Why Does Anyone Go To Church?
Tomorrow is Sunday. You know, the day when most Christians who bother to go to church with any regularity will get up on a perfectly good non-working morning and give their time to an institution that may or may not do them any favors. Catholics may have already gone to Mass on Friday or Saturday. The same with some people at Willow Creek.
The great thing about belonging to a Catholic Parish or a Mega-church is not having to go to church on Sunday. Okay, maybe there are other great things, but I think it's pretty swell.
The above post has been circulating around Facebook again. So, out of some strange sense of digital obligation, I posted it as well. Hey, I'm interested in why people go to church or why they don't or why that phrase bothers some but not others, etc. I find the whole damn phenomenon fascinating. So, I posted it. Laura said, "Yes!" Thomas said,
"Narcissistic drivel, and boring at that — who cares? Go, don't go, for crying out loud this self-reflecting, self-justifying business is such a growth industry. I could probably write a book about my 'church thing' that would be a best seller, if only I could bring myself to draw some lesson from it other than that I'm a shiftless nitwit who won't just *go.* That, in other words, it is *my* problem, and not reflective of anything anywhere worth a damn thing. As for all these reasons to *go to* church (such a fraught phrase, that!), those all sound like good reasons to sleep in to me."
That's when I got clever (so ironical am I) and mentioned that these two comments pretty well summarize the challenge that many U.S. congregations face right now. Both Laura and Thomas hit the nail on the head. They both got it.
I read the post and had this "Yes, but ..." response because I don't like her taste in music. I like what she said about the music, mind you, but if I ever hear "Lord I Lift Your Name On High Again" I may hurt myself and others. I don't go for those funky evangelical worship services with pounding boots. It's just not my speed.
Clearly, the wonderfully articulate Sarah Bessey loves it. More importantly, she loves the people engaged in this practice with her. Now, not everyone is interested in that kind of "moving community." Instead, they are looking for other things entirely.
Maybe they go to church because they see it as their liturgical duty and they value duty and obedience.
Maybe they go to church because it's all they have.
Maybe they go to church because, well, there's nothing better to do on Sunday mornings.
Maybe they just like the music.
Maybe they are succumbing to social pressure.
Who knows why people participate in liturgical disciplines. This question of "why" stems from some kind of marketing habit, perhaps. Or maybe it's just feeding our sense of crisis about the institutional viability of the American church, and we love to be in crisis about stuff — any stuff at all. We fear the ruination of the Church, well, more accurately, the abandonment of our congregations.
But what I think we need is a rhetoric about how it's entirely fine that people don't go to church. We don't need to obsessively share why we think it's so magical or why it sucks. Some assume that people are somehow lacking community, even spiritual community, just because they don't have a Sunday gathering (or Wednesday at Willow Creek, Saturday at St. Anthony's). This is also untrue by any generalized measure. Nor does every church "get it wrong" in some horrific way.
The public conversation is painfully lacking in nuance.
What we Christians need is a gracious rhetoric that reflects God's graciousness about such things as church attendance.
Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.org. Follow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.
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