, to grow and to change for the glory of God. That’s why I tell people that when they get serious about the church, they’re not just adding another item to a long spiritual to-do list. Instead, they’re finally getting started on experiencing all the other blessings that Jesus promised to His followers as the fruits of the truly abundant life.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 5, 2012

    Great book. Important material.

    Overall, I think this book is great, and I would recommend it to you to read. We are at a point in our culture where we are either going to church as consumers picking and choosing based on our own selfish preferences, or we condemn the church as a brood of hypocrites and do the best we can to stay far away. Joshua Harris’ book challenges the way many think about the church and seeks to point us all into a biblical understanding and conviction about how we perceive and serve the church of God.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    A Great Inspiring Read!

    Do you want a book that is convicting, inspiring, page-turning, thought-provoking, and Godly all at the same time? If you answer yes, than this is the book for you. I loved this book! It convicted me of "dating" the church, not marrying the church. If we are the Bride of Christ than we need to live like it!

    In Why Church Matters, Josh Harris explores the following topics.

    * Why we need the local church
    * The 10 things that matter the most in your church
    * What is a "must have" in a church family and what is a "that would be nice"
    * How to rescue your Sundays
    * What we miss we don't commit
    * and how to see the Church from Heaven's perspective

    As I read this book, I was inspired to love my Church family more; to serve them, love them, and minister to them unconditionally. No one said it is easy, but with God's help, loving the Body and Church of Christ is possible.

    I highly recommend this book. It is appropriate for all ages and would make a good discussion starter for families.

    Note: this book was previously published as Stop Dating the Church

    Score ~ ?????
    Violence ~ None
    Indecency ~ None
    Language ~ None
    Age Appropriateness ~ All Ages

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    Previously released as Stop Dating the Church, Joshua Harris's Why Church Matters encourages readers to love and commit to a local church.
    Although this short, easy-to-read book primarily prods casual attenders to commit to a local church, even members who are already with a church for the long-haul can benefit from the encouragement to continue making the local church a priority.

    One thing I appreciated was Harris's humble care to the issue of leaving unbiblical churches. I particularly valued his advice on how to leave:
    "My encouragement is to make a priority of leaving humbly and as helpfully as possible. Refuse to participate in gossip about members or the leaders in the church. If you're a member, communicate your concerns to the pastor and your points of disagreement. Look for ways to point out examples of grace and to encourage them. Ask to hear their perspective. Your goal should be to leave in a way that is gracious and honoring to God." (page 88)

    Although I largely agreed with Harris, there were a few points of disagreement, or at least a few where I'm not convinced. Most of these took place in the chapter "Rescuing Sunday". My church has services on Saturday evenings (as well as Sundays), but I had a few more specific concerns about worship services. First:
    "What matters isn't even what you feel.
    Worshipping with song is a chance to sing truth and express praise and gratefulness to God. So don't live by your feelings in this moment. Instead, focus your mind on the truth of what you sing and the Person to whom you're singing." (page 100)

    I think emotion is a critical element of worship. Even Harris's use of "gratefulness" implies some sort of feeling reaction- try to imagine gratitude as an intellectual assent that someone has given us something we were not owed, without some sort of happiness about this. Truth about God, rightly understood, will result in emotional reaction. While I would agree that whether or not we feel excessively perky when we walk into church Sunday is not the main thing, I think care must be taken to avoid divorcing worship from deep emotions.
    My other concern was his statement "The sermon is the most important part of the Sunday meeting" (page 101). I think preaching should be held highly, but I'm hesitant to elevate it above the Lord's Supper and worship through music. I'm also concerned of what that says to those who have cognitive or situational difficulties with the sermon (for example a mother with a young child or an older gentleman with Alzheimer's who has difficulty following a sermon but still loves the hymns he's sung since he was a child).

    Overall, I found this little book a helpful reminder to cherish the local church. Thanks to Multnomah for giving me a copy of this book to review.

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  • Posted August 19, 2011

    Good book

    So some of of you may know that I love Joshua Harris's books I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Dug Down Deep, and so I was pretty curious about this book. To be honest I wasn't quite as impressed with this one as I was with those two, but it is still a pretty good read. The author makes several good and interesting points throughout this book. He goes through, and with different examples and quotes from others, explains why it is so important for a Christian to attend church. He breaks them up as the "big C" Church (those who have been saved) and the "little C" church (the physical church-buildings/people), then explains how each is connected. He also provides a list of questions to ask yourself about the church(es) you may be thinking about joining. Overall, I thought this was a good book. ** I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. **

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