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…
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.
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).
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?
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 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.
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-