Time are a changing. They always are, and one of our challenges and joys is to figure out how we should live in a changing cultural and social context as followers of Jesus. This isn’t new to us. I bet if you were to ask any of the seniors in your life, they would have countless stories to tell about how they have had to adapt and change, whether they liked it or not.
In our post-Christendom Canadian context, we are seeing an increase of people who are checking the box of “none” when asked about religious affiliation. In Canada, there’s hardly any social benefit of being a nominal Christian, and so instead, we drop the labels and commitment altogether.
We are also seeing changes in church attendance. Regular attendance has dropped from 3-4 Sundays a month to 1-2 Sundays. And of course, as always, there are many people who will only come to church for the special holidays of Easter and Christmas. Lives have gotten much busier. We have endless choices on Sunday mornings now. And our information age makes millions of sermons and services available online.
Believe it or not, pastors talk about our changing times. I’m currently part of a group of Mennonite pastors who are studying what healthy congregations are all about. We worry about how things are shifting in our churches and are searching for ways to enrich our communities with a message that we believe is worth living for.
All that being said, I still believe that going to church is essential for the Christian life. Why?
I know. I know. This maybe sounds like a dumb question for me to answer. I work for a church, and so of course I need to be there. Otherwise I wouldn’t get paid. But even before I started pastoring Sterling Mennonite Fellowship, I was a member there. And my thoughts about church haven’t changed much since that time. In any case, let me share why.
It’s About Community
In the first chapter of the gospel of John, we read about the Word that came into the world to give light by bringing people into relationship with God. That light is Jesus, and “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
As Christians, we’re given a new identity and belong to a new family. For early Christians, this was a learning experience as they had to break down their social boundaries in order to learn how to love each other as brothers and sisters. This new identity wasn’t based on merit. Once you became a follower of Jesus, you were in. You were part of the body of Christ, which is the Church.
If we are Christian, we’re a part of the Church whether we choose to attend a church service or not. Each member of the body has a role to play, a gift to share, or something to offer. Church isn’t about going to a service in order to experience something (although that happens); it’s about how we participate in the body of Christ.
God doesn’t call us to live out our faith in isolation. We simply can’t fulfill the call of the Church on our own. And the truth is that the church community actually needs us. If we don’t know how or why, then we need to spend some time in prayer and discernment to figure out how God is calling us to engage with and be involved with our faith community.
It’s About Participation
In many ways, church has become an experience - a commodity for us to consume. And we, as church leaders, are partly to blame for it. We have tried to appeal to the culture and have followed popular consumer tactics to get people in our doors. Sometimes we have tried to put on a good show, hoping that the experience draws people in.
But the church is not about consuming. If that’s the case, then we should all just find our favourite church product. We should keep shopping from place to place, finding the best faith deals, not ruling out the wonderful content we can all find online.
Instead, I believe that church is about participating in the life of faith. I don’t go to church to receive something (although I do always benefit from being in church), but to participate in worship, mission, service, learning, and relationship. Church is the place where we can live out our faith in real, practical, and local ways. It’s where the beliefs we have make their way into practice and take hold in our lives.
It’s About Counter-Cultural Allegiance
Let’s be honest. Going to church isn’t the most popular thing in our culture. We could do so many other things with our time that seem more fun. Commitment isn’t something we’re drawn to anymore either. Millennials, especially, don’t like being tied down and would much rather float and instead of putting down roots somewhere.
Going to church consistently is a counter-cultural move. It says something about our commitment to faith and community. It says something about what our priorities are and where our allegiances lie. We should remember that allegiance is never neutral, but that it belongs somewhere.
I go to church because it’s the place where I can consistently be formed and reoriented to what’s really important in life. There’s so much that calls for our attention everyday. Being a part of the church on a regular basis helps us to form the rest of our lives around faith. It also demonstrates our allegiance to Christ as a witness to the rest of the world, showing people there is another way to live than what the world has to offer.
And there you have it. Even in our changing times, God calls us to live out our faith in real and practical ways. God also calls us to worship Him above anything else in our lives. I can’t think of a better way to do that than to be involved in the family of faith that I’ve been adopted into because of my decision to follow Jesus. As Christians, we have no choice but to be part of the Church. My hope is that you would find the local community in which you can plant yourself, invest, grow, give, receive, and love.