During this outreach, I spoke to and/or prayed for about 20 strangers. One of those strangers was a 50-something woman. She was friendly, I think she even offered me a glass of lemonade, but when I invited her to church, she laughed and said "Dear, I outgrew church 5 years ago." Bemused, I asked her what she meant.
She said that she had grown up in the church and had attended faithfully for 40 years. She raised her kids in church, because it was the right thing to do, and she went every Sunday and sat in the same pew beside her husband. Eventually, she said, she realized she had heard roughly 50 sermons a year for almost 40 years, and figured she didn't have anything new to learn.
She explained that church is fine for young people, but eventually you just don't need to go anymore. She explained that she reads her Bible at home and watches sermons on television when she wants to, but simply had no need to sit in an uncomfortable pew and be surrounded by a bunch of "hypocrites". Her final parting comment was, "You don't need to go to church to be a Christian, you know!".
I didn't bother to argue, because why would she listen to me? I was a 25 year old "baby", who still "needed" to go to church. I was a little disturbed, but not offended, and certainly not convinced. I walked down to the next door and continued on with the job at hand.
Fast forward 10 years. Now I am a mom, and am raising my kids in church, because it's important to me. In fact, I introduce my kids to all the things I love. My kids cook with me, read with me and do crafts with me. My son is taking drums and guitar lessons, and my daughter is learning about friendship and community through Girl Scouts.
Isn't that what we do? When we are passionate about something, we introduce those things to our kids, because we want them to enjoy them as much as we do. For some people, that means sports, for others that might mean dance, or martial arts, or theater, or choir. With so many optional "extra-curricular" activities to choose from, why should church stand out as something that should be prioritized above the rest?
According to research by the Barna Group, while nearly 4 out of 5 Americans consider themselves to be Christian, less than half of those (47%) attend church on a regular basis. If you dig deeper, some research even suggests that those numbers are significantly lower (25%). So why am I one of those 25% who attend church regularly? What do I gain from Church that makes it one of the most valuable things in my life??
1. Increased Knowledge
I don't know about you, but I didn't graduate from Seminary. Even if I did graduate from Seminary, there is always something new to learn from the Scriptures because they are: "God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." (2 Tim 3:16) The Word of God is also "alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Heb. 4:12). While I can read and learn from the Bible at home, it helps to discuss and to learn from those who make it their life work to study and understand the Scriptures, people like Pastors, who then impart that knowledge to the rest of us.
2. Worshiping with other believers
The best analogy for this is that it is like exercise. We can absolutely work out at home, alone. But, sometimes, working out at a gym, in a class or with a friend, gives us a little more of a push to do more. In the same way, though we can worship God in the privacy of our own home (or car), meeting with other believers to worship through singing, prayer and the study of scripture, pushes us to do more. In reality, most of us lack the discipline to pray and sing for an hour or two when we are by ourselves, yet put us in a Sanctuary and we do it effortlessly. The power of numbers is also more effective with prayer: "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven." (Matt 18:19). All good reasons to be going to church weekly.
3. Fellowship with other believers
God commands us to spend time meeting together with other believers because, "in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." (Rom 12:5). Hebrews 10:24-25 says "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
For another, really good reason to seek fellowship in Church, read this post about how being a part of a fellowship of believers offers you unsurpassed support in times of need. My Christian "brothers and sisters" are a source of encouragement and support in the darkest places of my life. They offer light and love when the world offers rejection and condemnation. A Church family offers friendships, support, encouragement... why wouldn't you want that??
A couple years ago I read "Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants" by Dennis L. Okhom, I loved a lot about the book, but the one Benedictine vow that really resonated with me is the vow of "Stability". In our consumerist culture, we church "shop" or church "hop" to get our "needs" and wants fulfilled. I believe that God has a church "body" for each of us, and when He calls you, or places you in that church "body", you should dig down deep and lay your foundations right there.
Only when you are deeply rooted and connected in a church body, can you find accountability, which enables you to become a better person. I implicitly trust my Church family, and when one of my Christian sisters gently observes an inconsistency or flaw in my character, I am willing to begin the process of refinement, knowing that I am safe and loved. It's beautiful.
5. Spiritual Growth
Finally, one of the goals in my life is to be always growing and developing as a human. Part of this is continually seeking spiritual maturity. Not so I can say that "I am more mature than you are", but rather because spiritual maturity brings with it an arsenal of coping skills and insights. Allowing God to constantly refine me is a by-product of regular attendance at church.
When I go to church I gain new knowledge, insights, and wisdom from an ancient text that I believe is "God-breathed", through worship and fellowship with other believers, I am sharpened and refined by their example and the process of doing it "together", finally, when I allow myself to be vulnerable with other members of my church family (which only happens when I see them often), I am able to be held accountable and in turn, hold others accountable, which results in maturity and wisdom. Sounds like a good deal. In a nut-shell, that's why I go to church.
To be fair, the church can be a dysfunctional family at times, and people get hurt by the church "body", because the church is full of other imperfect humans who are also trying to become better versions of themselves.
I fully agree with the woman who said "You don't have to go to church to be a Christian." Just like I don't think you have to live with your husband to be married. However, if the relationship is non-existent and you don't live together, or you never see one another or talk to one another, you probably wouldn't think you had a much of a marriage, even if legally, you are married.
Just like being married without the marriage is missing the point, so is being a Christian without the Church. There is so much MORE when you are deeply rooted and established in love within the context of a Church family.
If you fall within the nearly 75% of Christians who don't attend church regularly, I challenge you to take a look at your excuses and really reflect on why you don't go. Regardless if it's time, money, people or just out of the habit, take a risk and try again this Sunday.
Still not convinced? According to Dale Matthews, MD, and David Larson, MD, of the National Institute of Healthcare Research- "Patients with a strong religious commitment recover faster, live longer or cope better in 7 out of 8 studies of cancer, 4 out of 5 studies of high blood pressure, 4 out of 6 studies of heart disease and 5 out of 7 studies of general health".
Church, it's good for the body, it's good for the soul.
I leave you with this prayer: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Amen (Ephesians 3:16-18)