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People going into church

Why go to Church?

People going into church

There are some very good Christian communities. I worshipped with two exemplary communities this weekend.

But sometimes (say in holidays) I visit a community for Sunday worship, and at the end wonder, if I lived there, would I go back? Too often I think I wouldn’t…

And that leads me to ask myself: What do I go to church for? What do/would I look for in a church community? I think I want at least one of the following:

  • Some enrichment of my real life. Some connection (say in the sermon, or another part of the service) which actually helps me in my real, daily life.
  • Some deepening of my relationship with God. Some sense of the numinous.
  • A sense that my presence enhances and helps others meeting there; that my presence is of value to others there.

You may have some other reasons you can add in the comments, why you bother going to church.

I think that some of the basic ways to make a service enriching are not as difficult as people sometimes give the impression.

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26 thoughts on “Why go to Church?”

  1. I recently relocated from one US city where I spent 2 years to another in which I lived many years ago. I spent three months finding a church home. I spent a month attending the local Episcopal cathedrel parish. Except for the offical greeters standing on the steps outside the front doors, and during the passing of the Peace, no one spoke to me the 4 Sundays that I attended. And they didn’t sing one hymn with which I was familiar.

    The second church that I attended was the Metropolitan Community Church of which I was the assistant pastor 30 years ago. It has dwindled to a mere dozen hard core members who refuse to see that the congregation died long ago. I attended for a month. They were very friendly and welcoming. They never sang hymns, mostly 30 – 40 year old praise hymns that were projected onto a screen in such small type I could barely read it. The only reason these folks can continue to pay the rent is because they have a rather large sum of money left as a bequest that they are drawing down. When they have used the total, I guess they won’t have a means of subornly continuing. I prayerfully considered what I had to offer there and sadly didn’t return.

    I am now attending one of the oldest congregations in the city, a United Church of Christ. It is a large friendly group who welcome everyone, great & small, equally. They are meeting in the social hall as their sactuary is being renovated and remodled to accomodate the gift of a Tracker organ and to bring the building built in the 1960s into the 21st century. This has forced them to use chairs rather than pews and offered the opportunity to experiment with the seating arrangement. They have thrived in the intimacy of meeting in the round and have since voted to throw out the pews and use chairs in the newly remodeled sanctuary. They sing lots of hymns that I know and I have joined the choir.

    1. Thanks, Br David. I have (too many) similar experiences of (total) lack of welcome, etc. Your point about money – in my bleakest moments I reflect that those up front leading this community so badly are regularly drawing on a good income. Blessings.

  2. Bosco, while this seems intended to be a conversation starter and not provide definitive answers I was still disappointed that it finished too soon. I thought you were going to detail some of the basic ways to make a service enriching.

    1. Thanks, Stephen. I guess a lot of the rest of this site, with many of the posts, are about the basic ways to make a service enriching. And you are right I am hoping that people think of why they bother going to church (and why not). What are some of your reasons for going? And how do you think people can make things better? Blessings.

      1. I go to three different services most weeks, all part of All Saints, Palmerston North, two on Sunday but in three different venues.
        The one I most enjoy is a mid-week service in the All Saints Community Centre. These are all very well-led, a rich variety of speakers, generally traditional hymns (from Hymns For Today’s Church. What I most appreciate at this service is the spirituality and warmth of the older members. At 57, I am usually the youngest perso there.
        On Sunday mornings I go to St Oswald’s which has a contemporary service with songs which depend on who the musicias are. It is a very warm and welcoming community and though it takes me a while to warm up to the service, by the end I am geerally enjoying the service.
        On Suday evenings I go to evensong at St Andrews Presbyterian Church. I find the worship less engaging ad the people less welcoming but excellent music and teaching and touching base with a few select friends rounds out Sundays for me.

  3. The issue of great revivals, and the Scottish one in particular, cropped up the other day in the course of a sermon so I did some looking. It seems that there were some factors around the revivals that I found surprising.

    There was nothing about service styles and seating arrangements, nothing about music and greetings. It seemed to come down to disciplined core groups that prayed, studies in small groups and people persisting in faithfulness in very bleak times. The people’s only concern after the revival began was their sinfulness and how they could be saved – the colour of the manse carpet or the time taken to sing a psalm (many today would say singing was very dreary – as was the style at the time) was not an issue. Clearly God was working in a most powerful way and all that mattered was the Gospel (who would have thought that?).

