Sometimes I hear believers having conversations about church and I’ll hear one Christian ask another, “Are you gettin’ anything out of church?” Seems like a simple question doesn’t it? But, there is a lot to consider.
What is church?
Why do we go to church? What is our responsiblity as a believer to our church? These are questions that come to mind as I consider the first question: “…gettin’ anything out of church?”
In a recent Barna Research study, (can be found here), I noticed some interesting statistics. It was found that most people (66%) feel they have had “a real and personal connection” with God while attending church. Of course that means one-third of those who have attended a church in the past have never felt God’s presence while in a congregational setting. Also, when asked about frequency, most of those who have attended church describe these “real and personal” encounters as rare. One-third of all adults in the country report connecting with God at least monthly (35%) while in church. Among those who attend church every week, 44% said they experience God’s presence every week and 18% do so on a monthly basis.
But, is that the point of church? Are we simply to attend church to get a “feeling?” That seems kind of self-serving. Does it seem that way to you? Seems a little selfish to me. Aren’t we supposed to forsake not the assembling of ourselves together so that we may stir up one another to righteousness?
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
Are we to be in the entertainment business as churches? Are we supposed to be worried if people who come to our houses of worship “get anything out of it?” Well…I don’t want to be too quick to give an answer here. Why? Because I don’t think it’s a “cut and dried, yes or no” answer. If we are looking for goose bumps and hair standing on end each week, then I believe we are short-sited to what the “assembling together” is supposed to be. Yet, I do believe we should “get something out of coming” together as believers. Let me explain.
The Bible teaches (and this is always where we should look for answers, right?) in Acts 2 that the believers would meet together and do four things.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
Do you see what they were doing? It’s listed in verse 42. They #1 Devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching (they studied about Jesus) #2 Fellowship #3 Broke bread (ate together) #4 Prayed.
Now where do the goose bumps show up in that? Well, they can, interestingly enough. You see I get goose bumps (no joke) just being around other believers. I thoroughly enjoy being around my brothers and sisters in Christ! I’m absolutely enamored to hear stories of how Jesus is impacting their lives. It’s fantastic! It really is!
Yet, in our entertainment-saturated culture, many church leaders believe they have to conjure up some sort of “emotional experience” each week during the “worship service.” Why do we think this? Because we think we have to somehow keep up with the world, I’m afraid. We think we have to compete with concerts and great speakers/orators and the like. Yet, we don’t.
Church is simply the assembling together of the believers to study the Scriptures, fellowship, eat and pray. Are our churches focusing on these things or are we trying to conjure up some sort of “experience” each week for the believer.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with goose bumps. I like them! But, that’s not why I come to church, nor should it be. I get goose bumps when I’m singing with other believers the words to Chris Tomlin’s song, “I Will Rise.” I love the words:
There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul I can say “It is well”
Jesus has overcome And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won He is risen from the dead
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise I will rise
Aren’t those powerful words? You bet! So, when you couple those words with music! Wow! You might get some goose bumps! Wonderful! But, it’s the words, it’s the fellowship with other believers and the edification of the saints as we sing those words together that brings the greatest satisfaction if you ask me. But, coming to church just to “feel something” seems very selfish to me. It kind of seems that it’s “all about me” if I think that way.
Let me share a couple of more things. The Barna study probed the degree to which people say their lives had been changed by attending church. Overall, one-quarter of Americans (26%) who had been to a church before said that their life had been changed or affected “greatly” by attending church. Another one-fourth (25%) described it as “somewhat” influential. Nearly half said their life had not changed at all as a result of churchgoing (46%). Let’s see. Is it “coming to church” that is to change our lives or is it Jesus Christ? A building of block and mortar has never changed a single life that I know of, but certainly Jesus Christ can. In fact, “church” is not even about a building. The believers worshipped without buildings for over two centuries in one another’s homes.
Finally, Barna and his folks found that most people cannot recall gaining any new spiritual insights the last time they attended church. Asked to think about their last church visit, three out of five church attenders (61%) said they could not remember a significant or important new insight or understanding related to faith. Even among those who attended church in the last week, half admitted they could not recall a significant insight they had gained. You know this is sad. As a pastor, I think about what I just typed and I say to myself, “Kevin, surely you can study, pray and prepare, seek the anointing and guidance of the Holy Spirit to impart at least one ‘important insight’ to people when you speak.” Again, it’s not that I have to “put on a show” when I preach. But, surely there is enough passion and unction in me (brought by the Spirit) that I can share at least one thing that causes people to say, “Yeah…I learned something today…I’m glad I came.”
One last thing. Church size doesn’t seem to matter.
Many heated discussions occur about the optimal size for a church, but this data suggests that church experiences do not differ all that much based on the size of the church. For the most part, attenders of small, medium and larger churches described similar outcomes from their church engagement. Looking at moderate differences, attenders of mid-sized churches (defined as those with 100-299 adult attenders) were slightly less likely to report positive outcomes from church than were those attending larger and smaller congregations. Also, those attending larger churches (300+ attenders) were more likely than average to say they had gained new spiritual insight and understanding and that their church clearly prioritizes serving the poor.
Interesting stuff. So, are you “gettin’ anything out of church?” Maybe the question should be: “What are you putting in?”