Why go to Church?

By Charles North — A report was released last week by Reuters news service which shows that members of the Churches of Christ have the highest rate of weekly church attendance among all religious groups in the United States. The rankings went as follows:

  • Church of Christ: 68 percent attendance
  • Mormon: 67 percent
  • Pentecostal: 65 percent
  • Southern Baptist: 60 percent
  • Nondenominational Protestant: 54 percent
  • Catholic: 45 percent
  • Methodist: 44 percent
  • Presbyterian: 44 percent
  • Lutheran: 43 percent
  • Episcopal: 32 percent
  • Jewish: 15 percent

I must confess that I was a little proud when I read that. For all of our odd behaviors that are so eagerly reported by both our own members and the popular media, I welcome this good news.

However, the “why” question keeps bothering me. Why do we “go to church?”

The answer to that question makes all the difference, and it’s more important than being on top of a pile of statistics. Answers may include, “to worship God,” “to be encouraged by and to encourage other Christians,” “to study God’s Word,’ “to reorient my life toward the cross.” Yet God knows the heart, and he might want us to do some reflection on this question.

Someone once said, “You can stand in the garage, but it doesn’t make you a car.” I know from personal experience that it is easy to go to church and not really worship.

Worship is deep, it is mysterious and complex. It is more than ritual, though ritual can facilitate worship. It is more than “giving God his due,” though we owe him everything.

The best definition of worship I’ve heard comes from William Temple who defines worship as, “quickening the conscience by the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God, and devoting the will to the purpose of God.”

But worship is even more than this, transcending church attendance. Don’t fail to stop and ask yourself why you go to church. Or why you don’t. This question matters. My hope is that the attendance rate stays high — even grows — but more importantly, that the number of true worshipers grows.

Listen to the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”

Charles preaches with the Baker Heights church in Abilene, Tex. He kindly allowed us to reprint his article.

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