I chose a small private christian college for my undergraduate degree. Overall, it was a very positive experience, but I know that the “problems” we faced there were different than other people my age were facing. One such problem was church attendance, because it was mandatory for us to go to church a certain number of times per semester. It was a rule that was fairly easy to follow for those who grew up in the area, or for whom church attendance was a normal part of the week. A vast majority of us, however, wondered what the point was. We were in a small town with a lot of weird people, we spent hours upon hours reading the Bible or biblically related texts for school work, we sat through quality worship services and sermons three days a week in chapel (also mandatory), so there were more than a few reasons some didn’t understand the value of the rule. I spent the first year of school church hopping (mainly following girls to whatever church they went to), but in my second year, everything changed.
I was invited to help volunteer at a local youth group for a special event. I decided to go and it stuck. I spent the following 3 years showing up almost every Wednesday to hang out with the youth of this small church and invest in their lives. As I look back, I cannot help but remember it as a very transformative experience. It was something that taught me a lot about what it means to live out my faith, and it fundamentally shifted the way I thought about church.
Statistics today show that, although the number of people who consider spiritual values to be important has increased, the number of people who attend weekly religious services has decreased. There is a growing belief, especially among young people, that all of the intricacies of faith can be experienced outside of traditional religious services. While I would be the first to encourage the notion that faith is, on a very real level, a personal experience, I am also convinced that every concept taught in scripture is intended to be lived out socially. There are so many passages asking us to uplift, encourage, unify, hold one another accountable, etc. My father actually wrote about this concept in a curriculum he wrote called “Grace in the Empty Spaces”. In it, he discusses the power and value of the “one another” passages in the Bible. The concept of experiencing something together is impossible if you aren’t… well, together. When it comes to church we will always have an excuse, so I want to address this topic by refuting 6 common church-skipping excuses. Its not always easy, but when we take up space next to others with the same primary values, we are uniquely positioned to have an impact in one another’s lives.
“There are no good churches in my city.”
Typically when someone says there isn’t a “good” church, what they actually mean is that all the churches in my area don’t do things that I like. This is something I have struggled with a lot over the years. In the 3 years my wife and I have been married we have visited and even regularly attended a fair number of churches. We can easily find something that we don’t like about each of them, but I find that the thing that makes attending Church the most valuable for me, is not asking what I can get from it, but what I can give to it. Think of all the good you can do by introducing yourself to the person in the chair next to you, and what kind of impact that might have on them. Plus, most would argue that if you walk in and out of church without talking to a soul, you might be doing it wrong. We would do well to actively look for ways that we can truly make church about the Church.
“I don’t have anyone to go with.”
The only thing harder than getting up and going to church on a Sunday is doing it alone. Of course this argument doesn’t work so well because it is probable that one place in your city where you could meet people who would go to church with you is, in fact, church. So gather some courage, get out there, and meet someone new!
“I don’t agree with everything they say.”
While this is the best argument on the list, I want to take one step back from this one. It is possible that the things being taught from the stage of your church you just cannot gel with, but one thing that our world is very bad at doing these days is disagreeing well. If you truly have a problem with something said from the stage of your church, leaving is not your only option. The first thing you should do is ask the pastor to sit down to coffee and ask them about it. It could be that you misunderstood them, or they might not have heard your perspective before, and may really value what you have to say. Either way, there are plenty of things to do before deciding to leave outright. Relationships are hard, especially with church people, but they are often worth it in the end.
“The worship music isn’t very good.”
I have seen my share of bad worship music. Truly, truly bad stuff. To this point, however, it was Christ who pushed his disciples to look past the exterior and into the heart. I have heard some of the worst “special music” sung by the most genuine people I have ever met, and that (mostly) made the bad singing ok. While you are listening to it, and trying to remember how sweet that lady on stage is, take some comfort in remembering that your church’s stage is not an American Idol competition. I would much rather be in a church of people who loved well but couldn’t sing at all, than amongst a group of perfect singers who are just there for the free concert on stage.
“Those people are weird.”
First off: Yes, they are. But the closer we get to weird people, the more we are poised to see the real truth: we are all weird. There are just as many things about you that others wouldn’t understand as there are things about them that you don’t understand. Instead of running from the weird, try finding out where it comes from. There are plenty of people with hard backgrounds, who come from different cultures, and who think very differently, all of whom could teach you a great deal. Take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt, but never assume that you are the only one in the room who has it all figured out.
“I am just too busy.”
This excuse is saved for last because, studies show, it’s one of the most common excuses in the book. There are parents out there who need an extra day of sleeping in. There are young people on the cusp of their professional careers who are looking for extra time to get ahead. And there are college students who have 24 hours to finish an 18 page paper. There is always a reason not to go, just don’t forget that there is also always a reason to go as well. Decisions about how you spend your time are always value decisions. When you make a decision to spend your time on something, you are communicating to yourself, and to those around you that you care about that thing. The time you spend with other believers, especially worshiping and learning about God, cannot be replaced by any other experience. You can’t “do faith” without the Church, and the longer you wait to start spending time with a local body of believers, the harder it is going to become to do so in the future.
Image used under the creative commons license courtesy of drocpsu: http://bit.ly/1qLgCHq