Reasons for Going to Church

So, what really is the point of going to church? Why go to church? I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I’ve come up with some reasons for church that I’ve been told, taught, or truly believe myself. I thought I’d share each of them with you along with my thoughts/analysis of them. I’d really love to hear what you think of these and if you go to church please do share why in the comments – as I process through all this for myself I am truly interested to hear other people’s thoughts and reasons for church attendance.

Ok, so let’s just jump in and talk about each of these one at a time…

Fellowship

This is one of the most common reasons I hear given for church. But, my questions is: How much true fellowship really happens at church? Personally I never felt like much did. At the church where we’ve been going I do have some close friends who I do genuinely “fellowship” with, but it doesn’t usually happen AT church. At church we say a quick hello and that’s about it, when we really “fellowship” is when we meet outside of church and sit down and have a real conversation and I don’t see why that can’t keep happening even if I’m not going to church on Sunday regularly or at all.

Teaching

Many would say we go to church to be taught and to learn more about Jesus, the Bible, and how to walk with God. Ok, I can understand how originally when not everyone had a copy of scripture (not to mention most being illiterate) it would be important to have one person who could tell everyone else what scripture said and what that meant for their lives, but that’s not the case now. If pure knowledge is what I’m after than I can pick up a Bible and read it for myself. I can pick up any number of commentaries and read what a vast majority of other people say about any number of scriptural topics or passages. I can listen to lectures and sermons on line, or read them – in fact I can listen to or read sermons not only from all over the world, but also from a variety of time periods. If knowledge is what I’m after than there are probably a lot of better, more thorough, ways to do that than to listen to a sermon by one man.

If when I say teaching I mean that I am after encouragement, accountability, reminders to faith and godliness, than I still don’t think a sermon is the best way to get that. In this case what I’m really after is discipleship and a 45 minute sermon by someone I rarely talk to isn’t really discipleship. A better means for getting the encouragement, reminders and accountability that we are after would be to place ourselves under the mentorship of someone who is a little farther along the path of faith than we are.

To worship and praise God

Ok, to me, this does seem like a good reason to go to church, but… Personally I don’t feel like I do much worshiping and praising of God most Sundays at church. Some of it’s due to the fact that I have a young child who is very loud and energetic and needs my constant attention. Some of it is due to the fact that how I personally best connect with and worship God doesn’t fit all that well in most churches. My favorite times of praise and worship have almost all happened outside of church settings – times like long prayer walks through the woods by myself, praying and spontaneously singing songs of praise with a small group of close friends, meditating on God’s word as I do yoga, writing liturgies (like this one for example) and praying them together with others. Nature, creativity, and movement/physicality have often been a deep part of my experiences of worship, but these aren’t often things that I experience during a Sunday church service.

On the other hand though, I do believe that there is value in worshiping God even in ways that don’t necessarily speak my heart language. I do believe that there is value in proclaiming and singing along with others about our great God, even if I’m not feeling it at the moment, even if I’m distracted by my son, even if I don’t really like a particular song, or other method of praise. I believe that I don’t’ have to FEEL like I’m worshiping or praising in order to be worshiping and praising God. So, to me this is a legitimate reason to go to church – to praise and worship God. But, that being said I also believe that I can praise and worship God outside of church, for God is not as concerned with the location of my worship as the state of my heart (John 4:21-24).

The Sacraments

Personally, this seems like a very good reason to go to church. There are a number of sacraments, but the two nearly all Christians agreed are sacraments are baptism and Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. Communion in particular seems like a very good reason to attend church regularly. I can understand someone saying, I go to church so that I can partake of the body and blood of Christ along with his people. But, if this is my primary reason for going to church than wouldn’t it make sense that I go to a church where I can participate in the Eucharist every Sunday? Most of the churches that I’ve been in only practice the sacrament of communion about once a month. I like the idea of taking communion every week and this being a primary reason for church attendance resonates with me. Maybe we should be looking at orthodox churches, or other branches of Christianity that place more emphasis on the Eucharist?

