At best, most Christians spend about one percent of our waking hours in corporate worship.
Here’s the math: If you sleep each night about seven hours (which most adults need, at minimum), and the weekly gathering of your local church is about 75 minutes — and you attend faithfully, essentially every Sunday — that makes for roughly one percent of your 120 waking hours each week.
Perhaps it’s striking to you, as it has been for me, to realize that most of us spend only one percent of our waking lives in the church’s weekly gathering. What a surprisingly small percentage this is (especially if we presume that church life essentially amounts to Sunday mornings). Not to mention what we give our lives to — and how much time — the rest of the week. Last year, according to one survey, the average American spent almost eight hours each day on new and traditional media. That adds up to more than fifty hours per week on our screens.
The gathering of our local churches is but a tiny sliver of our waking lives — lives now filled less and less with undistracted, productive labor, and more and more with consuming content through our devices. What do we need to remember about this surprisingly tiny and absolutely vital one percent called corporate worship?
Just One Hour
First, consider what a relatively small part of church life the weekly gathering is. However large Sunday morning looms in our conception of what the church is (which, as we’ll see below, can be for good reasons), we do well to realize that being the church is not a 60-to-75-minute weekly event. We are not only the church when we gather; we are the church as we scatter to our homes, schools, workplaces, and throughout town. We are the church, waking or sleeping, 168 hours per week.
“Being the church is not a 60-to-75-minute event. . . . We are the church 120 waking hours per week.”
One sad aspect of modern life in our unbundled, disbursed existences, spread apart by automobiles, is we tend to think of church as a single event each week, rather than an all-week, all-of-life reality. If we are in Christ, we are members of his body, 24/7/365. Church is not a weekly service; church is Christ’s people, called to daily lives of service, love, and worship, not just in the sanctuary but on our streets and all through our towns.
If being the church is just a single gathering, and not all week, how much can we really bless and be blessed by one another? When will we practice our precious New Testament one-anothers? A few quick minutes before and after the service will be woefully inadequate for the portrait the apostles paint of our life together.
More Than One Percent
Being the church includes one-anothers we cannot fulfill with a single one-percent event: showing hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9), welcoming one another (Romans 15:7), having fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7, 11–12; 2 John 5), caring for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25), doing good to one another (1 Thessalonians 5:15), encouraging and building up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11), and outdoing one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).
The everyday one-anothers of the new covenant shine out all the clearer when life gets its hardest, in conflict and relational pain: bearing with one another (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13), being kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32), submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21) — not lying to one another (Colossians 3:9), not passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13), not speaking evil or grumbling against one another (James 4:11; 5:16).
It requires more than just one percent to live in harmony and be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50; Romans 12:16; 15:5). So too, most importantly, with the climactic one-another: love one another (John 13:34–35; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7), through bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and serving one another (Galatians 5:17).
One growing error today, among Christians who have an impoverished view and experience of the all-week reality of the church, is to assume that the main ways to serve and do good in the church is to be “up front” on Sunday morning speaking, singing, reading, praying, preaching, or passing plates. Such assumptions betray an impoverished understanding of the 168-hour reality of being the church. After all, God “gave . . . the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12). The “work of the ministry,” to which the whole body is called, is not a half-hour message from one to the many, but the saints one-anothering and representing Christ in living rooms, coffee shops, backyards, and workplaces.
Most Important Hour
Then, side by side with putting the one percent in context, we also emphasize that corporate worship is our “single most important weekly habit” as Christians — and we might talk, with disclaimers, about the corporate gathering as “the single most important hour of the week” in the all-week life of the church.
Of course, who are we to say, from God’s perspective, what’s the most important hour of any given week in our individual lives? God may consider another hour of our week, when he calls us to sacrificial love, more important, and a higher spiritual service of worship, than the corporate gathering. Indeed, let’s make allowances for that. And we might still say, in general, by default, and as a local body, this is together our most important hour week after week as we gather to worship Jesus.
The reason corporate worship may be our single most important weekly habit, and one of our greatest weapons in the fight for joy, is that corporate worship combines three essential principles of God’s ongoing supply of grace for the Christian life: hearing his voice (in his word), having his ear (in prayer), and belonging to his body (in the fellowship of the church).
In corporate worship, we hear from God, in the call to worship, in the reading and teaching of Scripture, in the faithful preaching of the gospel, in the words of institution at the Table, in the commission to be sent as lights in the world. In corporate worship, we respond to God in prayer, in confession, in singing, in thanksgiving, in recitation, in petitions, in receiving the Communion elements in faith. And in corporate worship, we do it all together.
“God didn’t make us to live and worship as solitary individuals.”
God didn’t make us to live and worship as solitary individuals. Personal Bible meditation and prayer are glorious gifts and essential, not to be neglected or taken for granted, and all the more in the information age flooding our brains with other, often competing content. Our individual spiritual habits are appointed by God as rhythms for personal communion with him that thrive only in the context of regular communal communion with him.
One Hour and All Week
Corporate worship is only one hour in 168 each week — and only one percent of our waking lives as the church. And yet, our weekly corporate worship, gathered together to receive God’s word and respond in reverent joy, is our most important hour. We might feel like these two truths are in tension, but in the end, they are not. They are twins — friends, not foes.
Regular, meaningful engagement in the church’s most important hour of the week changes how we live, as the church, for the rest of the week, and how we live as the church in our 120 waking hours shapes our engagement in the one-percent event. A church that genuinely, faithfully worships Jesus together each week is all the more prepared to live as the church each hour, and a church that lives as the church all week enjoys the sweetest worship together each Sunday.