Do I Have To Go to Church?

With a teenage daughter in the house, I seem to get this question much more frequently on Sunday mornings than I used to. Especially since the nine-year old, who follows her sister’s lead in everything, has began to sing this refrain as well.

I grew up as a “PK” or a “preacher’s kid.” This was not a question that got asked in our house. Unless you had a fever of a 104 or couldn’t keep down your breakfast, you were going to church! And it wasn’t just worship on Sunday morning, it was Sunday school, worship, youth group, Wednesday night suppers, and any other “programming” that happened to be offered. As the preacher’s family, the Church was the center of our social world. This made sense for our family but there were many other families in our church who this was true for as well. The church family was a community, people knew each other and supported one another through life’s ups and downs.

Quite frankly, the church isn’t the center of very many people’s social world any more. In our over-programmed world, from our work lives crammed full of meetings, deadlines, and obligations to our home lives where we struggle to get kids to activities on time and still find time for family dinners a couple of times a week – many people (with or without kids) are living lives that seem non-stop.

The 21st century world is running at a different pace than previous generations. These days, soccer games, swim meets, and various other kid’s activities are scheduled for Sunday morning and Wednesday evenings. Even among families who make it church, many more attend sporadically than regularly.

I was talking with a minister friend recently and he described his congregation as a mix of the “regulars” and the “rest.” While the “regulars” are there every Sunday, tithe regularly, and put in the service to keep the lights on and the doors open, the “rest” drop in and out of worship, give money for designated projects, and show up occasionally for various activities throughout the year. Yet all of these folks consider themselves part of this congregation, whether or not they have officially “joined.”

Of course, many strong churches are still able to embody a deep sense of community and still function as the center of people’s social world. I have belonged to churches like this as an adult, but I also find them harder and harder to find.

Increasingly, I find that I don’t want to get up on Sunday mornings and go to church either! As a cradle Presbyterian, PK, ordained minister and a professor of Christian ethics – if I don’t want to go to church on Sunday mornings, how can I be surprised when so many of us from Gen X on down aren’t showing up in church?

As the “spiritual but not religious” movement shows – people are still spiritual. Polls show that 92% people in the US still believe in God. We also still need and desire relationship and community, although it is harder and harder to find in the midst of our sprawling and urbanized lifestyles. Community (like church) requires time and commitment.

And so, I respond to my kids – “Of course we are going to church!” and I drag myself out of bed and scurry around to get us out the door and to the church – seeking community, relationship, some quiet time for reflection, and hopefully some challenging thoughts from the pulpit.

Worship offers some time together with my family where we all acknowledge that life is about more than us and our needs, worries, and challenges – we are part of something bigger and grander than we can ever know. Sitting together and worshiping with our neighbors in the midst of our community – we sometimes encounter the ineffable, if only for a heartbeat.

While, of course, like those who are “spiritual but not religious” I also find God in nature, in my home, and often in the relationships and people that I encounter in my everyday life – attending church is a spiritual discipline in a world increasingly bereft of spiritual disciplines.

This is why I (and my family) “have” to go to church – because we seek communion with God and with community.

Do you go to worship? Why or why not?

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