What’s In It for Me?
Why It’s Still a Good Idea to Go to Church.
Nine reasons people give for not going to church and why it’s still a good idea.
- I’m spiritual, not religious.
- I’ve gotten out of the habit.
- The church just wants my money.
- I don’t like the pastor (or some other individual or group in the
- I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.
- I’m too busy and Sundays are my only time to rest.
- Church is boring.
- Church people are judgmental and hypocritical.
- I just don’t need God in my life.
Click here for a handy printable booklet version.
You’ve got lots of stuff going on in your life. There is more to do than you have the time to do it in. Fitting in time for church is not easy. Maybe you were dragged to church as a kid and resented it so now as an adult, you are exercising your freedom by sleeping in on Sunday mornings. Maybe you have had a bad experience involving Christianity. Or maybe you just don’t see the point.
Whether or not you go to church is a personal decision. Everybody has his or her reasons. This booklet does not address every possible reason a person might have for not attending church. It is merely intended to be an overview of some of the more common reasons people give for staying away from church. The author has attempted to give an honest and realistic response.
If you haven’t been to church much recently, take a look at the reasons listed in this booklet to see if yours is covered. Read through some of the others too because the responses might give you something worth thinking over. Hopefully, after skimming over these pages, you will see going to church in a new way and feel encouraged to give it another go.
Usually, this means that a person has not completely rejected God or considerations of the spirit, but that they do not wish to associate with the organized church. Further, they mean that they prefer to be individualists when it comes to their faith. They have religious-style beliefs, but they prefer to pick and choose and not be constrained by specific scriptures or doctrinal formulations.
The word "religion" has developed a bad reputation in recent decades. I guess I’m pretty old school. When I hear the word "religion," it means beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that pertain to God-stuff. But when many people hear the word "religion," they hear hypocrisy, legalism, pride, and self-righteousness. If that is what religion means, then I’m against it too. Wholeheartedly. So sometimes, it’s all about getting your definitions straight.
Church is "religious" in the sense that the Christian Church does have specific beliefs and practices. It doesn’t fit the anything goes approach. But God does not want the church to be religious in the sense of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Jesus spoke against those attitudes repeatedly. So hopefully we can agree about that.
To the extent that being "religious" means there are boundaries and prescriptions, we need to understand that this does not have to be a bad thing. The Church is the family of God and every healthy family must have shared values, presuppositions, beliefs, practices, traditions, and goals. No family can be sustained without sacrifice, without balancing individualism with community. In fact, a person actually finds true fulfillment through sacrifice and community. Christians believe that God wants us to be part of His family and that we reach actualization, not by focusing on ourselves, but by experiencing t he benefits of the community.
Some people stop attending church after a major life change such as a move, a job change, a death or divorce. Maybe you were active in a church before you relocated and then you just never got around to finding the right church to join in your new location. Or maybe you got a new job that keeps you busy on Sunday mornings. Or perhaps you got a divorce and no longer feel comfortable attending the church where you used to go as a couple.
Each t ime you experience a major change in your life circumstances, you must adjust. When you move to a new area, you have to find a new dentist, a new vet for your dog, a new gym, a new favorite grocery store and so on. Finding a new church should be on that list too.
Basically, this b oils down to priorities. When your cupboard is empty, you have to find a new place to do your shopping. It’s not optional because eating is high on your list of priorities. Likewise, you’ll find a dentist or a gym when you need one, sooner or later.
When you realize that the Church provides you with a service that can be found nowhere else in the world, then you will find someplace to connect. As long as that realization is absent or hazy, church will remain low on the list. A lot of folks just don’t think the church offers an indispensible service.
So what can the Church provide that you are missing? God’s Word. The Sacraments. A stronger connection to your Heavenly Father. Jesus said that we live by more than bread alone, but by every Word from the Father’s mouth. When you recognize that that internal rumbling you feel is actually from spiritual hunger, go to the place where that need can be met.
Certainly some churches do a bad job of talking about money. People might disagree with how some churches and religious organizations have managed their resources. Fair enough. However, the vast majority of pastors and church workers handle money with integrity and are trying to glorify God and serve the needs of people.
