I have already said each of us should attend the church nearest our home, and given incontrovertible reasons. There is, however, one reason not to attend the church closest to your home.
You should only attend a church that's alive.
How can you tell whether the church nearest your home is dead, and that you should attend a little further away?
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, chapters 2 and 3 give us a pretty look at 7 churches. Let's see what Jesus has to say about each of them. If you'll forgive me, for the sake of brevity I'm only going to focus on the negative.
Ephesus left their first love. They quit loving Christ Himself. That's MASSIVE. But it was not too late for them to repent, do the first works again, and stay in the presence of the Lord. That surely means they are alive. I would not pass on a church because they had grown a little cold in love. If you join them and let the fire of your love burn, who knows what might happen?
Smyrna was faultless, but poor and about to enter a fearful time of persecution. It might take courage to join a Smyrna, to join a church in a difficult neighborhood perhaps, but there's a crown of life in it for those who dare.
Pergamos holds false doctrines, commits idolatry and fornication, and has a serious clergy problem. Join or run? This one is truly a tough call for me. I think I'd go in with about the same attitude Jesus seems to show. I'd join and let my specific concerns be known to people with power to promote repentance. There's still a spark of life there, so I'd have a hard time passing them by. There's one thing I'd watch for ... but more about that later.
Thyatira suffered a fornicating prophetess to teach false doctrines and develop a following. I'd join that church in a heartbeat, though, because Jesus says He only has anything against those who follow her. That church is definitely alive. Entertaining such seduction is not a sign of death.
Sardis teaches more about attending the nearest church than any other. Sardis is all but dead. There's almost no reason whatsoever to even give wretched Sardis a chance. But Jesus doesn't see them as dead; He sees them as alive and dead. There are just a few with clean garments, and He sees that as long as those few are there, the whole body might still return from their long winter. You see, the only way those few could leave their church would be to pack up and move to Philadelphia or Smyrna. They were stuck. But Jesus holds out a hope of life to them. Even a church alive and dead might still be vibrant one day.
Philadelphia is tiny and weak, but she's earned the commendation of the Lord. Maybe those couple Sardisians really SHOULD move! Personally, I'll take a tiny church any day, but that's a personal thing. I don't like crowds. I like to know everyone, and feel connected to everyone, and even at 90 people that's a stretch for me. So, I'm all over the tiny churches.
Laodicea receives not one word of praise. They are lying to themselves about their riches, about their vision, and about their beauty. They could hardly be more messed up. Really. Think about Laodicea being the church nearest to you. Laodicea would talk about their mission to the community while they shooed beggars out of their shadow. They would look at their beautiful stained glass and confuse it with spiritual wealth. They would beam proudly in all the city celebrations while everyone around them depised their hypocrisy. Could you join this church? Should you join this church? I don't know, but Jesus had this to say to them, "As many as I love, I rebuke...."
5 of these 7 churches had real problems, dirty problems. They had the kinds of problems that cause people to say, "You know, I still haven't found a church where I feel at home." But the Lord was still dealing with all seven of them. The Lord had not walked out.
On this basis, I would honestly consider attending a church that suffered the evils of lovelessness, false doctrine, idolatry, fornication, bad clergy, renegade prophets, death, poverty, tininess, or hypocrisy. (Probably not all 10, though.)
There's one thing, though, that I'd watch for in any church. If I saw it deeply entrenched I'd probably move on - peace.
If I see a church at peace, I'm out of there.
Peace is what the dead rest in. Even in the best church, peace means no one is thinking any more. Whenever you have three people thinking about anything, you're bound have an argument, so if there's no struggle, I'm probably getting nervous.
Pergamos and Laodicea were the worst of the lot. If I had to choose between the First Church of Pergamos on my block and the Laodicean Church of Jesus right next door, I would visit both and the one that was still fighting is the one I'd join. Fighting is awful, stressful and bad, but fighting means there's life and passion nestled somewhere in that body. There's still a fire to blow into a flame.
When there's sin but no fire, the sin has won and it's time to move on. Up until that point, it's fair to hope the Lord might blow on that spark. And if the Lord might blow on the spark, don't you want to be there to help?
1 Cor 7:14
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
How much more might a church be sanctified by each of the people who give themselves to her?