Our emotions and feelings about the Church can be complicated and might leave us questioning, Why should I go to church? Church can hold a wonderful place in our memories, but it can just as easily be a place of deep wounding. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. In this article, Sarah Damaska shares 4 reasons why going to church matters and why, in spite of its imperfections, church remains an invaluable part of her life.
No matter our background, most of us have a ‘church story’, consisting of our feelings and emotions surrounding the Church, reasons we do or don’t go, and stories that make us laugh or cry. We may have to reach way back into our childhood or teen years for memories, but somewhere along the way we formed our opinion. And for many of us, those stories define our answer to the question: Why should I go to church?
A few times a year, I teach a women’s Bible study class geared toward young moms and new Christians. In the first week, I often ask the women about their church stories. What memories do they have? Why is it important? There are usually a handful who are sitting in class for the first time, a little surprised at themselves for coming to something so outside their comfort zone. But when the stories start to flow, it’s easy to join in.
Many people talk fondly of a grandma or neighbor who took them to a church when they were little. Vacation Bible School during the summer often is mentioned. There are always women who grew up in a church, attending weekly without question. And many times there are those who have no memory of it or desire to attend at all. Their stories are often tinged with hurt—something that brought anger or shame and pushed them away. Yet in most cases there’s still something that draws them in.
BOTH BITTER AND SWEET
Church can hold a wonderful place in our memories. But it can just as easily be a place of deep wounding. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. Our emotions and feelings about the Church can be so complicated, can’t they? But our stories bring us together. Our vulnerability often serves as a way to bring about healing, drawing us closer to one another and to Christ.
Some would say it’s not fair for me to write an article about going to church. And I actually agree. After all, not only am I a pastor’s wife, but I also serve as the Director of Spiritual Formation at my local church. Basically, what I’m admitting to you is that I have no choice. I have to go to church. However, if you and I were sitting together, I’d probably admit that sometimes the added accountability is the only thing that keeps me in the pew. Not always, but sometimes.
The truth is, attending church is hard for a lot of reasons for a lot of people. There are many layers to our emotions regarding church. There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, and I’m not here to present an argument. But I am here to tell you that even on the hardest days, I love the Church—the universal gathering of people all over the world. And perhaps in my story, you’ll find a bit of yours.
MY CHURCH STORY
In my lifetime, I’ve attended different denominations. I’ve been part of churches large and small, urban and rural, liturgical and not. My husband and I settled in a church just weeks before our oldest son was born. We made a decision to raise our family in one spot in order to allow us all to establish roots. And that’s exactly what we’ve done for the last 18 years.
We love our church. It’s a mid-sized church in rural America, full of young families and lots of new believers. My role as the Director of Spiritual Formation means I get to work with adults who desire to grow in their faith but need help finding the tools. I work with small group leaders, teach Bible studies, equip people to study the Bible, and talk to people about obstacles they’re facing and sorrows they’re grieving.
Over the years, I’ve had to unlearn a lot of things I thought were in the Bible. I’ve also had to learn to dig into it for myself and separate my personal preferences from God’s truth. In the process, I’ve discovered that asking questions isn’t taboo. I’ve realized no church is perfect, since it is made up of imperfect people doing their best to follow Jesus. That means there are times we get it right and times we get it wrong. Our job is to sift through it all, ask for God’s wisdom, and do a whole lot of forgiving and repenting.
What About You?
But why does all this matter to you? What intrigued you to click on this article? Whether you attend every week or you haven’t stepped foot into a church in decades, you likely will find yourself asking these questions. Does church matter? Is it important to attend? What are the reasons to make church part of your life? Does it even make a difference?
Here are four reasons why I think church matters.
1. THERE’S VALUE IN THE MUNDANE
Every single day, I brush my teeth. I do it when I get up and when I go to bed. Everything about my teeth-brushing routine is mundane. Sometimes I get fancy and floss or I get a new kind of toothpaste, but for the most part, I do the exact same thing without fail. I do it because I want to have healthy teeth.
You can see the analogy here. Sometimes we bemoan church because it’s so predictable. Everyone sits in the same spot, there’s the same order to the service, the same people greeting us in the same way—the ordinariness can get old. But in the same way that brushing our teeth each day builds good hygiene, there’s great value in building a weekly rhythm of church. It reminds us that the world is bigger than our own little corner, and it helps us grow together in our relationship with Christ.
I wonder if you sensed the difference when churches quit meeting during the height of the 2020 pandemic? Not being able to meet together caused me to step back to see just how much I valued the mundane weeks of meeting together. One Sunday during that at-home season we met via zoom to have communion together. When I saw dozens of squares of families pop up, all holding various forms of bread and juice, I lost it. It was just so beautiful. There we were, familiar faces in each of our living rooms, longing for what we had for so long taken for granted.
When we least expect it, God shows Himself. We find Him in the ordinary, everyday moments.
2. CHURCH BUILDS POWERFUL FRIENDSHIPS
A new woman showed up in our small group not long ago, and her story intrigued me. As her son began middle school, she noticed that the boys he was hanging out with weren’t great influences. The parents would all get together and the conversations made her uncomfortable. She knew it wasn’t the trajectory of friendship she wanted for her family. So they started coming to church. Soon she began to notice positive changes. She was making friends and so was her son. They were happier and more settled.
One of the great beauties of going to church is how deep friendships can be forged. But they’re different from other friendships, because they’re grounded in Christ. They go beyond the surface. When something is weighing me down or I need advice on a situation, I seek the wisdom of my friends at church.
