I’m part of a church because…

Posted by on Jan 29, 2016 in Blog | 2 comments

We started this short series on the church by looking at the growing phenomena of churchless faith, where people who still hold to the Christian faith choose to continue in the faith whilst not being actively involved in any Christian church. In spite of the growth of churchless faith, overall church attendances are not faring too badly. The haemorrhaging of church membership in the so called Western world appears to have past the peak it reached in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, and while still worrying, might be levelling. So let’s balance the post on churchless faith by finishing this series (and remember we also had two posts on ‘So what is church – ‘part 1 and part 2) by looking at why so many people continue to be part of a church community.

If asked why they are still part of a church community, the most commonly given answers are:

  1. Because I am fed: This simple answer says a lot. Where people attend a church that helps them to grow in their understanding of faith and which applies it in a way that encourages growth, people usually keep attending. A common complaint of those who stop attending churches is that preaching is repetitious and that if you have been a Christian for longer than 2 years, you keep hearing the same thing over and over again. Some churches are able to avoid this trap – and they should be able to. Actually, the Christian faith is richly nuanced. On the one hand it is simple enough for a child to understand, on the other, theologians with a life time of study behind them still find new questions to tease out. So lack of possible content is never a reason for repetitious preaching. As a preacher I know how difficult it can be to decide where to pitch a message. I try to work at making sure that the big lines can be easily followed even by those with little (or no) background, but that there is enough in the message so that even those who have been Christians for a long time leave thinking, ‘guess I will have to think about that a little more’, or ‘ I hadn’t realised that…’   It is not easy, and does mean we must ensure that those who speak at our services have enough time to prepare well. They need to remember that both presentation and content matter, and that if either is missing, people leave under fed.
  2. Because I am inspired: It is not all about the head. If church services simply teach the faith, they miss the point that church is about gathering in the presence of Jesus. It is the God encounter that matters. That can come in a range of ways. Often it is when I sense that my week will be a little different because God is challenging me about something. I leave inspired to be more than I would otherwise be. The wider program and vision of the church might also inspire. It might be engaged in ministries whose value is obvious, and which we know we would never be able to carry off on our own. We attend because together we are able to achieve worthy things we would never accomplish alone.
  3. Because I am involved and make a difference: While some people become churchless because previous over-involvement has left them frazzled and worn, others thrive on their involvement. If asked why they continue to attend church, they will reply – ‘ but if I wasn’t there, who would…(run children’s church, lead the youth, play the trumpet, operate the sound system etc.)’ They know they make a difference and find that satisfying.
  4. Because I love the worship: While worship wars in churches are real, they usually have winners and losers. If you are a winner, chances are you love the worship (and while worship certainly doesn’t just mean music, it is usually a large part of it – and no, I am not going to get into the ‘but what is worship?’ debate here) – and find a God encounter facilitated by it. You might be dismissive of those who don’t find it equally helpful – but hey, for you it works, and it is a factor that will keep you attending.
  5. Because it gets me to mix with a diverse range of people: At its best, church is a diverse range of rich and poor, educated and less so, able bodied and physically challenged, socially adept and not so. There are different ages and races and cultures and… diversity everywhere, for God loves everyone on this wonderfully complex planet. And some attend church because it is one of the few places that offers this. Sometimes the opposite is true, and can (perhaps sadly) be the reason people continue to attend. So for some it is ‘I attend because I get to meet other people who are just like me… nice folk who help me to feel comfortable about my existence and my choices.’
  6. Because it’s a biblical instruction: The unknown writer of Hebrews 10:25 instructs ‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.’ I guess it is consoling that even the early church struggled a little with churchless faith. For many who continue to participate in church life, the fact that the Bible instructs us to gather regularly is reason enough to continue to do so.
  7. Because it is part of the rhythm of my life: You might hear some say this: ‘Why do I continue to attend church? Because I cannot imagine living life any other way. It is part of the rhythm of my life. And it is a healthy rhythm that has worked for me and my family.’  Some are even able to add ‘and it worked for my parents and their parents and their parents before them – so why would I choose any other way? If it ain’t broken, why fix it…’
  8. Because it is great for my family: Some say, ‘truth to tell, I don’t get that much out of church, but it is really good for the family. I love the way my kids are involved, and even if I have to stifle the occasional yawn, it’s a small price to pay for the long term benefit for the family.’
  9. Because the church is my family: Remember Jesus’ startling claim in Matt 12:50 ‘ Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’  When deeply embraced, the Christian faith sees us view family in a radically different way. It sees us embrace church as family. As with any other family, church can sometimes be dysfunctional, challenging, hurtful, claustrophobic, interfering, time consuming and embarrassing. But it is still family. And even if you walk away from your family for a while, it is usually only be to give a bit of perspective so that you can come back and contribute more helpfully. Many who continue to attend church say – ‘Leave church. How could I? It is my family.’ We must note the flipside of this. Some who have left church after a major split or division say, ‘It felt like a divorce. This was my family – and now it is torn apart.’
  10. Because it is part of my witness: Many would see their association with a local church as helping to mark who they are and announcing to their family and friends, ‘I believe – and you know it because I am part of this church community.’ It helps them to nail their colours to the mask, and becomes a part of their witness.
  11. Because it stretches and enlarges me: More than simply inspire, church often stretches and enlarges us. We might take part in a mission trip where we come face to face with poverty for the first time. Or it might be the first time we really try to get along with someone we would usually dismiss (not my kind of person, but I will work this through because we both love Jesus). It gets us to hear views that are not our own – and we do so in an atmosphere that won’t let us escape with a snide remark or a jeer, but which forces us to think seriously about the perspective of the other. Of course this is church at its best… but church is often at its best, and when it is, people stay.
  12. Because God is worthy of communal worship: Here the answer is different. It is a bottom line approach. God is worthy of our worship – and I said our, not just my – so I will worship God on my own and I will worship God in community. Even if the local church falls far short of what it should be, God remains worthy, so I will continue to attend.

Well, what do you make of this list. If you are a church attender, are these your reasons (some of them at any rate). Or are there some others (post them in the comments). And if you don’t attend, would you, if you found that these factors were real (as opposed to, ‘sure, I know the theory, but I haven’t found it to be anything like this in practice’)? And if not, is there anything that would make you attend (and please add to the comments what that would be – and if nothing would make you attend, why.)

Well, that’s it for today. As always, nice chatting…

2 Comments

  1. Other reasons people need to attend a church is to learn to deal with their own doubts in a supportive community (I hope), to learn how to handle conflict with ‘brothers and sisters’, to hear differing opinions than the ones you hold as 100% true, to love difficult people (considering you might be one yourself), be challenged about your sins or prejudices, learn to think critically about how others’ of the same faith (albeit differing denomination?) do things differently (and that’s OK), maybe to think about the issue of women from God’s perspective, all without avoiding these matters by sitting comfortably on your own thinking you have a 100% version of Gospel truths…in other words…to grow spiritually into a Christ-like person over time, in a family. It’s hard to show Christ-likeness if you’re alone.

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