“I got nothing out of that service,” John told me after church.
“Why do you go to church?” I asked.
“I go because I want to feel better,” he said.
John is not alone. He’s among about half the church-going population that attends a weekly service for some reason other than worshipping God.
Church leaders often assume everyone attends services for the “obvious” reasons–to worship or connect with God. Some people do. But many do not.
We recently polled church-goers to find out why they really make the trek to church. Here’s what they said is the dominant reason they go:
51% go to worship God
10% go to learn something new
8% go to feel better
8% go out of duty–“God wants me to”
5% go for their children
4% go to be with friends
2% go out of habit
1% go because a spouse or friend expects them to go
The remaining people go for a variety of other reasons–to serve others, to confess, to listen to music, etc. Some admitted they don’t really know why they go to church.
And, what’s the takeaway from Sunday morning? For John, it was nothing. Others might mention the pastor’s sermon, or the music, or, in some churches, the special effects.
What’s the right answer? What might God say? I think God loves to see his people gather together to bask in his love, to love him back, and to grow in relationship with him.
Why should people attend your church? And what do you want them to say they experienced while they were there?
And I found that many stay in churches they feel they need to leave for some of the same reasons: friends they’ve made and their children. Oftentimes they’re also scared to make the leap because they’ve become comfortable at the particular church, even when they feel as though they’ve outgrown it or have significant issues regarding the leadership, doctrine or theology.
Unity – Jesus prayed that we would be one…without at least coming together in His name, this is not possible. Really people come for many reasons as you have stated, but My desire is that as a local body, we can be “a safe place for them to hear the dangerous message of Jesus”(George Hunter) and respond . Then as iron sharpens iron, God will continue to use the relationships that we build within the church to teach us how to be more like Him in the relationships that we have with those who do not know Jesus just yet. I guess for me, some days it is obedience, some days it is my job, some days it is my desire and delight. However when I look back over my life, I want my relationship with Jesus and His people to be my testimony and my legacy.
There are multiple reasons people go to church- church as “theater” (wasn’t the music great! And the sermon!); church as “hospital” (I’m hurting and hopefully church will help me feel better); church as “social club” (All my friends and I get to chat about our week over coffee and donuts and we don’t have to pay a barista for it!); church as “school” (I learned the most amazing facts about the New Testament lesson today!) and many more… And all of those are fine and dandy AS LONG as we remember to keep God at the center of whatever brings us in the door. And really, even if someone shows up for the wrong reasons, if we are doing our job they will come back for the right reasons…
Thom – I love the phrase that you use in this article – “to bask in his love, to love him back, and to grow in relationship with him”. I wish I could feel that kind of freedom when I am at church. I often sense that the people around me feel there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do church and I find myself wearing a mask to adapt to those perceived expectations. Since I have access to the Internet now, I find that I am constantly sifting through new information that shapes my theology, and I no longer use my church (or just the Protestant version of the Bible) as the “main source” of information about God. I study, think, pray, ponder and seek community with others – and I believe that God delights in and supports my current faith journey.
Having attended church since I was a very young child until now (at age 54), I can safely say that I have at some point experienced all of what your article describes as “real reasons” for coming to church. My current reason for attending church is to connect with a loving faith community and go somewhere that has a structure in place where I can create safe spaces for children “to bask in God’s love”.
Debbie, I couldn’t agree with you more about wanting to feel that kind of freedom in church. If we could just get people to realize the church is not here to serve their personal agenda, but to serve Christ while serving the wounded and broken, we could feel the freedom to take off our masks.
I think that probably in reality that the first answer with 51% is smaller, and the percentage of the other answers are much larger.
[…] Schultz, T. (2012, November 28). The Real Reason They Go to Church. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://holysoup.com/2012/11/28/the-real-reason-they-go-to-church/ […]