To be blunt, the Church needs funding from donors just like any other non- profit organization. If the Church is to continue or expand its mission to reach the lost and help hurting people, the members need to be generous. Salaries have to be paid. Facilities need to be maintained.
Even if churches aren’t always as polished as they should be when it comes to asking for money, they usually don’t mean to put pressure on you, especially if you are a visitor. God wants us to give willingly and joyfully, not because we’ve had our arms twisted. As St. Paul wrote, "Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).
It’s perfectly appropriate for the Church to talk about money and possessions as Jesus Himself spoke often of these subjects. Everything that we have is ultimately given to us by God. He gives us talents, gifts and treasure not just so that we can find ever more clever ways to amuse ourselves, but so that we can use our resources in service to others.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ encompasses all aspects of life, including the financial. When you hear the church asking for money, it’s not because they are greedy but because they are trying to fulfill their mission and teach us to be generous with what God has given us.
So think for a few minutes about where your money goes. How much do you spend on movies, cosmetics, magazines, or junk food? Many people actually enjoy giving a percentage of their income to charitable causes. It is gratifying to know that you are helping others. The Church exists to help people, primarily by fostering a relationship with God, but also by taking care of those in physical need.
Churches are made up of ordinary people. They are flawed like everyone else. Have you been injured by something that someone at church said or did? Or didn’t say or do? That can be painful. If you have been wronged by a pastor or another Christian, then rather than avoiding church, you should confront those who have offended you. Do so in a humble, loving manner and not in order to get your own jabs in, but to try to reconcile.
Hopefully the offender will see things clearly as a result of your having approached him or her. If they repent, forgive them. Five of the most powerful words in the English language are: "I’m sorry. Please forgive me." Equally powerful are: "I do forgive you." Forgiveness is central to Christianity. So is reconciliation. Sinful people are reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ as a payment for our sin. As beneficiaries of God’s reconciling love, we are moved to reconcile with one another.
Maybe your dislike of the pastor (or whomever) is not the result of some sin, but is a personality clash or disagreement over matters of church management, etc. If so, it would probably be to everyone’s benefit if you could find a way to cope with your differences short of dropping out altogether. Church is too important for that.
Work toward reconciliation. Pray for strength and pray for the other party. Don’t give up. Healing a damaged relationship may not happen over night. If your problem is too difficult for you to overcome or the other person refuses to reconcile, there’s no law that says you have to go to that particular congregation. Just keep in mind that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. Everywhere imperfect people gather together, some interpersonal conflict is bound to occur.
Is it possible to remain a Christian without attending church services? Sure. There are many people who are unable to attend church because of illness or advanced age. These Christians do not necessarily lose their faith because they happen to be homebound.
There are circumstances which make is difficult or impossible to get to church. However, when a healthy person makes the free choice not to attend church, it often is a symptom of other things that may be awry with his or her relationship with God.
It is undeniable that your faith can be nourished when you read the Bible privately or when you hear sound preaching on the radio, television or internet. But two things you cannot find on your own are the benefits of the Sacraments and the consolation of being with fellow believers. These are benefits God wants you to receive. Speaking of the Lord’s Supper, for instance, Jesus said, "Do this." When someone offers you a gift and you intentionally make yourself unavailable to receive that gift, what does that communicate to the giver? Don’t turn away from God’s gifts.
Is it possible to remain a Christian without attending church services? Yes. The bigger question is whether it is good for you to try to maintain your faith apart from the Church? Not everything that is possible is necessarily beneficial.
It is clear from God’s Word that He wants us to gather together into congregations for our benefit. It says in Hebrews 10:25 we should not neglect, "to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." God wants us to gather into congregations in order to encourage one another. If you don’t feel the need to be encouraged right now, maybe God wants you to be an encourager for someone else. Doesn’t it makes sense that God knows what we need better than we do? And since He wants us to gather together, we should take it seriously.
You have to take time to rest. God designed us to require times of rest. We are not meant to be on the go continually.
The story is told of the man who needed to cut down a grove of trees. The first day, he cut down ten trees. The second day, he only cut down eight trees. The next day, he only cut down five. By the end of the weeks, it took him all day to get through half a trunk. What was his problem? He was working just as hard on the last day as he had on the first? The problem is not that he didn’t work hard enough. The problem is that he failed to take time out to sharpen his saw, so it got duller and less effective as a tool the more time that passed.
