Feelings around church can be complicated. And the Covid-19 pandemic has made it even more complicated. You might be one of those who goes to church every time the doors are open. You see it as the right thing to do. Or you might find yourself not going, or not going very often. Today I’m not arguing for or against going to church; I’m considering the reason you go to church, or don’t go.
Church was Jesus’ idea. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, emphasis added). But let’s not be too quick to assume that what Jesus was imagining and talking about was church as we experience it today. Followers of Jesus have gathered and worshiped in many different ways over the past 2000 years. Is what we’re doing now what Jesus intended?
Those complicated feelings around church? Ambivalence makes sense. You want to go. Or you want to want to go. And maybe you don’t want to go, and part of you feels guilty for not wanting to. You might also feel hurt or sad or empty or frustrated at the thought of going to church. It’s worth getting under the surface of those feelings and asking questions about them.
So, why do you go to church, if you do? And if you don’t, why don’t you?
If You Do Go to Church
Most would consider the best reasons for going to church include worshiping God, connecting with other followers of Jesus to mutually help each other grow, and together helping grow more followers of Jesus. If you do go to church, I hope this is the reason. And then the question becomes, how well are you truly worshiping God when you go? How well are your connections with other followers of Jesus helping you and them grow and build more Jesus-followers?
I suspect, however, that for many who go to church there are other reasons that loom larger. You go because it’s expected of you, it’s what you’ve always done, or it somehow elevates your social status. Or church becomes a social club where you go to meet your friends. Or if your church is good at production you go expecting to be entertained.
What if it was suddenly socially damaging to go to church, or if the entertainment value went away? What’s different about attending church vs. attending a popular concert or lecture where you gather with friends?
I firmly believe there is something different. Or at least there should be. It’s not that social connection or production value are bad things. God made us to be connected. And God Himself is a great showman when necessary. (Mount Sinai? Solomon’s temple? Day of Pentecost?) But it’s worth considering whether the church you go to understands that difference.
So ask yourself, what was I expecting the last time I went to church? Why did I really go?
If You Don’t Go to Church
You might not be going to church because you’re truly physically unable to get there. But I suspect that for most that’s not the real reason. Laying aside any guilt or judgment for a moment, what’s going on under the surface when it comes to you and church?
It might be you’ve never gotten in the habit. Or you’ve simply gotten out of the habit. You weren’t raised in church, or you went for a while, something happened (perhaps even the pandemic), and you just stopped. But then I wonder, if you stopped, why were you going before?
Perhaps you’re truly hungry for God’s presence, for transformation, but something about your church experience left you even more empty. You truly hoped for something, but you didn’t find it in church. So why keep trying? People may have told you you’re “supposed” to go, but after going your heart seems in worse shape than it was before. Something just doesn’t seem right about that.
Or you might have experienced real trauma in church. You were abused by a church leader, or the only Christians you saw displayed such hate or greed or duplicity that you just couldn’t be around that. You know you’re supposed to look to Jesus and not to people, but this was too much. The thought of church brings on a wave of PTSD.
So, why really aren’t you going to church? Consider that honestly.
I know there are some Christian leaders who read my articles. If you’re a leader, this Covid-19 pandemic has provided opportunity for anyone who’s been paying attention to ask some hard questions. Put your inner self-critic on time-out for a moment and consider, why were–or are–people coming to your church? Is that a valid reason? For those who aren’t coming, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Is there “food” in your “restaurant” that would nourish people if they came? Church leadership is hard; this is not an exercise in blame. It’s an exercise in honest assessment based on the Biblical principles, rather than simply working to maintain an institution.
If you’re a volunteer or church attendee, tell your leaders Thank You when things are good. And make sure you are more than a spectator, a consumer. Intentionally turn your heart to worshiping God and deeply connecting with other followers of Jesus.
And if you’re not going to church, where are you getting the spiritual nourishment that you need? Where are you connecting with other followers of Jesus? What are the ways in which you are truly worshiping God?
I’m not pretending church is always good. And I’m not making a blanket statement telling you you’re “supposed” to go. I’m inviting you to thoughtfully consider the reasons you go or don’t go.
I always love to hear from you, and your response to these ideas today really interests me. What’s the real reason you go to church, or don’t go? If you’d prefer to write confidentially, you can do so using the Contact page, and know it comes directly to me.
Your Turn: What’s the real reason you go to church? Or the reason you don’t go? I’d honestly love to know. Leave a comment below.
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