Meeting new people and making friends

Ok, this seems like one of the most shallow/unspiritual reasons for going to church, but this one actually makes a lot of sense to me and seems entirely legitimate. Church can be a good place to meet new people, in fact many of our current friends are people that we’ve met in one church or another. I feel like church isn’t always the best place for truly connecting with people, but it can be a very good place for initial introductions. Those initial introductions can then turn into small groups, or more intimate dinners, or other activities together and eventually friendships are formed. I worry sometimes that if we stop going to church we will eventually run out of friends. It sounds funny to say and I know it’s sort of an overly dramatic worry, but it’s there in my head. I mean we live in an expat community where people are constantly leaving, if we aren’t making new friends regularly will we eventually isolate ourselves?

Motivation

Ok, let me explain this one… as I’ve reflected about a lot of the above reasons for church I’ve realized that pretty much all of them can happen outside of church and many of them might actually be better accomplished outside of established religious institutions. BUT, when I’m really honest about it how often am I really going to seek out knowledge and research a scripture passage through commentaries and all the truly great teaching available at my fingertips online? How often am I really going to take time to sing, pray and general proclaim God’s praises? How often am I truly going to seek out a mentor and put myself under their instruction? How often am I truly going to pursue growth in my spiritual life? Sometimes the answer to these questions might genuinely be often, but regularly the answer is not so often and in the second case going to church can be a real help. When we don’t have the motivation to seek spiritual growth on our own, church can provide us with a stepping stone or starting place for that growth.

To serve

To me this seems like a very good reason to go to church. But the ways that most people serve in the church seem entirely shallow and at times un-necessary to me. Most churches provide a lot of ways for people to serve those who are truly needy, but most of the time those ways happen outside of the Sunday service and I can get involved in those things whether or not I go to the Sunday service. Ways to serve during a Sunday service are usually relegated to primarily three options – children’s ministry (glorified babysitting), “hospitality”, and playing or singing on the worship team. So, what’s an introvert who can’t sing or play an instrument to do, well, children’s ministry, of course. Although I don’t mind being in the nursery with my child (and in a way prefer that to leaving him in there without me) I do have some issues with children’s ministry conceptually (I’ll save that for another post) and don’t feel like going to church just so that I can “serve” in the nursery is really a good reason for me personally to go to church.

Culture

Churches have cultures. By going to a particular church you are participating in a particular culture and if you have kids you are raising them to understand and fit into a certain culture. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to be part of “church culture” and doesn’t want to raise my child in it, but then there’s also a big part of me that does want to participate in church culture and raise my child in it. Because it’s familiar and comfortable for me – it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s the culture I’m most accustomed to. So, one reason for going to church would be to participate in a culture I’m familiar with and to instill that culture in my child.

I’m not going to address guilt/obligation and fear (fear of disapproval, fear of hell, etc.) although they are often my own personal reasons for going to church they are clearly not good reasons for going to church. Ultimately the fact that these are the things that sometimes motivate me to go to church just shows my lack of faith in God’s good grace and reveal the dark corners of my own doubts. I don’t want to focus on those things. I want to focus on and claim God’s grace. I want to focus on and claim God’s love which drives out all fear. So, I’m not going to get into those reasons more than this little mention.

So, those are the reasons for church that’s I’ve been able to come up with and my thoughts on each one.

How about you? Do you go to church? If so, why?

Rejoicing in the journey-
Bethany Stedman


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16 thoughts on “Reasons for Going to Church

  1. Good reflection and I applaud your willingness to be so transparent. You’ve offered an honest and balanced view.

    Yes, I go to church and here’s a random list of why:

    When I became a Christian, God called me into a relationship with Him and to fellowship with other believers. All the way through the New Testament, there is evidence of Christians meeting together. Lots of “one anothering”!

    I claim to be part of a worldwide church and I think it would make no sense not to fellowship regularly with an expression of that church in my neighborhood.

    The church cannot exist, function or grow without me! God has given gifts to each of us to be used for the common good and to advance His Kingdom.

    I need the accountability. Regular contact with other Christians keeps me sharp – “iron sharpening iron.” We are warned about forsaking the “assembly” in Hebrews 10:25.

    I work for a church and if I am honest, I have to say that there are seasons when I don’t want to go church either. On any given Sunday, church can be boring and full of ritual. But my reasons for not attending church are usually very “me” centered and often symptomatic of my independent spirit and feeling like I don’t need God or others.

    1. Shelley, thank you so much for sharing why you go to church. I like that although you touch on some of the same things I touch on you also gave some more reasons to go. I thought your last point about how your “reasons for not attending church are usually very “me” centered” was really challenging. I’ll be thinking about that a lot. Thanks, friend!

  2. Hi Bethany,
    really good questions, and good thinking behind your post – and thanks for your openness!
    I keep remembering some old lyrics from one song saying: “you can´t go to church, ´coz the church is you”. I hate it when ypeople ask me ” where do you go for church”? I always answer by asking them: ” where do you go for marriage”? Like marriage, church is not a place but relationship, right? So personally, I go to church because m a part of it, it´s my family – it´s because I experience the love and presence of God in the gathering of the saints (- the phrase just remineded of the Apostolic confession of faith… :-))
    Bit I think the greatest reasion for me is that i somehow understand it´s His will for me to go to church (or rather not just go, but “do”, or “be”). So I would agree with your “motivation” point – for me the fellowship oif the saints, plas partaking in Holy communion (we do it every Sunday), plus teaching of the Word, experience of common prayer and worship – all this has a sanctifying effect on me. When I don´t have these, I tend to drift to setting my own standards and basically become my own Lord very easily.
    Also, the church is about the only place where I´m forced to be pretty close with people who might be very different from me. All other groups and relationship I might participate in are based on natural or pragmatic affinity. But church is for everybody. So it helps me to see that my tastes nad preferences are just that – just my own private subjective takes on things. So to experience the “otherness” of others in church helps me to see reality in a much fuller sense…
    OK, I should stop now :-)
    Personally, I miss you guys. Too bad there is thins language barrier here. Hope to see you soon again. Katka says hi, and looks forward to next yoga with you!
    Much love
    Sasa

    1. Sasa, I literally laughed out loud thinking about you responding to people with “where do you go for marriage” – hehe, so true! Thank you for sharing why you go to church I really appreciated your insight. I love your point about church being a place where you are forced to be close with people who might be very different from you – that is so true and so valuable for all of us to be forced into those types of relationships. It stretches us so much and I really think the whole “iron sharpens iron” thing happens most notably with those types of relationships, where instead of being surrounded by people who are similar to you and encouraging the same kind of thinking, we come into tension with those who don’t think the same and challenge us to sharpen our own thinking and being. Anyway, that is a very good point and another great reason for going to church.
      Bryan and I miss you guys too and hope we can see you soon. I’ve been trying to decide when to start yoga up again – I’ll be sure and let Katka know when I do :) Grace and peace to you, my friends!

  3. I just have one quick encouragement… I’m sorry you’re experiencing so much pain and wrestling with such hard things. But on the upside, while wrestling isn’t easy, it’s good! Sounds like you’re growing in the challenge of all this, and really hanging tight onto God. Prayed for you while I washed dishes this morning.:)
    Amy Hadley recently posted..First Snow

    1. Amy, thanks so much for your prayers and you are so right that wrestling is good – in fact I have always sort of valued tension, and difficulty and wrestling (maybe even more than I should). Thanks for your thoughts. I’m looking forward to hanging out with you this weekend :)

  4. Beth,

    How can you be exactly SPOT ON? I feel like you are sitting inside of my head. I won’t explain how hard it is to pack the kids and go to church every Sunday (just to have playdates) since you already know. Personally, I go to church, WANT to go to church to feel God’s presence. I miss it, I really do. When I do meet His Presence, I can worship and hear Him. It is so intimate and I love it.

    Honestly, I don’t go to church for fellowship because I rather have fellowship outside church, people become more real without behaving like church goers. I know that because at church, I behave a little bit differently, too. There are some unspoken and naturally learned expectations. I just love spending time with believers and non-believers in a same manner and a casual setting using same vocabularies and same topics. But that’s just how I am.

    I don’t serve at church currently, because I get easily distracted by deadlines, schedules, expectations, and the stress. Is it too selfish? I have done it and don’t recommend to myself… I made a peace with it. Personally, I want my kids to come to me because they want to have so much fun and a deep relationship with me, not because they need to serve me or so busy to ‘respect’ me. I have so much to give to them and they need the help. I have a feeling God is the same way as a Father. Again, that’s who I am and that’s how I see My God. I want to be near Him, hear what He says about me, and pour my heart to Him. No distractions, extra frustration.

