In a recent conversation with my brilliant wife, she pointed out that the three largest denominations in America – the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church – were having major problems. Then she asked me this – With all of this going on, why would anyone go to church? Well… all I could say is, I don’t know.
We go to church for many different reasons. It used to be that you went because you had to, or you would go to hell if you didn’t, or there was nothing else to do, or, maybe, you really liked it. Some people go to meet people their age, others do it to get their kids some religion. Maybe you don’t know any other way to be – for some of us, church is a big part of who we are.
With all of this nonsense going on, though, the question is chilling to me. I have always gone to church. There was the time between the ages of 13 (I got confirmed, so I was free to not go – rather oxymoronic) and 16 (my Mom told me the new minister was pretty good – she was right). Since then, the only time I missed two weeks in a row was when I had surgery and was put on bed rest for two weeks (horrible!). For me, church starts my week. It connects me with all the saints/sinners like me who are trying to do their best. It gives me a vehicle to do good beyond myself. It makes me think and it gives me hope. Church, at its best, is filled with all the best that humanity and God can do together.
But if all you know about church is the rapist priests or the greedy TV preachers or the political power seeking Evangelicals or the churches that don’t want LGBT people around – and the media makes sure this is all we know – then you wouldn’t want to go to church so much. You might decide that going to the local bar on Sunday to watch football with nice people was far superior to sitting with the frozen chosen who rarely smile, much less say hello. And you would be right. But these things – and they are truly terrible – are not the whole church.
I serve a church that is trying to not be like that, and we succeed and fail at equal rates. I know of churches that are the same – they have traditions and they try new things – they might have kids running around or not – they probably have lots of old people (old people are still people, by the way) – and they care deeply for each other, including you, the new person brave enough to walk through the door. I know there are thousands of these churches – usually small in number but wanting to reach out more – and they are just waiting to show you how much they care.
The entertainment model of church has really ruined it for all of us. Yes – great rock bands and pyrotechnics are fun, but they aren’t always Christian. Yes – the creaky organ may not be Bach, but it is worshipful. Yes – the sermon may fail sometimes, but the Spirit is still there. I go to church because God is there – good people are there – and we can do more and better together than apart. See you in church.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA, since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), a MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), and DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).