I've gone to church my entire life. It's hard for me to recall a Sunday morning that I haven't spent in church. I've worked in the church for all of my adult life as well. One of the challenges that comes with spending so much time in the church is that it's hard to know or understand what it feels like to not be connected to a church. The reality for most Americans is that they don't go to church. Statistics show that only about 20 percent (on the high end) of Americans are in church on any given Sunday. As normal as it is for me to be in church every Sunday, it's just as normal for most people to not be in church. Most people don't wake up on Sunday morning and think ... "I should really go to church today." Just like most church-going people don't wake up on Saturday and think ... "I should go to synagogue today."
Over the last year I've spent a lot of time learning about why people go to church and why others don't. Interestingly, there's an increasing number of people who would call themselves Christians, who do their best to live out the principles and values of the Christian faith, who profess Jesus as savior and Lord, but simply don't go to church anymore. Some of them walked away from the church because they got hurt by something that was said or done. Some of them felt like the church is no longer relevant to their life. Some of them simply got busy with life and other things began to fill in the time that they used to spend in church. Then there are obviously a lot of people who don't identify as Christian, and don't feel any desire to be connected to a church either. Some of them used to go to church but lost faith and quit going. Others never went in the first place.
On the other hand, there are also people who fall into both of those categories (Christian and non-Christian) who do go to church as well. For some it's out of some perceived obligation. For some it's out of a genuine desire to connect with God and others. For some it's another reason altogether. Some people are simply seeking truth. Some people are looking for a place to belong. Some people just like the free coffee and the fact that someone else is willing to watch their kids for an hour without charging them for it.
As I've studied why people do and don't go to church, it's forced me to answer the question for myself as well. Why do I go to church? Why do I work in the church? What is my real motivation for all of this? I'm going to let you in on something that I think most pastors believe but some would never admit. I don't believe you have to go to church to be a Christian. So I don't go to church in order to be "saved." I also don't believe that going to church somehow earns you more favor with God. It's not like God has a church attendance chart where he puts a gold sticker next to your name when you show up on Sunday and a devil horn sticker next to your name when you don't. So I don't go to church in order to get on God's good side.
The real reason why I go to church is because I need the church. That may sound strange, especially coming from a pastor. But the truth is I honestly believe that I need the church. Not the building, but the people. As someone who has committed my life to following Jesus, I believe that it's incredibly difficult to do that alone. I don't believe God wants us to do that alone. I don't think it was ever his intention that we would do it alone. That's why he gave us the church. You see, for me, the church is a source of strength, of community, of encouragement, of wisdom, of love. Something happens when we gather together on a regular basis. There is this verse in the New Testament book of Matthew where Jesus says, "For where two or three gather in my name, I am there with them." I don't believe that means God isn't with us when we are alone, but I think it means that God shows up in a unique way, in a different way, when we are together. God meets us and uses us to make each other more like him. There is a famous proverb that says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." I have known this to be true in my own life through the church.
I can honestly say that God has used the church to change my life for the better. I am a better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better human being because of the church. Something about setting aside consistent time to gather together on a weekly basis with the church has made a profound impact on my life. Don't get me wrong, I'm nowhere close to perfect. All you have to do is ask my wife and she will confirm that fact. But I'm better. The church has truly made me better. The church has also helped me come to know God and grow in my relationship with him. For people who don't believe in God, that probably sounds weird. But I can honestly say that I have a real relationship with the God of the universe, and the church has played a big part in developing that relationship.
I honestly don't know where I would be today without the church. I'm not saying that people who don't go to church are bad people. There are lots of really great people who live really great lives and never step foot in the church. I'm simply saying that for me, the church has been a game changer. It's made such a huge impact on my life that I can't imagine life without it. I need it. And that's why I go.
So if you do go to church, I would ask you the same question. Why do you go? What's the real motivation for you? Maybe you've been going for a long time, but you've never stopped to answer that question. I'd encourage you to take some time and reflect on why you go to church. You might find even greater clarity and motivation to keep going.
And for those of you who don't go to church, here's my invitation to you. Give it a shot. Not out of obligation. Not in order to be a Christian or earn God's favor. But give it a shot to see what kind of real impact it might have on your life. Maybe, you'll find that you've been missing out on something that you never even realized you needed. Maybe you'll find a new sense of community that's deeper than anything you've ever experienced before. Maybe you'll encounter God in a new and unique way that grows your relationship with him. Maybe you'll experience love, and grace, and kindness, and compassion in a way that you didn't know could even exist.
This Sunday we are starting a brand new church in the south side of Fort Wayne. It's called Pine Hills City Church. We'll be meeting at the City Life Center right next to South Side High School. Our church starts at 10:30am. The great thing about a new church is that everyone is new. So whether it's your first time ever stepping foot in a church, or you've been connected to the church for your entire life, we are all on the same playing field this Sunday. If you are willing to give church a shot, I'd love for you to come, hang out with us, and see what happens. I hope to see you there.