Why should I go to church?
Are you going to church simply because you feel you should? Maybe you don’t go at all anymore, or are just starting to consider going. Church is supposed to be a joyful, meaningful worship experience — but what if your local congregation doesn’t measure up? StudentSoul.org received several interesting responses to this question. Why should you go to church, anyway?
Come fly with me
Through the clouds, we see a town …
It’s a quiet Sunday morning and little activity is occurring, except in certain places here and here and here.
We see one building, small and rather plain, white-clapboarded within an inch of its life. It looks like it’s been there forever, and as far as the town is concerned it has been. A little plaque says “Est. 1842.” Upon entering, it appears that many of the founding members are still in attendance. Once a home to fire-eyed preachers, the current speaker’s somnolent tone simultaneously soothes the nerves and communicates nothing in particular.
We see another building, impressively religious, more hewn than built, sparkling with colored glass. Inside, men and boys in white cassocks move silently; the air is tinged with incense. Saints martyred fifteen centuries before gaze benevolently from the high walls. But all this mysterious beauty seems to be lost on the parishioners, who manage to fill perhaps twenty percent of the pews; they stand and sit and recite from memory, without remembering why.
Cast a glance a bit past the edge of town, and you’ll see what at first appears to be an outlet mall. Upon closer inspection, it’s actually a house of worship, albeit one with an espresso bar. Inside is a sea of people, eyes and hands raised toward a very large video screen depicting a band playing a smooth, updated version of an old hymn. Unlike the other two buildings, the people here seem to be happy — they want to be here. And why not? They’ve built the perfect twenty-million-dollar cocoon in the suburbs, far removed from the community they intended to serve once upon a time.
Stereotypes? Yes, but maybe not too far removed from your experience or your expectations. So faced with these options, you could be disillusioned and disgruntled. Maybe you’re ready to chuck the whole idea of church.
Well, let’s begin with the obvious: not all churches are like the ones described above. Many churches of all denominations are warm, inviting, service-oriented, God-focused and biblically-based. But the churches in your community are far from perfect. Is it better to quit church altogether than attend the often tarnished places of worship in your community?
Or maybe the churches aren’t the problem; perhaps you have a great community of Christian friends, and just don’t feel the need to attend. But wait — Christians are commanded to go to church, or at least meet together in fellowship, aren’t they? And even if your church is problematic, might you have a responsibility to attend and help make it better?
No lone wolves
It cannot be stressed enough that lone wolf Christianity is not an option. Hebrews 10:25 couldn’t be more explicit: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Chris Keidel, InterVarsity area director for Philadelphia and Delaware, reminds us his Student Leadership journal article This Bod’s for You that there are two ways in which we can think of the church: “There is the universal church, which includes all those who repent and believe in the Lord; it is the body of Christ, visible as well as invisible. But,” he adds, “there is also a particular church. It can exist at various geographical levels, but it’s expressed as the local church — the visible body of Christ made up of particular families and individuals in one location.” Chris goes on to point out what is probably the most important reason to belong to a “particular” church, the holy sacraments of baptism and communion, commanded for all Christians (see Acts 2:38-39 and 1 Corinthians. 11:23-26).
My campus fellowship is fine, thanks
Still, Christian university students in particular may reasonably argue that they are already heavily involved with a campus fellowship like InterVarsity. They meet weekly, they pray, they worship, they reach out to their friends and community: isn’t that what a church is supposed to do? Why do they also need to be involved with a church, especially if there isn’t a “good one” nearby? Well, as a wise person once said, “It’s not all about you.” Our consumerist mentality has tainted our understanding of what church is supposed to be — a community that we seek to serve, not be served by. Chris Keidel points out that the local church is a place that provides a unique opportunity for serving a wide variety of people — infants, children, teenagers, and the elderly.
A parachurch organization (or an informal worship gathering) is most likely made up only of one’s peers. This doesn’t mean it’s “church versus parachurch.” In his paper, “The Reason for and the Role of the Parachurch,” Stanford U. InterVarsity staff team leader Jon Paris writes that churches and parachurch groups can benefit each other immensely as they “function together synergistically to proclaim the gospel and serve the community.” Parachurch organizations can also “help unite local congregations and distinct denominations in mission.” The churches in your community may or may not have anything to do with each other, but the likelihood is that your campus fellowship is made up of members (or at least casual attendees) of several local places of worship.
You’ll want to be part of this family
Brian Sanders executive director of the Underground Network and author of Life after Church: God’s Call to Disillusioned Christians says there shouldn’t be any should involved when it comes to attending church. “The Kingdom is not a ‘should’ kind of place,” he says. “It is a place of desire and freedom. People do not have to be a part of the kingdom, they want to. The Kingdom is full of fans.”
You can be a Christian and not go to church in the same way that you can be a family member and never visit anyone. But what would be the point of that? “Our lives are immeasurably enriched over time by participating in family events,” says Georgia Beaverson, a freelance writer in Wisconsin and the mother of older teens who sometimes ask why they should go to church. “Our sharp corners get rubbed off by those in the family who aren’t exactly like us. We learn patience, grace and longsuffering by dealing with people we might not otherwise ever encounter. Likewise, going to church opens us up to all facets of the body of Christ. And we get a chance to enrich the lives of others, as they enrich ours.”
Be judicious, not judgmental
Churches are made up of fallible human beings, and as such often stray far from our ideal vision. Far from quitting church in such circumstances, this is precisely the time when we should stay involved. “It is far to easy to walk away when times get hard and conflict arises, but that is when we learn the best lessons,” says Dan Pinka, producer for InterVarsity’s 2100 Productions. “We may learn that we had a wrong perspective or attitude, or we may realize that we need to stand up for the truth in love. Conflict can push us deeper in our knowledge of God and, with reconciliation, can deepen our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.” And it’s not just for the church’s sake that we need to stick it out: “We need to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Christ makes a difference. We need to be able to resolve conflicts and move on. If the Church is supposed to proclaim the manifold wisdom of God to the heavenly realms, then what does it say when we hop from church to church over the fact that we didn’t like the music they were playing?” That’s not to say there are never good reasons to leave a church — false teachings can poison minds and hearts, and dysfunctional relationships within a church can become destructive. But too often, when we leave a church, it’s the result of us being judgmental, not judicious.
So, should you go to church? As a member of the global church, you have a responsibility toward the greater community of believers — not to mention the (even larger) community on the outside looking in, wondering who these people are that meet every week to worship a God who proclaims peace and love, freedom and justice, repentance and salvation. Local congregations are not, nor ever will be, ideal, because they are made up of imperfect human beings who are themselves in the process of being perfected. A particular church may become untenable because it is abusive or heretical, and you may need to leave. But disappointment in a particular church can never be an excuse to give up finding a new community of faith. Being a Christian has nothing to do with consumerist ideas about individual happiness and satisfaction — it never has been. From the earliest days, Christianity has been about community, where Jesus-followers learn, worship and grow together while serving each other and modeling Christ to a watching world.
Interested in finding a church? See Finding a church for some helpful tips.