In April of the year 2000, Angus Reid, one of North America’s largest marketer and opinion research companies, did an opinion pool with Canadians about the church. Two questions were asked: (1) Do you believe in God and (2) Other than on social occasions such as weddings, funerals or baptisms, how often did you attend religious services in the past 12 months? Then people were asked to rate how they felt about two statements: (1) I don’t think you need to go to church to be a good Christian and (2) My private beliefs about Christianity are more important than what is taught by any church.
Here are some of the results: While 84% believe in God, just 20% attend church weekly. Since WWII, church attendance has plummeted while belief in God has remained stable. Eight in ten (81%) agree “I don’t think you need to go to church in order to be a good Christian.”Seven in ten (70%) agree “My private beliefs about Christianity are more important than what is taught by any church.” And here’s the clincher, 77% of those surveyed identify themselves with a Christian church. The question I had after reading this survey was, “Why is there such a vast gulf between belief and belonging?”
I think there are several reasons for this and I think these reasons come from misconceptions about attending church. First of all, some people see attending church as an obligation – they ought to do it. Church is just another obligation that they have to do: like paying taxes, visiting the in-laws, going to the doctor or dentist and so on. These people go to church under duress or maybe as a courtesy to their spouse or parents. Now this in and of itself is not necessarily wrong it is just missing the point in a big way.
Secondly, some people see church as an event – today family we are going to church. Kind of like going to the movies or going to the circus. It’s an event not an everyday happening. Sometimes those events are things like baptisms, weddings and funerals. I heard someone refer to these events as hatching, matching and dispatching. Kind of like the fellow who said, “Preacher the first time I went to church they sprinkled water on me and the second time I went they threw rice at me.” The preacher thought for a moment and then replied, “Yeah and I suppose the next time you come we’ll throw dirt on you.” For some, church is just something that you do every Sunday like you may mow your lawn every Saturday. It’s just something you go to. By the way this isn’t a new phenomenon. A man named Thomas Fuller made this comment almost 400 years ago: “Many come to bring their clothes to church rather than themselves.”
The reality is that the Bible doesn’t teach that attending church is an obligation or that attending church is an event. As a matter of fact for the first 300 years the church existed, it was the socially and religiously unacceptable thing to do. It could get you fed to the lions! But when the New Testament sought a metaphor to use for the church of Christ, time and time again, it came back to the metaphor “family”. There’s a big difference between attending a church service out of obligation or as an event and belonging to a church family. You can attend a church week after week and never really belong to the family. You need to understand that the church is not the place you go to. It’s the family you belong to. This is the subject I would like to write about over the next several days. I would like to look at five benefits of belonging to a church family versus just attending a church.
Why do you think there is such a vast gulf between belief and belonging? What other misconceptions do you think people have about church?