    Me, being this way, is not welcomed by lots of churches. I am a very bad influence and immature, selfish Christian to them. I understand why, totally. But I love my God, and there are other things I want to do for Him in many creative ways. I don’t need to explain to people and get validated.

    Have you read “A New Kind of Christian”? by Brian McLaren? I think you would love it. It was recommended by our previous pastor, he is an awesome, but much broken man. Anyways, I am trying to figure this out as much as you do. Only thing I really want for my kids is to inherit the walk with God. I am trying, isn’t easy…

    Your courage is a great encouragement to me personally. Thank you, Beth.
    Jihyun recently posted..The final decision on our Thanksgiving meal

    1. Jihyun, thank you for sharing about your experience with going to church and why you go – I can totally understand preferring to have fellowship outside of church – I feel the same way. I appreciate the rest of what you shared as well and think you provide another great perspective – I like the thought of just wanting to be with God and experience his presence.
      I read all three of the books in McLaren’s “New Kind of Christian” series a little over 5 years ago and they were enormously significant in my faith journey. I had a few bad experiences and really wrestled with church throughout college and found a lot of comfort from McLaren and other emerging church writers who were asking similar questions to the one’s in my head and heart. Then there was a season of just giving up on church (and resigning myself to the fact that it won’t be how I want it to be) and going only because it was a way to spend time with my in-laws, then there was a season of hope and getting excited about church again and finding a place where I felt I could really belong, but that didn’t really end well and then there was another down season of questioning the church, and a moderate season of not really caring and now this season… yay, I have my fair share of church baggage ;)

  5. Oh, if I may add to the fellowship part… I do talk about my experiences with God with anyone if they ask me. I am not afraid to offend anyone by bringing up my ‘religion’ as you can tell. People are going through lots of tough times and I share what I went through and am going through with them. We encourage each other and even get to pray for each other (even with non-believers!).
    Jihyun recently posted..The final decision on our Thanksgiving meal

  6. Beth, I have also struggled with most of these questions, at least the ones that did not require being a mom ;-). I found that I needed to remember too things which I easily forgot. God never shows up the way people expect and my heart is desperately wicked so I easily deceive myself.

    The church (low case on purpose) as we know it is a relatively new invention. It has not always been what we know today or the organization that causes the questions you raise. It had other problems at other times, always blemished but always an expression in part of His bride.

    Your point that organizations all tend to become corrupted has no less authority then Jesus Himself (capital for deity) Matt 13:31-32. The mustard seed that becomes a bush with the birds (figures of evil) comes to mind.

    In my own journey I had to come to a point where I realized I needed to deal with what Jesus calls the “Kingdom” not the church (low case on purpose). The Church (capitalized on purpose) is the Assemble of believers, the Bride of Christ. The church (lower case on purpose) is a human organization, corporation or entity that tries to provide a local expression of the Church attempting to fulfill many of the functions you articulate.

    I found when I focused on the church (you should be getting the lowercase by now) I missed the really big point Jesus spent his time talking about, the kingdom. As you know I have spent years just reading the gospels and I see some patterns in the gospels that helped me deal with similar questions:

    • His focus was on correcting peoples mental models of God
    • He attacks people that miss represent God

    Your questions have the power to help others correct their mental models of God and you are challenging miss representation of God. These are the roles of those gifted with prophesy.

    Maybe the best reason for you to engage in the church is to challenge the miss representations of God and correct people’s mental models of who God is by asking questions like the ones you are asking. The bad news is people don’t tend to like prophets but on the good side God does.

    Blessings & Love,

    Dad

    1. Dad, it was so great to hear your response to this. I can really connect with what you shared about the church vs. the kingdom – that makes a lot of sense to me.
      I also appreciated your starting point of recognizing that God doesn’t show up the way we expect and that we can easily deceive ourselves – I’ve been praying a lot lately that God would show me where I might be deceived in all this and speak truth to my heart about his Bride (universal) and my place in his church (local).
      Thank you also for your closing comments. The people pleasing, first born, in me has struggled with some of the private responses I have received from this post. I don’t want to hurt others, I don’t want to stir up conflict or dissent. But, I also do want to speak truth and don’t want to shirk away from difficult questions. So, thanks for your encouragement, dad.
      I miss you and wish we could sit down and have a daddy daughter date to talk through all this in person! Love you!

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