Why go to church?


Some of my earliest memories come from when I was 2 or 3 years old living in California.

I remember our brown apartment and the fat woolly worms that used to crawl on the sidewalk in front of it. I remember walking with my mother to a nearby library to get books about a dinosaur. And I remember going to Sunday school and singing songs in “big church” at Calvary Baptist Church. They also had a killer playground outside that I remember frequenting.

I would assume, based on the fact I was so young, that I remember these details because they were regular features of my life. It was where we lived, where we went and what we did.

I’ve been thinking about my participation in local churches quite a bit recently and have been fixated on those earliest days. I keep asking myself why we attended church. My parents weren’t what one would consider committed Christians. So why did we make the effort to get up, get ready and attend church every Sunday?

The only logical answer I can come up with, which my mother confirmed, is we went because my grandparents attended there and it was expected.

I first began attending church of my own freewill when I was only 6. I started going because I enjoyed the games they played and because there was always candy to be won. While the promise of sugary goodness was an incredibly strong draw, I don’t believe it is what kept me coming back. It certainly wasn’t as big of a draw when I was a teenager, and I didn’t attend because of familial obligation.

I ultimately stayed because I found a place where people cared about me and made me feel like a part of something that mattered. Most importantly, I learned about a man named Jesus who loved me so much that he died for my sins.

I learned that he wanted to walk with me through the struggles of my life. I saw him in the words and actions of the people who taught me. I heard him in the words of the preachers that spoke to me. I felt him in the songs we sang about who he is and all he had done.

I remember all of that because it mattered to me and made an impact in my life. When I began attending on my own, I came for the candy, but I stayed for the community and the connection to Christ it offered.

This question has continued to plague me in recent days: Why go to church? It goes without saying at this point, but COVID-19 has shaken the way society functions at a fundamental level. This is particularly true in the case of the local church. There is not a single aspect of what we do as a local entity that has not been impacted by the pandemic.

For many, involvement in the local church was predicated upon participation in Sunday morning worship. Folks came to the service of their choosing, filled a seat, sang the songs and headed home for the day.

For others, church involvement was wrapped up in relational connections. What was most meaningful to them was participation in small groups and Sunday school classes. They attended worship services, as well, but that was an extension of the relationships fostered through more intimate interactions.

Others found meaning in the missional opportunities offered by the local church. They enjoyed volunteering as Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, cooks and servers for church and community dinners, joining with other volunteers to serve in the community, participating in mission trips across our community or around the world or any number of practical/hands-on activities.

So much of what we did and what defined us as the church was dependent upon physical proximity and presence. And perhaps to a problematic degree, presence was the measure of what it meant to attend church.

In the world of COVID-19, presence has begun to look a lot different, and none of us knows exactly what it is going to look like when it’s all said and done. I think many of us are evaluating what we do and why we do it. With the added risk factor that comes with physical proximity in these days, we are constantly wondering if the risk is worth the proverbial reward.

The Psalmist writes, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Today, going to church looks a lot different than it did before, but the benefits still remain. Some people go to church out of a sense of familial responsibility. Others go to church for the sense of connection and community. Others still go for a sense of purpose and a chance to engage in mission in the world.

Whatever the initial motivation, we should go to church because it puts us in proximity to people who are seeking and serving Jesus, providing us with unique opportunities to see and share his love. And let’s be honest, a little bit of candy and a playground don’t hurt.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].

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