Saying you are too busy to rest is like saying you are in too much of a hurry to stop for gas. Eventually, that will catch up with you and you will find yourself stranded. So if you are weary, you must make the time to rest.
But here’s the thing. Just as you need to recharge your physical and mental batteries, your spiritual batteries need to be recharged as well.
If sleep is the real issue, the solution is easy. Find a church that has services at other times of day. Many do.
But if busy-ness is the problem, the answer is more complicated. Are you truly too busy for an hour of church? Isn’t this really a matter of priorities? Most of us are able to make time for something IF we believe it to be important enough. It’s not that we are too busy. It’s that we do not recognize the value of taking the time to hear the gospel preached, to receive the grace of the Sacrament, to participate in a worshiping/serving community of fellow believers.
We all do informal cost/benefit analyses in our daily lives when faced with a long list of activities, responsibilities and opportunities. If it is important and if the benefit outweighs the cost, we will find the time. What is the benefit of taking time out for church? Jesus gives us rest, forgiveness and hope and He uses His Church as the means to deliver these benefits.
We live in an entertainment-saturated culture. When you don’t have to spend the majority of your time looking for food and shelter and safety, you start to look for ways to find distraction, and America is the entertainment capital of the world.
Church probably is pretty boring if your expectations are matched up with the latest Imax 3-D blockbuster. And if you think that something has to always be entertaining in order to have value or benefit, then church will usually fall short.
However, if you think about it, there are a lot of things in your life that you do, not because of their entertainment value, but because you believe them to be important.
- Working out at the gym
- Getting regular doctor check ups
- Attending classes or conferences
- Doing volunteer work
Why do people do those things? We spend time doing these things, not because they are fun or entertaining but because we know them to be good or important. If we enjoy them, then that’s all the better. But their benefit is not tied to our level of enjoyment.
If you are health conscious, you understand that you cannot live your whole life doing only what feels good. That plate of bacon chili cheese fries with a side of mayonnaise would make an awesome lunch. You know you want it. But you eat the granola, grapefruit and eggs instead. It’s equally hearty but is so much better for you. When you’re young, it seems like a good idea to stay out late socializing and surviving on two hours of sleep a night. But that catches up with you mighty fast.
We do all sorts of things to strengthen and improve our bodies and minds. We abstain from other things for the same reasons. We even say, "no pain, no gain." Why, then, should attending to our spiritual health be so different? A little exertion might yield benefits that go a long way.
All that having been said, you may still have a point. Christian worship ought to be joyful. It should be celebratory. The message of love and renewal in Christ is life changing. And it’s a shame when church services are dreary. Along with the joy comes challenge. Christianity should always have an edge. After all, Jesus did not die on the cross to amuse you. Some aspects of the Christian message might be troubling or even upsetting to you. That’s not fun. But the big picture is about life that never ends and joy that can never be extinguished. You might have to adjust your own attitude when you go to church so that your expectations are in line with what is really happening there.
The Mr. Smarty Pants in me wants to respond to this objection with, "Yep, and there’s room for one more."
The word "hypocrite" comes from the ancient Greek term for stage- actor. That makes sense since we think of a hypocrite as someone who is putting on a show. They wear a mask of piety but are completely different in "real life."
Hypocrisy is indeed a serious problem that needs our attention. In the Gospels, Jesus displayed tremendous patience when dealing with thieves and prostitutes, but He had very strong words about religious hypocrites (i.e., the Pharisees).
The truth is that Christians do not always practice what they preach. This is understandably a huge turn-off for many people. Gandhi once said of the Church: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Christians do not claim to be perfect. They just claim to be forgiven for their imperfections. We all need to pay closer heed to the words of Jesus where He tells us to worry more about the log in our own eye than the speck in someone else’s (Matthew 7:3-6).
But just because there are fake people in the Church, that does not invalidate what the Church stands for or Whom the Church stands upon. Every organization has its phony people. It is aggravating, but it’s much better to focus on Jesus Christ and His message and applying that to our own lives. Further, just as there are people in Church who wear a mask, there are also many others who are sincerely trying to follow Christ. Hang out with those people, recognizing that no one except Jesus Christ is perfect, and let God take care of the others. And lastly.
