A new report from the State of Theology found that Christians today have some differing opinions in the Church.
Of course, that statement alone is not necessarily shocking, but the findings in the report are certainly worth taking a closer look at. Christians seem to have different ideas on who exactly Jesus was, how the Bible relates to our modern times and even whether or not a Christians needs to go to church.
A majority (67 percent) of participants said that worshipping alone or with someone’s family was “a valid replacement for regularly attending church.” Additionally, 55 percent disagreed that Christians have an obligation to join a local church.
These days it seems like it’s easy to come up with reasons to not go to church.
There are so many. Sleep, football, birthday parties, errands. Theological differences, hypocritical church leaders, spiritual doubts. You want an excuse not to go? It shouldn’t be hard to find one.
A Huffington Post article titled “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore” lists just some of the reasons Americans don’t go to church anymore, many of which are relevant and personally relatable given that I have gone through lengthy periods of withdrawal from religious community.
And yet I still go to church. And, perhaps more importantly, I still want to go to church.
Like many others, I have been skeptical and uncertain about the role of religion and the Church in my own life and in our society. I have doubted my faith. I have fallen away from the Church. I have been disenchanted with all religion, and I have experienced firsthand betrayal at the hands of “religious” folk.
And yet I still go to church, I still want to go to church, and I still believe in the Church.
The reasons not to go pale in comparison to the reasons why I—a doubting, skeptical, pragmatic, optimistic believer—still want to go to church and why I still believe in the Church, despite the abundance of evidence telling me all the reasons I shouldn’t. Here are five of the reasons I still go:
Shared spiritual practices enhance spiritual connection
As humans, we thrive on connection and shared experiences. We learn in schools, we work in offices, we live in neighborhoods and we socialize with friends. Certainly, we can—and should—have spiritual experiences outside of the church environment and we can participate in any number of individual spiritual practices, but there is a kind of spiritual connection that comes only from a shared spiritual practice.
Spiritual connection cannot be fully honored in solitude; a shared spiritual experience is essential. And many times, a shared spiritual experience is created by going to church (though it can also be created anytime a group of people comes together in faith, including house churches, small groups, covenant circles and Bible study groups).
Just like cheering for your favorite sports team in a stadium packed with 80,000 other fans is vastly different than watching the game on television in your living room, spiritual connection is vastly different when experienced with other members of a spiritual community. In the same way that listening to a favorite band play live in concert enhances the musical experience, so too does religious community enhance the spiritual experience.
In church, standing shoulder to shoulder with other human beings in reverence and awe as we hold hands and sing and pray, as we lock eyes and shake hands, sharing in all of these spiritual practices together, enhances our spiritual connection in a way that individual spiritual practices alone could not do.
Church provides a safe and mature environment for spiritual and religious education
As children, we were continually learning. Like little sponges, we absorbed information from any and all sources—parents, teachers, friends, peers, strangers, books and television, just to name a few. Yet, as adults, we allow our “life” education—including our faith development and spiritual awareness—to fade.
We socialize with those who share the same opinions as us and are often unwilling to consider the viewpoints of others. We turn a blind eye or make assumptions about faiths and cultures different than our own. And we neglect to discover—and nurture—our own personal and authentic faith. We avoid religious conversations with friends and family because of the discomfort that it might cause, we swallow religious doctrine that is fed to us or we shun religion altogether.
Certainly, there are churches that force feed their congregants fear-based dogma, which is one of the many reasons that Americans are leaving the Church. But there are many churches that stimulate and encourage faith development and religious education that extend beyond one’s own faith to include the faiths of others.
Not only is my awareness about my own faith bolstered by my experiences at church, but so is my awareness and understanding of a number of other faiths and belief systems. Without the safety and security that a mature church community provides, many Americans (including, paradoxically, those who favor religious tolerance) remain in the dark about other faiths, cultures and beliefs. Church can provide a safe and responsible way to deepen one’s own faith development, as well as facilitate an awareness and respect for other faiths.
Church reinforces social and civic accountability
The shared spiritual connection created in religious community makes it nearly impossible to ignore our shared human connection. By attending a church that supports causes that are in line with my values, social and civic accountability are bolstered.
Church provides a spiritual framework for my kids
It is certainly possible to educate children about religion, faith and spirituality outside the church environment, but children learn much more by what we do than what we say. By attending church together as a family, my husband and I are showing our children that spiritual community and faith are important values to our family. We are demonstrating that faith development is a lifelong journey.
As a family, we are creating intentional time for gratitude, reverence and introspection in a way that we are often incapable of adequately doing in our secular lives as we race to and from school, work and any number of other activities each week. And we are giving them the tools to talk about difficult concepts like religion, faith and God in an open, productive and nonjudgmental way so they are equipped to embark on their own faith journey and, in time, come to their own religious conclusions and beliefs.
Spiritual community feeds my soul
In short, spiritual community provides soulful nourishment that I am unable of obtaining on my own. I think we all, on a deep primal level, long for our souls to be fed in some way. We have big, heavy questions and deep, aching doubts and intense, paralyzing fears. Some of us look to religion and to the Church to give us the answers. And then when it doesn’t give us the answers that we wanted we feel let down, betrayed and disappointed—and we leave. But no one has all the answers—certainly not any priest, minister or church, that’s for sure.
The best we can hope for is to find a place where those big questions, aching doubts and paralyzing fears are welcomed and comforted, where our hearts are healed and our souls are fed.
Church is that place for me.
[This article was originally published in 2013]