    I have swapped churches in recent times but the shift has always been for theological reasons rather than style. I’ve settled in an old Presbyterian church which has very friendly and kind older folk at the 9am service along with great hymns. Its great to fellowship with fellow Christians. I’m no fan of the service as an “experience” with modern music but there is a later service for those who want to clap their hands.

    Sunday services are never going to always fit the style you like but maybe its about, especially for the older Christian, giving something rather than receiving.

  4. Yes Bosco, the good old days some would say (but not me). I go to church because I feel pulled to do so. Sleeping in when its miserable outside does not have greater appeal than being with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

  5. The Church, hê ekklêsia is a convocation (kaleô = to call). The Church takes place, happens, at Eucharist. This is why, presently, I participate at Eucharists where open communion is practiced, and where Eucharist is real. It’s the only way we may become the Church, in a time-space where the timeless-spaceless can happen.

    But I admit this is a luxury. In our Western world, we can afford ecclesial consumerism. If I lived in an Ethiopian remote village, I would probably be the excommunicate du jour, and I would have no other option than to assist to a Mass wherein I wouldn’t been allowed to take part.

    If I lived in a city of the US, we would choose our parish according to 4 criteria: its catholicity, its inclusiveness, its liturgical traditionalism, the non-stipendiarity of at least one of its clergy. Doubtless, that would be a TEC or ELCA parish.

    1. Thanks, Georges. I think your “the Eucharist makes the Church” point very helpful. I wonder whether you would think “The Church takes place, happens” at non-eucharistic moments – the daily office, etc? I’m also intrigued by your fourth criterion. I was parish priest of a rural parish; I was the only priest in the parish and area; I was stipended. I don’t quite see why you would not have chosen to worship with us should you have lived there, and wonder what your point is? In the NZ context I have regularly been wondering whether we ordain too easily and too many – your fourth point argues every parish needs to have a non-stipendiary ordained person. Why? Blessings.

      1. Dear Fr Bosco,

        About the daily office and the Church. Long before the incarnation, people used to pray in the evening and in the morning, and this is what we inherited. The prophets prophecized about the incarnation of God. To some extent, the Church already has existed since then. Before the sun rise, we see the twilight.

        As for them then, also for us today when we pray the divine office, or perform sacramentals outside the Eucharist, before and after the Church happening fully, we still have the twilight in between. And those who just baptize independently from any Eucharist, they still have that twilight of Church happening.

        There are some weeks, in the Roman rite, where everyone of the days of the week they sing, as Magnificat antiphon, one verse of the Gospel of the Sunday preceeding. While this practice is arguable, nevertheless, it demonstrates that the divine office of the week gravitates around the Sunday Mass.

        I said those four criteria, in the specified order. It is very hard to have them all. If my only option be a parish of the Church catholic, of inclusive pastoral attitude, and of traditional liturgy, but with a priest that people should pay, then ok. Or if I had to choose between a homophobic and/or misogyne parish of traditional liturgy, and an inclusive parish of clownesque liturgy, I would choose the lesser of two evils, which is option two.

        I don’t agree with stipendiary clergy for many reasons. First of all, ministry is not a job. Our systems with stipendiary clergy comes from the Middle Ages marriage of church & state. Second, a priest should be one of his pairs; lest he won’t understand much her/his flock. Third, much stipendiary priests have too much time for meetings, liturgical improvisations, and all kind of crap. Fourth, if the apostles wouldn’t have earned their life, their mission wouldn’t have succeeded. Fifth, Christ worked as a carpenter for 30-50 years, before a 3-year itinerant ministry. Sixth, there’s so much hunger in the world; there are money needed. Seventh: the practical experience; I belong to a literary society, where everybody publishes linguistics books and novels, or translates computer programs; everybody does it as a hobby. Now there is a certain gov commission, where they do the same things, but stipendiarily, and they produce bad quality and ten times slower than us.

        This beeing said, I don’t blame JM Neale, Martin Luther and others like them, whose passion was very productive of high quality, while they received chickenfeed.

        1. Whilst I agree, Georges, and have already said, “in my bleakest moments I reflect that those up front leading this community so badly are regularly drawing on a good income”, we will have to agree to disagree about stipending clergy. As in any other field, I hold strongly to a well-formed, trained church leadership. That, normally (with exceptions I acknowledge) will not be possible whilst holding down another full-time position. I want to see full-time, residential formation, and value those well-formed, well-trained, who give all their time to leadership within the church. That this is so often done badly, for me does not point to the solution being abandoning the full-time element. Blessings.

          1. Dear Fr Bosco,

            I acknowledge that there are good priests who do it also for living. But is this system still viable in the XXIst century?

