Now here is a tough pill to swallow. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus has thirty-four intimate encounters with an individual—“intimate” defined as when someone in particular is singled out for mention, or receives a word or touch from Jesus, or Jesus receives a word or touch from them. Of the thirty-four, one takes place in church. In the shorter Gospel of Mark, there are twenty-six such encounters recorded; two take place at church.
Furthermore, all of the most “famous” stories about Jesus—his birth, baptism, trial in the desert, calling of his disciples, turning water into wine, raising the dead, transfiguration, walking on water, feeding of the five thousand, Sermon on the Mount, calming the storm, Last Supper, dark night in Gethsemane, crucifixion and resurrection—not one of them takes place in church. Not one. This is no coincidence. Jesus came to the most religious people on earth, and much of what he had to do in order to bring them to God was to free them from their religion.
I believe we need worship, sacrament, instruction, community, and service. I go to church. I encourage you to. But you must stick to the facts—one of the most striking aspects of the stories of Jesus told in the Gospels is how few, how very few of the events related by the stories take place within a religious setting. The fact is, if you wanted an intimate encounter with Jesus, you would have been far more likely to find it outside church.
This is still true today.
The spiritual life is meant to be lived out in everyday life.