Tell me, do you attend church? Why or why not? You may find it difficult to offer an honest answer to this question. Many are tempted to offer a sanitized, “spiritualized” answer that does not really say anything. Often we attend church for less than godly reasons. Some go because they have a church job to do, others because “It keeps peace in the family” and still others worry, “What would the neighbors think if I didn’t!” Unless we are at church for the right reason, we are likely to be putting on the plastic smiles and simply go through the motions.
About.com posted the question, “Why don’t you go to church?” There were 427 responses and the majority cited some form of hypocrisy as a primary reason. In contrast, only 49 responded to the question, “Why do you go to church?” Unfortunately, I find that often people are less passionate about their reasons for attending church than they are for not attending.
At LDS.net there is a thread that asks the question, “Why do people stop attending church?” A senior moderator begins the discussion by suggesting three reasons, reasons that any “church attender” might agree with. First, they are not following the teachings for the church. Second, they leave because they are offended. Third, they leave because their church was boring.
Nearly always, either knowingly or unknowingly, these reasons are merely a smokescreen. It sounds better for me to say that I don’t go to church because it is boring than it does to say that I don’t believe in God or that I find Christianity and the Bible to be irrelevant. Many that leave their church do so exasperated and struggle to continue in their pursuit of God and faith. They often believe the lie that, if our church is not true then no church is true. Regardless of church affiliation, the reason that people stop going to church is influenced by both their rejection of the church organization and a lack of passion for God.
My challenge to those for whom this is true is for them to examine the question of truth and see where it leads. Few are willing to start this journey to find truth. Instead, they choose either the path of least resistance (playing church) or the copout of abandoning the church all together; either way they sidestep the question of truth. Only when someone tells me that they stopped going because they found it to be false can we have an objective discussion. However, many seek to avoid this conversation altogether because the answers may bring them discomfort; they would rather play church than to be honest about their questions.
Much of the problem has to do with falsely defining the church as an organization. However, when the Bible speaks of the church it does not speak organizational but relational. The word church comes from the Greek word "ekklesia." Ekklesia occurs in 115 places in the New Testament and is translated 113 times as "church"; the remaining times it is translated "assembly." In classical Greek, the word means "an assembly of citizens summoned by the crier." In the New Testament, taken from the root of this word, it means to “call out.” Biblically, the church simply means the gathering of those called out by God.
To reject the church as an organization or fraternity or club may be warranted. However, how does it help when I accept the Bible’s definition of the church being those whose sins are forgiven and are called out to have fellowship with God and others? Understanding that the church is comprised of those who have a personal faith in Christ, not membership in a club, helps me see clearly.
If you resonate with any of these reasons for not going to church, maybe you can look beyond the organization and look for Christ. How? First, find a church whose teaching centers in the Bible. Second, find a place where Christ’s love is exhibited and where you can grow in your faith. Finally, stick it out. Church is not merely for consumers but also for encouragers. Therefore, do not “forsake the assembling” but call one another to “acts of love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
This Sunday, take a chance; visit a church and see if God will speak to you in a fresh way. Jesus tells us that if we seek him we will find him. Who knows, you may even find a new passion for God and fellowship with others.