The strictly literal answer to this question is obviously “no” because the idea of ‘church’ as a Christian worship service did not originate until after Jesus’ death and resurrection – in fact, the very idea of attending a Sunday worship service is a commemoration of that first Easter Sunday. However, if we ask the question a little less literally: “Did Jesus participate in organized weekly worship?” the Biblical evidence supports an emphatic “YES.”
Some people have a mistaken impression that Jesus didn’t think much of structured worship services. In support of this, they cite all of the many accounts in the New Testament where Jesus preached to large crowds that gathered spontaneously outdoors (Sermon on the Mount, Feeding of the Five Thousand, preaching from a boat, etc.). They may also note that on His visits to the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus was sometimes critical of what was going on there, as well as of overly-rigid Sabbath observance. But that picture ignores the many New Testament mentions of Jesus participating in regular synagogue worship.
The temple in Jerusalem was the only place where the Jewish priesthood offered the sacrifices specified in the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and devout Jews like Jesus and His family and disciples traveled there for specific observances, as is recorded in the Gospels. However, the local synagogue was where Jews gathered for their weekly Sabbath worship (just as they do today). The Gospels are clear that such synagogue worship was a central part of Jesus’ ministry, as exemplified by the fourth chapter of Luke which describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. There we are told that after returning from His time of trial in the desert “he taught in their synagogues” and when He returned to His home town of Nazareth “as was His custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” When the people of Nazareth objected to His teaching, He established His new home in Capernaum where He preached in the synagogue and cast out a demon. The chapter ends with Jesus traveling and preaching in the synagogues of Judea. Later, one of Jesus’ most dramatic miracles was the raising of a young girl at the request of her father, Jairus, the leader of this synagogue (Luke 8:40-42, 49-56); clearly Jesus was on good terms with His local house of worship.
The picture that all the Gospels paint is of Jesus as a devout Jew who observed all of the requirements of His faith – including Sabbath worship. That so much of His ministry occurred outside the walls of the synagogue reflects the fact that this was a seven-days-a-week activity. Further, village synagogues were relatively rather small buildings that couldn’t accommodate the very large crowds that came to hear Jesus preach. So, thinking that Jesus disdained weekly worship because of his fame at preaching to large crowds in the open air is like thinking that Billy Graham didn’t attend church because he is famous for preaching in stadiums!
Nor is it correct to assume that Jesus was opposed to formal worship because of His recorded conflicts with the religious establishment. When Jesus got in arguments about His practice of healing on the Sabbath, for example, He was not disputing the importance of Sabbath observance, but rather how to appropriately honor God on the Sabbath.
Surveys indicate that attendance at weekly worship is in steep decline among Americans who identify as Christians. Many reasons are offered, but one of the lamest excuses heard is: “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” Now that might be technically correct in the sense that we are definitely not saved by our ‘good work’ of church attendance! Yet, surely, anyone who is serious about following Jesus as their model will wish to follow His example of setting aside regular time for worship in a community of faith. Our participation is not only important to our own spiritual nourishment, but it is also a most crucial way in which we practice His ministry to others.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)