Have you ever been in one of those churches that has convulsions every two or three years and found yourself wondering why people really go to church there? Well do not feel like you are alone; many people are wondering the same thing. In fact they may wonder why you still go there. After growing up as a PK and serving for almost 40 years as a pastor, I have come to understand that when people are hurt, manipulated, and mistreated; they do not want to go to church. If you have ever wondered what motivates people to attend church and stay in a church, take it from someone with a lot of time in the trenches of church life, the reasons why people go to church are numerous, and sometimes the reasons are bizarre and not very logical, little alone spiritual.
Elmer Towns said once that when people go to church that they look for someone who is like them and if they cannot find someone to connect with like them, they will go somewhere else. For instance, if you live in the South or parts of the Midwest, social standing, or social identification might be determined by which church you attend. Think about it for a minute, look around yourself the next time you go to church and ask yourself the question: What kind of people go to this church?
Guess What that Tells You?
The people that you see are the kind of people that your church is going to attract. Look around and what you will see is that your church has characteristics that are common to the people that are there. If you have ever wondered why disorganized, disheveled churches attract people with a lack of spiritual discipline or people who value disorder as if it were a spiritual gift, remember people reflect their personal values in their religious lives and how they value what is important in the life of a church. Theorist’s call it the homogenous principle: like kind attracts like kind. As a result, when you have an unruly member who terrorizes people with their dysfunction, it says as much about us as it does about them. The simple answer is that sociology and culture drive the ability of a church to reach people. A fact that is very true is that if you want the church you are at to be larger, better, something different than it is, it must experience a cultural, sociological, and value change to reach people that are different.
Family Connection Drives the Church Bus
For some people, their children also bring them back to church. Sometimes people feel the awesome responsibility of molding and shaping young lives to be happy and productive for the future, and sense almost instinctively that those things require faith and knowledge of God. We know they will not develop a strong moral core from the society around them. It did not work for us, did it? And so we bring them to God’s house, and come along with them, sometimes for the first time since our own childhood. And as our children learn about Jesus, we experience a wonderful renewal of our faith.
Friendship Drives the Fellowship Wagon
Friendship brings us to church, too. Sometimes we are invited by friends; then, come with them. Nevertheless, so often it is the desire for friends –good friends, caring friends, friends who share our values –that brings us to church in hope. God knows, loneliness can eat at our sense of well-being. Being new in a community often accentuates that longing to love and be loved. In addition, this is as it should be. God means for the church to be a place to build long-term caring relationships, to be a community in every sense of that word.
Another Answer is that it is Material or Social Networking
For many people going to church is the main social event of their life. It is where their family congregates and decides how spirituality will be expressed. Think about this: How about joining a large church to network for your business? It does happen. However, before you judge too harshly, consider that when you’re looking for a future husband or a wife, networking in a church isn’t a bad place to start — at least you’re likely to find people with the same value system. Many people go to church to find a wife, date their girlfriend, spend time with their friends, and make business contacts. Look around the average church and ask yourself if the people are there because of the deep conviction about the theology of the church, or are they there for some other reason. Unfortunately, the church has become more about the material and social than it has about having a servant’s heart to worship God through servanthood.
Fear or Guilt? Unfortunately, many people who go to church, especially in fundamental churches are plagued by fear of what might happen if they don’t go and sometimes guilt about what is wrong in life. I have often said that guilt tends to make people hide –In a crowd, a church, beneath some leaves to serve as a cover for what has happened in their lives. We hear guilt from the pulpits, guilt leads to fear and fear to conformity to appear to be religious. People attend for the most human of reasons. Family history has its place. Children of Catholics are most often Catholic, in orientation at least. Habit and duty figure, too. However, let me talk for a moment about what I see most.
Hurt, Pain, and a Search for Answers
Hurt is way up there on the list. At times, we find ourselves reeling from some of the most painful wounds imaginable. Estrangement of a spouse. Loss of a loved one to death, loss of a family, loss of a job, loss of innocence, loss of health, loss of hope. We are on the ropes; we are down for the count. It’s only natural to seek healing in God, and it’s amazing how God uses some of his dear people to be channels of God’s healing, hope-filled, non-judgmental love. I can’t begin to count the times I’ve seen people’s hurts healed within the context of a healthy congregation.
Discipleship and Personal Growth
For many people, personal growth is a factor in regular church attendance. Gradually people allow the Holy Spirit to clear the smokescreens and allow God to bring to the surface the things we need to face. Men sometimes decide to grow up and get past when once-upon-a-time they saw a hypocrite in church and refused to commit. People move beyond resentments at having to attend church as a child. God allows us to learn about ourselves as we grow past childish rebellions, we grow up, and we are freed once again to include God in our personal exploration.
The Search for Significance and Meaning
For many people, especially men over 40, the need for significance is a strong motivator in why we go to church. Something inside of us wants to make a difference, to do something meaningful, lasting, to be part of a cause bigger than ourselves. Church is a perfect context for this type of fulfillment, since, at their best churches change communities for good –one person at a time. Unbelievably, there are people who are asking, “What do I have to give here?” rather than just “What can I get?“
Worship and Intimacy through Knowing God
Believe it or not people attend church in order to come to know God, to honor him through worship and by their very presence in his house. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal put it succinctly, “There’s a God-shaped vacuum in every man that only God can fill.” You and I have felt that emptiness. We’ve wondered at times if we’ve lost forever that most important link of faith that shapes who we are and who we can become. People come to church because they are searching, and they find they can search for God in this context better than they can in other places.
”Our hearts are restless,” said Augustine, “until we find our rest in You.”
Some motives are better, some worse, but in one sense it doesn’t matter much what is your motivation. What matters is the process that begins when we enter a relationship with Jesus Christ an allow the Holy Spirit to direct our lives.
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