Skip to content

Why Do We Go to Church?

02.02.2011

I remember hanging out with a friend in college, one who I’d known since high school and who’d known me before my Christian days.  I told him I wouldn’t be available to hang out with him later that week because of a praise night event that my fellowship was hosting.  I can still remember his response:

‘What, another church thing?  Haven’t you been to enough?  Don’t you think, by now, that you’re “in”?’

Now, of course, AACF was what we call a para-church organization, and not a proper church, but this still rings so sad to me.  That I saw this community as a loving place to gather with my closest friends and experience the Holy Spirit through giving God glory and praise was inconceivable to him. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I think, my wife has trouble wrapping her mind around the idea of cultural Christians.  If you’re not a believer, connected in a very real way to the presence of God, why would you go through the motions?  How could it be an activity you would choose to do?

For many, it isn’t, which is why we see church attendance dropping throughout the West.  A growing secular influence in culture has removed the social stigma of not attending or belonging to a church.  With no social repercussions, most people have stopped engaging in what, for them, is a pointless, inconvenient activity.

Many people, however, agree with my friend.  They may not actively believe in the Gospel in any real way, but they have this residual notion that going to church is somehow the right thing to do and that people who go to church are somehow better, more holy, or more surely heaven-bound.  This is why non-believers go to church on Christmas and Easter, not because the season sparks in them an otherwise ignored desire to explore the eternal things of God, but because they’re supposed to and their parents (living or dead) would be disappointed in them if they didn’t.  To my friend, I had been regularly attending church and fellowship functions way more than he considered to be ‘the minimum,’ and my desire to stay involved was overkill.

I can’t remember what I told him at the time.  I hope it was some godly and wise-but-loving rebuke about the joy of fellowship in God, something which planted a seed that has continued to grow in him and bring him closer to God.  Much more likely, I gave a nervous chuckle and changed the subject.  That’s what a great evangelist and witness I am.

But the latent question is still there to be answered.  Why do we go to church?  For those of us that believe, what draws us to regular attendance at a church?  I think there are many answers, none of which is the ‘right’ or ‘holy’ answer.  I do think that there are wrong reasons to go to church, although God can use the attendance of people who go for the wrong reasons to His glory nonetheless.  Specifically,  I think going to church beacuse of guilt or obligation or as a way to get into heaven is ultimately wrong-headed and based on bad theology.

We hear a lot about the ‘consumer mindset’ of modern churchgoers.  I’ll talk a little bit more about this next week as I discuss the phenomenon of church (s)hopping, but these are the things which draw us to church (in general, not a particular church) because of how they benefit us as a consumer of these qualities:

  • I like singing. 
  • I like learning from the pastor. 
  • I like making friends with other believers and creating a supportive Christian community. 
  • I’m looking for a Christian spouse, and church is the high-percentage bet in this regard. 
  • I like feeling a part of something bigger. 
  • I like participating in traditions. 
  • I like the spiritual ‘boost’ I get that helps put things in perspective and recharge me for the coming week. 
  • I like oyster crackers and grape juice. 

All of these are consumer-driven reasons to go to church.  I would argue that they are all legitimate reasons to go to church.  Again, I’ll talk about the consumer mindset more next week, but I disagree with arguments that dismiss these reasons as selfish or low or unspiritual.  These are manifestations of what Lewis, in The Four Loves calls ‘need-love,’ which is exactly what it sounds like, a love (a mix of gratitude and desire) born out of a need for the object.  As Lewis points out, it is entirely appropriate that we — who can give God nothing but who would perish without His gifts — would experience our relationship with Him in this manner.

The supposedly more spiritual reasons for going to church are more outward focused:

  • I want to be involved in an institution where I can serve my community either publicly (soup kitchens, retirement homes, charity, etc.) or privately (prayer, counseling, leading Bible study, etc.). 
  • I want to praise God. 
  • I want to be molded and shaped into a servant of God, educated for evangelism, equipped for ministry, etc. 
  • I need to be held accountable.  

I say ‘supposedly more spiritual’ because, with the possible exception of liking oyster crackers and grape juice, all of the reasons in both lists converge on one reality: we delight in the Lord.  He fills us up.  He plugs us in.  He draws us to Him.  He challenges us and grows us.  He puts our gifts and talents to work for His glory.  He draws us together in unity with each other and with Him. 

Through all of these things, we delight in God, and they are aspects of the relationship that exists between us and God.  Church is the institutionalized means for being in that relationship, for relating to God. 

This is why going to church is so pointless or mercenary in the eyes of non-believers.  My friend viewed church the same as visiting an aging relative with whom you have no relationship.  Going is better than not, probably the right thing to do, but there’s no reason to overdo it (or do it at all if you don’t have to). 

To a believer, though, church is like hanging out with your best friend.  You don’t do it as a duty or as something functional.  You do it because it’s natural, because you want to, and because spending time together is the very essence of relationship.

Next week: Church (s)hopping
In two weeks: Church styles (music, attire, etc.)
In three weeks: Church liturgy (sacramental or evangelical)

Advertisements

From → [cs/gk], [essay]

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: