Why should you bother going to church? Valid question. In a time when more and more the accepted theology is that God Loves You, No Exceptions, then what is it exactly that church can give a person, if God is going to love us even if we don’t go?
It’s true, the Roman Catholic Church is still pretty clear: failing to attend church services is a sin. Sins are punishable. Sins can be remitted by penance and forgiveness – which you may receive in part by attending church services. But you know, the pool of Christianity is a great deal larger than just the Roman Catholic corner. And while some varieties of Christian are still quite clear that baptism is necessary to salvation, baptism is a one time event. And baptism aside, being an avid student of Jesus is just as good in the understanding of many, and can certainly occur without benefit of church building or community.
So if God will love you whether or not you attend a church regularly, sporadically or ever at all…
If you can read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the teachings of Jesus and play them out in your own life more and more as the days go past, no matter where you are or what you do during the day…
Why bother waking up early on a Sunday to do anything other than drink coffee in your bathrobe while you valiantly try to do the New York Times Sunday Crossword and consider taking your dog for an extra long walk?
Why Some People Go To Church
There are a lot of reasons why some people do go to church. They see friends there. They like the music. They find it calming/relaxing/restorative/rejuvenating. They like the preaching. They like the free coffee. They like the free wine. They are supporting someone else in going. They are there to witness something important. They are there for reasons they can’t clearly articulate. They are there under duress. They are there because they think they must be there, or else God won’t love them/save them/grant them wishes/let them into heaven/let loved ones into heaven. And even in some places (though less prevalent these days), they are there because something in their non-religious life requires it of them.
Now, those last three aren’t so positive, but that’s reality. Some people who end up in a church aren’t there for the best of reasons. But this also doesn’t even begin to cover why someone ought to go to church. What’s the point?
Also worth our examination at this point, perhaps, is why people don’t go to church…
Why Some People Don’t Go To Church
Pew Research has some rather eye-opening information on this. Some people don’t go to church because they think churches are filled with: hypocrites, science-phobic people, people who hate on others, mysogynists, people who use their religion as a reason to go to war/kill/hurt/degrade others, and people stuck in the last century. Also, they may dislike the music. They may dislike the preaching. They may dislike the people. They may find the order and flow of the communal worship to be alien, stifling, archaic and impenetrable. And the time may be up on their enforced attendance: Children who grow up in the church with no better reason to attend than ‘Because I Said So’ seem not to find the compulsory time well spent. And of course, some people have been actively harmed by the church. That’s a darn good reason not to go back.
In a word: Irrelevant. Many people don’t go to church because they believe it is irrelevant. The preaching does not speak to their lives, their experiences, their hopes or their suffering. The music in unapproachable. The worship is inaccessible. The theology is execrable.
And as churches on the fringe hog the spotlight in increasingly negative ways, churches in the middle say nothing, their words and actions quietly slipping by.
Also, some people still hold the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades against all Christianity, to say nothing about more recent, widespread and horrific clergy misconduct. And really, they have a point. In the collective Christian past, there are atrocities, much as there are in our collective human past. If it weren’t for Jesus, I’d throw it away.
But then… there’s Jesus. The enlightened one who teaches us all that we are the beloved Child of God. He confounded his students even at the time, right in front of them, and most of them misunderstood him most of the time. But he said things worth spreading. And so…
The One Reason I’d Recommend An Active Church Membership To Anyone
There are darn few places in our world where we are actively encouraged to consider compassion as an option. Few places indeed that recommend we love our neighbors actively, and practice right now, right here on the people next to us who are coughing too loudly. Few places indeed, where we are reminded that forgiveness is part of loving your neighbor.
And no where else where it is the command of the founder.
Love each other, as I have loved you. …And they will recognize you, by your love.
It’s true that not every church is a safe place to learn how to love your neighbor as yourself, a safe place to practice it, get it wrong, try again, get it less wrong, try again and get it slightly right. But they do exist. And if you aren’t in one, you have two choices: you can stand in the midst of them and be healthy and see if they change around you, or you can go church shopping.
[EDIT: I was reminded that another quite valid reason for people failing to attend church is due to the harm the church has wrought in their lives, and have added it. I apologize for my omission – you’re dead right. Thanks for making this article better.]