My friend came to me with a desire to pray for her kids. So we gathered a few other moms, and for five weeks we spent an hour on Tuesday mornings praying together. I began to trust them more. We prayed through our insecurities as moms and some of the fears we were holding for our children. We spent time praying for our school system and teachers. In that simple act, our friendship deepened.
Friendship is especially hard these days, so don’t be discouraged if new friendships take a little longer. Just keep reaching out and asking God to bring you godly friends. They don’t have to look like you or act like you, be the same age, or believe all the same things. Let your mutual love of Christ be your common ground.
3. THE CHURCH TEACHES US TO CARE AND BE CARED FOR
I keep a stack of disposable pans in my cupboard, ready to take a meal to someone in need. I’ve learned that a quick text or phone call to someone who is hurting is a meaningful gesture. And I’ve prayed with others who are facing a terrible diagnosis or an unknown situation. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a pastor’s wife, it’s that grief is part of the job.
But up until a dozen years ago, I had only done that for others. I hadn’t really needed it in return. And then our third-born, our daughter Annie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at six months old. My husband and I rushed her to the city hospital 90 minutes away, not knowing what was wrong. When we received the diagnosis we were numb with grief. They whisked Annie off to surgery, and we were left there in the waiting room, alone and in agony. Until the elevator doors opened and I looked up to see our friends. One after another they came, surrounding us, crying with us, and praying when we didn’t have the words. One of my sweetest memories is of her hospital room filled with friends. They were gathered in a circle around her bed, singing over her. The memory of it still makes me weep.
The Power of the Church
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:15. Why do we go to church? Because this life is impossible to face alone. In my deepest moments of sorrow, people from our church showed up. They didn’t shy away from our grief or leave us alone in our sorrow.
The Church is a powerful force in the face of tragedy. And I confess it’s not always done perfectly. There could be misunderstandings, deep hurt, and even abuse. Your experience of this may have driven you away. If this is your story, I am deeply sorry. It’s not supposed to be that way.
But when I step back and look at the ways those in the wider Church have cared, rescued, nursed, built, advocated, and provided for those who are grieving, hurting, hungry, lost, and dying, I am in awe.
4. CHURCH ENCOURAGES GROWTH AND MATURITY
By the time I was 9 I had asked Jesus into my heart several times, just to make sure He had heard me. I had pretty limited knowledge of Jesus in my young age. But I knew enough to be sure of my decision. My love for Christ was evident, even if my knowledge of Him was small. As I’ve aged, my knowledge of Him has grown. And as my knowledge has grown, so has my love.
Part of the secret of that growth has been the fact that church has been a consistent factor in my life. The perspective of others who have surrounded me all these years has pushed me to become who I am today. Without others surrounding us, it’s easy to minimize our faith, pushing it aside.
Growing in Faith
The Church provides us with the tools we need to grow in our relationship with Christ. One day, when Jesus was teaching and many were believing, He turned to the Jews and said, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, HCSB). The key word is ‘continue’—being a disciple means it’s a process. We must consistently put the effort in to become mature in Christ.
If you were to look back 12 months, would you say that you’ve been challenged in your faith? Do you have people who you regularly sit with who encourage and push you to grow deeper with Christ? The Church is so great at this. Each year, our church focuses on a different discipline to work on together. Two years ago we read through the Bible together. Last year we focused on prayer. And lives are being changed because the church is encouraging growth and maturity.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
When I was in college, I went to a little Presbyterian church with an 80-year-old pastor. He would give his sermon and then sit down in his chair next to the pulpit. “That’s what I think,” he would say. “What about you?” And then people who had a response to his sermon would voice them.
I’ve written these words based on what I’ve experienced and what I think. And honestly, it feels a little risky and vulnerable. Your reasons to gather with other Christians may be the same or completely different than mine. And isn’t that what makes the Church beautiful? Our thoughts and experiences, our love and knowledge of Christ, all come together to make an intricate tapestry of the Church, the greatest hope of the world.
That’s what I think. What about you?
What has your experience in church been like? Do you have stories that point to God’s goodness and faithfulness through His body? Share with us in the comments below.
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This is such a crucial topic in these days of pandemic recovery. I love my church, and we are just barely beginning to feel our way back into some normalcy around the rhythms of gathering.
Yes! I never would have imagined that the pandemic would affect gathering as much as it did. I’m grateful for the ways it has helped us rethink and remember why it’s important.
I couldn’t agree more, and I long for a church community like that. I recently started digging into my Bible and reading it all the way through fir the first time 6 months ago, and I have learned so much so far! I also realized how disconnected my Roman Catholic roots that I grew up with were from my reading. I’m trying to look for a church of a different denomination where I truly feel like I belong. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Hi Danielle! What an amazing comment– God is calling you closer to Him! I want you to know you’re not alone as you question your roots. I’ve talked to so many people who feel disconnected with the tradition they grew up in. Often as we grow older and start to make faith our own, we start to have more questions about things we just took for granted as a child. Don’t be discouraged– you’re maturing in your faith! Sometimes it draws us closer to our roots and sometimes it takes us away. While I don’t know your specific situation, I will say if you keep reading your Bible, keep praying, keep seeking Christ, He will lead you. If you try a different denomination, make sure you talk to the leaders and Pastor(s) and read their statements of faith. You want a church who is clear in their beliefs, who unabashedly believes in Scripture and the authority of Christ. James 1:5 says that when we pray for wisdom, God will give us wisdom. I’m praying for you right now that you’ll have that wisdom and peace that comes from following Jesus.