Why should you come to church more often? Because you want to.
I hear this from my congregants all the time. That it’s hard to come on Sunday mornings–people want to sleep in, they have lots to do–but when they do, they’re glad. “I need to come more often,” I hear again and again.
One of our regular Sunday morning volunteers told me she volunteers to make herself come. That’s as good a reason to volunteer as any I’ve heard.
I am not baffled by this thinking at all. I know as well as anyone that it’s hard to do things that are optional, and coming to church is optional. Our lives are filled with the things we have to do. Culturally, church used to be on the “have to” list, but that’s changed in recent decades,
Why is it so hard? For one thing, worship services start on time, not on demand. Arts attendance has also been declining, and fewer people are going to the movies as well. We are increasingly accustomed to being able to watch what we want when we want it, and dragging ourselves out of the house to get somewhere for something that starts at a specific time takes effort.
And let’s face it, most of us struggle to do the things that are good for us. Oh yes, attending church is good for you! Google “mental health church attendance” if you don’t believe me. Attending church is up there with eating more fruits and vegetables on the list of “things that are good for me but I struggle with anyway.”
But there’s more to it than “it’s hard to get myself to church.” Church attendance used to be a signifier of conformity and commitment to cultural norms. Now, at least in the liberal religious tradition, it’s an expression of counterculture.
- The world around us is increasingly online; church requires presence and face-to-face interaction.
- The world around us privileges the needs of the individual; church privileges the needs of the community.
- The world around us requires little commitment from us; at church we are often asked to volunteer time, give money, and make commitments to continue to volunteer time and give money.
- The world around us allows us to isolate ourselves from people of different generations, with different values and beliefs; church requires us to get to know these people and even DO things with them!
- The world around us values materialism, consumption, and entertainment; church challenges us to commit to values that call us outside ourselves.
That last point gets to one of the cruxes of attendance: church doesn’t even always feel good. One of my congregants categorizes services as either candy or medicine. “Candy” are those services we leave feeling joyful and full of love for the world and for each other. “Medicine” are those services where we’ve been challenged to make change in our lives and in the world. Like choosing to watch a somber documentary film instead of the latest Marvel movie, coming to church is sometimes the no-fun option. But taking our medicine is “good for us,” my congregant would say, and I agree with him.
I’m sure there’s more. Attending church is so countercultural that many of us are afraid to mention it to friends. Does anything more powerfully say “weirdo” these days than “I went to church on Sunday?” (My colleague Jason Shelton calls us “dorks,” which he applies specifically to Unitarian Universalists and not just churchgoers in general. I can live with that.)
So if you’re struggling to get to church regularly, know that there are strong cultural forces that make it difficult. And maybe knowing that will help you actually get there more often. You may be glad you did.