Up to this point, inviting you to church has assumed you agree that it’s important/beneficial/valuable to have a relationship with God. I’ve been pointing out that being involved in the church is a key ingredient to a healthy robust life with God. However, maybe you are in a quite different category altogether. After all, Church doesn’t matter if God doesn’t matter. Some people feel quite content with their lives without God. They have satisfying jobs, fulfilling relationships and don’t want to complicate matters with talk of spirituality and the afterlife.
While affluent, healthy, successful people often have trouble seeing a need for religious faith, I’d be very surprised if even the happiest person in the world hasn’t at least once asked if there might not be something more to life than what the eyes can see.
Can you be open-minded enough to accept the possibility that there is Someone overseeing the world? Is it even remotely possible that you are missing out on something, something which others have identified as the world of spirit? A source of wisdom, comfort and strength beyond yourself? If there is the slimmest possibility that life is more than randomly assembled atoms, devoid of meaning or purpose, shouldn’t a prudent person make further investigation?
The Church loves you and cares about your welfare, even if this is sometimes imperfectly expressed. I hope you will come for a visit.
Tips for Visiting a Church for the First Time
If you find this booklet helpful, consider passing it along to someone else. More importantly, we hope you will give further thought to going back to church. This decision could well be an important moment for you, even a turning point.
Before you visit
Once you’ve selected a church you wish to visit, look at their website or phone them to make sure you know the correct service times. It’s always good to double check as church schedules are apt to change during the summer or at special occasions. Do a dry run to make sure you know how long it will take to get there and where to park. Usually Sunday morning traffic is a lot lighter than during the week.
What to wear
This will vary somewhat from place to place but dress casual or casual clothing are accepted in most churches today. It is not unusual to see some men in suits and ties and others wearing khakis and others in jeans or shorts all in the same service. Some women wear dresses, heels and makeup while others in the same service are ready for a picnic in the park. Use a little bit of common sense and don't show a lot of skin or wear provocative clothes. Think about the reason you are going and dress accordingly. To go into Gods presence does not require suits and dresses. But it is good to dress with respect, both for yourself and those you'll be with.
What to do when you get there
If you don't want to be too conspicuous, don't arrive too early and don't arrive too late. About ten minutes before the start time is sensible. Don't sit in the very first row or the very last one. Look for someplace just behind half way. This will give you a chance to watch other worshippers to see how they do things. If you aren't sure where to sit, ask an usher to assist you. There is usually a program or bulletin of some kind that is your guide for the service. The usher can help you with that as well.
There is usually a program or bulletin of some kind that is your guide for the service. The usher can help you with that as well.
You should never feel compelled to do anything you don’t agree with or feel comfortable doing. If there is a ritual/sacrament that you don’t understand, it is always acceptable to politely refrain from participating. In fact, if you are a complete newcomer, you should speak to someone from the church before participating with the Lord’s Supper (a.k.a. Eucharist or Communion).
Please sign the guest registry or attendance cards. Sometimes these are in a slot in the back of the pew in front of you. Other times, the sheets are passed down the aisle at a certain time in the service. Commonly, a guest book will be situated in the entryway. Give as much personal contact information as you are comfortable giving. At the very least, it is a courtesy to let the church know that you visited. Don't be shy to at least give your email address. No one will harass you. But they might want to send you a welcome note later in the week.
When the offering plate is passed by, don’t feel like it’s necessary to contribute. This is entirely voluntary. You are there as a guest. Do only what seems comfortable. No one will judge you. These days, many people give online so you wouldn’t be the only person simply handing the plate to the person seated next to you.
The bottom line is the God loves you. He created you in the womb of your mother. Two thousand years ago, He sent His Son to die on the cross in payment for your sins so that you could be forgiven and gain everlasting life. Your Father in Heaven wants to build a relationship with you and make you part of His family. The Church, flawed in this world as it is, was established by Jesus Christ. It is His chosen community. It is the place where He promises to be found and where He offers His gifts of life and salvation. Don't deny yourself these blessings.
My prayer is that you will find a Biblically-grounded congregation to join and that you will become involved.