            In Belgium, people don’t need to give money in they belong to the 6 privileged denominations; most of the other function with worker clergy / “tent makers“. In France, where there’s no state stipend, many of the clergy fall below the poverty line. In the Netherlands, faithful have to give ±20 € per Sunday, which most of them don’t have for their living.

            As a clergyperson, I would be ashamed to ask such a sum to anyone. The rich generally don’t go to church anymore, or they do it for bad reasons; the poor often come to church hoping also to get fed. Without “tent makers“, I can’t see the church of tomorrow have the strength to go on, let alone stand upright.

  6. Mary W. Matthews

    I think everyone should have a faith community, a group that shares a set of beliefs and provides friendship in good times and support in bad. Weekly worship ought to create, sustain, and nourish this faith community. It also ought to help recharge one’s spiritual batteries.

    I don’t much care for most churches’ notions of worship, which center on androlatry and the sacralization of human structures of domination and oppression: God is always Lord, King, Father, Son, Prince, Lord, Lord, Lord. God is never Unwed Mother, Raped Daughter, Midwife, Crone.

    I also don’t care for the metastructure of most worship services: you, the individual worshipper, are responsible for killing Jesus. God created the man in His image. Then the woman invited sin, evil, and death into the world and singlehandedly transformed the man from “very good” to a wicked sinner. Then you, the individual worshipper, stood in the crowd and yelled “Crucify him!” even though you knew perfectly well that Jesus was actually God-in-a-man-suit. Therefore once a week you should gather with your friends to confess that you have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what you have done and what you have left undone, you’re a miserable subhuman (practically female!), you are truly sorry and you humbly repent, but not even the terrible swift sword of the Lord God Sabaoth can forgive you, because every single week you have to start over with the sin and guilt, sin and guilt, repent and turn to the Lord, you Christ-killer.

    In other words, my preferred faith community is an EFM group. I have worshipped with Quakers and UUs, too.

    The problem with even these groups remains the same: they all limit God. God is limited to the masculine gender; he can never be addressed or referred to in feminine terms. God is limited in human power structures; he is always Lord, King, Prince, never maid, concubine, rape victim. God is NOT omnipresent or transcendent — he couldn’t just look out of your eyes to experience what it’s like to be alive, he had to live in a man-suit for 33 years, instead. Limited. Oh, and God’s power is limited, too. He cannot defeat his creation, Satan, no matter how many millennia he has fought.

    I’m not sure why people want to limit God, but every depiction of God I’ve encountered in human worship is limited in these and many other ways. God watches us “from a distance.” God hates [fill in the blank]. God sent Hurricane Katrina to punish feminists, liberals, witches, abortionists, and gays. The God most people seem to believe in is so SMALL!

    1. Thanks, Mary! I hope you have heard echoes of your points on this site in my calls for silence (and just fewer words!), renewal of the apophatic, focusing on the symbolic, and rethinking inclusive and expansive language. Blessings.

  7. I don’t go to church because it’s boring and costs money and wastes time.
    I don’t think the people are any better than atheists; they’re obviously not more intelligent.
    Why bother?

    1. George, often in my experience atheists are ‘better’ than church-goers. And I’ve written about that here. As to intelligence – in my experience I have met some highly intelligent church-goers, but I do not see why that is a qualification that would encourage you to go to church. Blessings.

        1. George, I’m struggling to see this as a serious question. Are you really suggesting that people should only hang out with others of exactly identical intelligence? Is this how you run your own life? Blessings.

          1. Pretty much the same or higher; if I’m forced to deal with less intelligent people, I try to limit the interaction.

          2. I think you are just commenting for a laugh, George? In this worldview that you are claiming to be yours, why would those of higher intelligence than you, that you claim you hang around with, want to, as you say, ‘hang around people less intelligent’, like you? In your worldview they would ‘try to limit the interaction’ with you. Blessings.

          3. I’m highly intelligent, 150+ IQ intelligent, so I know that I shall be staying away from him! 😀

          4. I’m curious, George, how you assess the intelligence of the people you hang out with? Do you hand out an IQ test when meeting people socially? Or ask to see a copy of academic transcripts?

            Perhaps you assess the intelligence of your acquaintances by reference to their socio-economic status (ignoring the fact that not all rich people are intelligent and not all intelligent people are rich)?

            How do you account for the different forms of intelligence known among humans, or do you focus on one type of intelligence only?

            Do you also take into account your own apparent lack of empathy that fails to see the “less intelligent people” as still being human people (with human feelings) able to make a positive contribution to your community and your life if you let them.

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