According to some statistics from 2010, about 247 million Americans identify themselves as Christians, which according to another statistic is roughly 73-76 percent of all Americans. So why is it that only 41 percent of those who claim Christ as their Lord and Savior actually attend church? I actually know a little about this having been out of the church for 25 years myself while claiming to be a practicing and faithful Christian.
Most of us were introduced to church when we were kids. Same with me, but in a more colorful and dysfunctional way! My father was a Jew, but had long ago given up his faith and was a devout atheist. My mother was German Catholic, but married a Jew. Family lore is she was kicked out of the Catholic Church for this transgression and became what we affectionately call “Catholic Light” or Lutheran. All three of my sisters and I were baptized as Lutherans.
From there it gets messy. Each time my father went to jail, I ended up in a different home. I lived with an aunt and uncle in Michigan where the aunt was a seriously devout Assembly of God parishioner. I swear we went to church six days a week and the pastor came over for dinner on the seventh! My uncle, however, was a former WWII Prisoner of War – a Jew who was treated horribly and his faith was shaken until one day he surprised everyone by accepting Jesus. But when I lived with him, religion was his wife’s thing.
In the course of my youth, I lived with a family that was Catholic, Baptist, at least a couple that did not attend church or even talk about God, and then Catholic again, going so far as to be a top student in Catholic Catechism classes. Imagine the nuns’ surprise when they were walking me to do my first Confession, and I told them I couldn’t do it because I was a baptized Lutheran! They didn’t have a sense of humor about that! Later after high school, I joined a Jewish fraternity and was one of two Christians in the House!
Yes, I had a lot of religion growing up, and I always liked it, but I didn’t like church. As a young child it bored me. As a teenager, it was excruciating! It just seemed church was made for old people with old hymns, with old sermons that talked about old stuff that did not relate to my life at all. Then there was all the hypocrisy I saw – you know, all the people acting all high and righteous at church but you knew they weren’t “walking the walk” outside of church.
When I was old enough to make my own decision about church, I stopped going. I didn’t stop praying or reading the Bible or having faith that God was with me every day. I just couldn’t take any more church! Perhaps some of you had similar experiences growing up.
After 25 years, God moved me to go back to church. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but knew that God wanted me to try. I’ve been going regularly and have become an active member of my church going on nine years now. I won’t say it’s always been easy, but I’ve learned some important things about going to church that are important for everyone to consider – especially those Christians who have avoided God’s house like I did.
Here are the biggest reasons I hear people don’t want to go to church:
- I don’t like the music
- I don’t like the message or pastor
- I don’t like the people
- It’s too old fashioned
- My faith is between me and God and I don’t need the church to tell me how to do things
I’ll be honest here – I actually don’t like most the music in my church either. I love old spirituals and gospel music. We play old hymns and “contemporary” Christian bubblegum music. I love our pastor and he is a good preacher, but there have been times I’ve not connected with the message either. Oh, and the people! I actually was the chair of the church council and can tell you sometimes it’s hard to love your neighbor. My church is old fashioned, and has turned off many newcomers because it doesn’t cater to a more contemporary taste – especially younger families. And at the end of the day, my faith is between God and me; the church does not tell me how to do things, the Bible does.
Now that that’s off our chest, let’s take a closer look at the five statements. Notice how all five of them start with either “I” or “me”? This is where we make our big mistake about church. Hear this loud and clear:
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!!
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned being back in church is that church is about worshiping God not about you being entertained by the music, the message, the people, or all the rest. God calls us to gather as a group of believers – His people – to worship Him corporately. If we go to church with the right heart, it’s not about us getting something out of it for us personally. Instead,we go to church because God wants His people to gather before Him in relationship with Him and sing, and worship, and learn, and be moved deeply by the Holy Spirit. When we make church about ourselves, we are guaranteed to have a horrible time because our focus is in the wrong place.
During our Easter service, a woman came up to me in the middle of service just beside herself. Easter and Christmas are the two times a year most Christians attend church…even if they don’t want to. As a church, we know we will have a lot of folks there who don’t come regularly so you would think we would try extra hard to be welcoming and have a service that would be appealing.
Well, we kind of missed the mark for this woman. She pulled me aside and told me how astounded she was by how bad the service was and that her husband remarked, “This is why I don’t come to church.” She was crushed that she finally got her husband to come (lots of husband don’t attend church, but their wives do) and we greeted him with a service right out of 1950.
I listened politely, thinking in my head that on one level she was right – the service was a bit stodgy. But on the other hand I was thinking that she and her husband had fallen into the trap of thinking church was about them and making sure they were entertained and happy. Folks, that’s not what church is for.
I’m not saying you should be tortured by the church you attend. There are lots of churches out there that offer a variety of music, message, and people so there is truly someplace for everyone! What I am saying is no matter where you go if you make church about you it will be an unfulfilling experience.
God has transformed me in the church I attend. I cannot honestly tell you I like everything about it, but when I surrendered myself to God’s truth that He commands us to gather in worship and allow God to use me in that worship I find that I am fulfilled – even by old hymns and organ music.
Here’s my challenge to you: If you or someone you know is a follower of Jesus Christ but is not going to church, go back to worship with a community of believers. Suck it up for a few months and attend every Sunday and see what God will do with you once you let down your guard and focus on him instead of your personal experience. Renowned leadership guru and Pastor of Willow Creek Church in Barrington, IL, Bill Hybils believes the local church is the hope of the world. It’s true only if we are willing to be less selfish about our expectations and more submissive to worshiping God so that He can actually use us to change the world.
Think about it.