I just wrapped up a series of testimonies during worship from some members of the church I serve around why church matters to them. Each shared their faith journey and how they landed here and where they are in their walk with God. Each was then asked to sum it all up: Why does church matter? The responses varied, but a common thread was heard: church matters because it is where we are challenged, nourished, and encouraged in our journey to grow deeper in our relationship with God through relationships with others.
A friend of mine is fond of saying that church matters because “we are better together than separate.” I have heard this shared in various forms by many others. Somehow in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of churches shrinking in membership, getting “older and grayer”, and even closing their doors, there is still something about what we do as a worshiping congregation that is fundamental to being a human being.
Many have said that we are designed to yearn for something bigger than ourselves. In our self-help culture of instant-everything, the church has something to offer that causes us to pause, even if just for an hour or two on Sunday morning, and take stock of our lives. The church is not a perfect place—it is still full of imperfect people imperfectly trying to live in harmony with one another and speak their message of hope and salvation to a world that seems to listen less and less, as the noise of tweets and posts and all sorts of media bombard us in sight and sound. Some say it is a losing battle we’re still fighting, or worse, a battle that was lost long ago. The yearning within us is just as easily satisfied with a pizza in 30 minutes or less, a movie of our own choosing streamed directly to our TV at our request, or by going online to chat with “friends” we have never met. But I think those things are just a symptom of the unmet need.
Yes, without a doubt the world has changed and the church has been slow to keep up. But I still believe, and have witnessed, there is truth and purpose in gathering in regular rhythms of weekly worship shaped by seasonal change (from Advent and waiting, to Christmas and remembering, to seasons of ordinary time, to Lent and reflecting, Easter and giving thanks, to more ordinary time, and back to Advent once again). The seasons flow with a flow that is very human, shaped by our ancestors’ experience of the Divine as well as our own, and remind us that we are an ever-changing creature with a unique sense of self-awareness that causes us to reach out beyond ourselves in order to understand ourselves better.
Church matters to me because it is where I learn about who I am through my reflection in the lives of others, and where they get to do the same through me. It is where we meet God in the Jesus-like face of my sister or brother, and where our at the same time broken and grace-filled lives collide and are forever transformed by the love and justice of God. It matters because it is where I know I am more fully able to be myself as God has shaped me to be today, knowing I will be different tomorrow even if I don’t recognize the change.
Church matters because it is where that yearning in my heart is filled by a knowledge and often an experience of God’s love through those who love me often in spite of myself. It is where I discover community in all its beauty and challenge. It is where I can most fully discover my humanity.
If you find yourself still yearning, I encourage you to find a community of faith where you can spend some time discerning who and what God is calling you to be and do. I don’t believe we can explore this part of ourselves as well in any other setting, whether it be a fraternal organization or any other club or group to which we might belong. I hope you’ll give it a try. If it’s been a while since you attended, I encourage you to try again, and try to allow yourself to be open to what the church has to offer, and that God is with you on the journey.