Imagine it's the day of the big game and your team is playing! You've tracked their entire season. You haven't missed a game, not even a single play. You've researched the backgrounds of all the starting players and know all their stats by heart. You love your team and are ecstatic they're in the championship game.
The plan for the day is to show up to the stadium early and tailgate. You pull out your travel grill, fill up the cooler, and get enough food to feed all your friends, but when you pull into the parking lot, it's strangely empty. Believing more people will show, you start the party.
An entire hour passes, and still, no one shows. You've eaten a whole package of brats by yourself and are confused as to where your friends are. Kickoff is in twenty minutes, so you head into the stadium hoping they'll meet you inside. What you discover when you enter is that not only did none of your friends show, but no one else at all showed up. You're the only one at the game.
However, the game is still on. All of the pregame festivities are happening. The jumbotron is lit up. The cheerleaders are cheering. The players, all hyped up, run through the tunnels as they are introduced.
Not wanting to miss anything, you look around one more time for your friends or anyone else for that matter, and then take your seat, front and center at the fifty-yard line. These are the best tickets you've ever had. The game begins.
You sit through the entire game by yourself. And it turns out to be a fantastic game. Both teams play exceptionally well. The score is tight the whole way through. There's even a last-minute game-winning Hail Mary that results in a touchdown and your team wins!!!
As the day began, you were hoping to experience this game in all its fullness and glory. In some ways you did. You had a pregame tailgate. You had great seats. And your team won! However, I would imagine that after the game is over, you would leave the stadium feeling dissatisfied with your experience because there was no one to share it with.
I would submit that great experiences are less than great when experienced alone. They are only enjoyed in their fullness when they are shared with other people.
This is similar to why we, as Christians, need the church. We can't experience the fullness of God without other people. The apostle Paul writes at the end of Ephesians 1, closing out a prayer,
"And God placed all things under [Jesus'] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (v22-23)
Paul explicitly states that the church, the people of God, is the body of Christ. One of the ways that we experience God is in relationship with other people. He goes so far as to say that we only experience the FULLNESS of God with other people. You can't experience the fullness of God by yourself.
My heart breaks when I hear people say they have given up on the church because what they are saying, whether they realize it or not, is that they are giving up on experiencing the fullness of God.
I should note that by "church" I don't mean a weekly service where you sing a few songs and listen to someone talk for 30 minutes. But instead, I mean sustained engagement with a group of people also seeking to follow Jesus to whom you open your life and who in turn open their lives to you.
It should also be said that there are plenty of people who haven't given up on the church, but they too aren't experiencing the fullness of God because they aren't actively engaged in the community of the church. They show up once a week to a building, sit through a service, talk to no one, and then go home.
It blows my mind that we can experience God in all His fullness while here on earth. We don't have to wait for whatever is to come on the other side of death. But yet, because sometimes it gets hard, uncomfortable, or just "too much," we settle for a lesser experience of God when we are offered the entire thing.
So no matter what your past experience with the church has been (and I know people have lots of bad experiences), don't give up. Take heart. May you believe there is more to know and experience of God, and may you search until that fullness is yours.