I was surprised as anyone when I first read it but then I guess it’s what many have known all along. Recent research supports the case that regular church going improves wellbeing and life expectancy.
A comprehensive study of women found that those who attended a religious service at least once a week had a 33% lower risk of dying over the 20 years the research was conducted. The largest majority of those profiled in the study were Christian.
There have been many such studies and they all point to the same conclusion. Regular religious attendance improves your physical and mental wellbeing.
Putting these examples aside, there are plenty more positive reasons to take church seriously. And if we sometimes take it for granted, here’s a helpful reminder of just what an amazing thing church actually is.
Here are my top five reasons for getting out of bed on a Sunday. If pushed, I could write fifty more but five will have to do.
1. Going to church is all about worship.
Where else do you find a group of adults gathered together and singing? Ok, maybe most football grounds every weekend. And there are some pretty amazing community choirs too. But let’s take a pause for a moment and reflect. Getting together, every week (and more) a diverse group of individuals who orient their lives around a faith and a shared experience covering all of life; well I think that’s pretty amazing in itself. So why do we do it? If you had to boil it down to one thing, it’s this; worship.
Worshipping God, our creator.
And what’s one of the great benefits of worship?
When we worship, our hearts and minds are completely focused on God and our lives fall into a proper perspective that actually helps us. But that, of course, is the not the primary reason for doing it. In the presence of adoring and giving thanks to God, we know that whatever happens in our lives, God will remain eternal and unchanging, constant in His love and power. Some people talk about being ‘lost’ in worship and it’s those moments when we are so present and engaged with God that are so powerful and often life changing.
It’s a bit like admiring an impressive work of art. The picture draws you in and engages you on a visual, emotional and sometimes analytical level (no wonder great art through the ages has been used for worship).
Today in evangelical and pentecostal services, music is the main means to engage our senses in worship. Say you like soul music? Well, you can thank gospel music in churches for that.
But regardless of the medium, the purpose is still the same; to use music, words (liturgy), scripture and art to help us to be in the presence of God so we can love, adore and worship, the creator and sustainer of our life.
Then, if our worship is regular and sincere, we can’t but not be transformed by it. Even after spending just a little time with God, our lives will bear good fruit and we will begin to look at ourselves and others differently in the light of this experience.
I’m struck by the example of Job and how he could utter words like these;
‘The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ Job 1:21.
I believe only a heart that has truly been transformed through worship could even utter such moving words as those. It’s a wonderful and humbling challenge.
2. ‘Being spiritual’ is better experienced with others.
The spiritual path is best done with others alongside you.
I’m pretty sure that if I tried to find my own way to God, I’d end up in all sorts of weird places. I’d be thinking I’ve found the ‘right path’ when really the road I’m on would always lead back to me and a ‘try it on for size spirituality’. I would bet that my own spiritual needs and wants would always come first (especially if I was on a particularly expensive yoga retreat).
And here lies the benefit of church. A faith community keeps my ego in check. It’s easier to be ‘spiritual’ for yourself but when the rubber hits the road, the best way to truly become how God wants you to be is to be around other people.
Jesus found the balance perfectly. He would sometimes retreat and pray to hear God and he would then move back and among the world, sharing God’s very presence. The important thing here is just how much Jesus emphasized how we should live among others, including setting a perfect example for his disciples on how to be a community of believers, to begin with.
Spirituality should never be just a solitary pursuit. How can we fulfill the two great commandments to love God and love others if we’re never around other people? Especially people whom we may differ and struggle with.
This is where church done well is counter-cultural to the norms of our society where individualism and an over-emphasis on desires of ‘the self’ comes first.
I love this passage where Paul writes to the church in Corinth about sharing resources with other believers in need. It’s just as instructive for churches today:
‘Our desire is not that others may be relieved while you are hard-pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time, your plenty will supply what they need so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality,’ 2 Corinthians 8:13-14.
Being truly spiritual is not all about self-fulfillment. Practicing shared values and caring for others is what improves society and the world, and we become more Christ-like in doing it. Politicians talk a lot about it, good churches actually do it.
3. Going to Church will support and grow your faith
Leading on from genuine spirituality being a shared experience, we shouldn’t forget that church helps us to grow and mature.
If you’ve just found faith, committing to a Church is the next most important thing. My own view is that we should make discipling central to our role as church. Helping each other to grow, and being positively challenged in a loving and mutually supportive place should be all part and parcel of going to church. And it should be motivating and inspiring too!
If our attendance at church is sporadic and irregular, it’s almost a given that our own faith life outside of church will be the same. Some I know may disagree, but this illustration may help:
If we put a lump of coal in a coal heap inside a fire, that one piece will grow hotter and benefit from the heat and energy of the rest of the coal. Remove that one piece away from the fire and it will eventually cool and go cold.
That’s the real danger of separating ourselves from church and then not growing and maturing in our faith. It’s a risk that needn’t be taken.
4. Church is there for you when times are tough
What do church and Olympic rowing have in common?
Recent studies are pointing to something very interesting about high endurance team sports and the individual’s ability to endure more pain. It appears that there is a social placebo at play, allowing individuals within the team to endure more pain and perform stronger as a result of a shared trial and a single all-important goal. In the case of rowing teams, it’s the glory of winning a gold medal.
What’s the connection?
Well, a church that can carry and share in people’s burden helps to reduce the pain felt in the individual who may be grieving, sick or suffering in any other way. We all know the phrase ‘a problem shared is a problem halved.’ Combine that with more people supporting, praying and looking after an individual’s well-being makes it more likely they’ll experience a stronger recovery and a lasting positive effect. The Bible says it best;
‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ Galatians 6:2.
‘Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28.
Carrying each other’s burdens as Christ carries ours has such an amazing impact. A church that lives this out will surely be a blessing to any who worship there.
5. Going to Church brings diverse people together
Here’s the thing. Church brings people from so many different backgrounds, so it can be challenging at times. You may well find some people frustrating and even annoying. Perhaps a lot. While with some people you’ll form long and lasting friendships, (lovely). Other folks will be just great company; solid, dependable. Always showing up. They’re the faithful and dependable ones. Every church has them and needs them. They really are the church’s pillars. Other people will have needs, real needs. That’s why church is there, but the whole community needs to manage and hold that too.
There’s no place like it. As we’re all made to be children of God, that makes all of us at church a part of God’s family.
In fact, it goes deeper than that. We’re told that we’re the body of Christ. That is a profound and mysterious thing but also wondrous. God somehow brings together all these parts, provides it with different gifts and empowers it through his Spirit.
When we share in the Lord’s supper, a church is also bought together as a body, united with Christ. That’s why it’s so amazing and mysterious.
When all of these things come together, the church provides us a place, a home, a community, a safe space. It should be a blessing that we’re really thankful for. C.S Lewis puts it like this;
‘For the Church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, (and he rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.’
Thanks, Clive. Couldn’t put it better myself.
All these reasons for going to church do assume a healthy and functioning Christian community. God has a standard for what church should be like and it can be all too easy for churches to get off track more concerned over what can often be trivial matters (and some very serious). If none of these things are what you have or are experiencing in your church then do look into why that could be the case.
But we also need to be reminded that there is no such thing as a perfect church. If there was, as the saying goes, ‘I’d only spoil it’.
Church is a miracle. It is counter-cultural, it is worship and fellowship in its truest sense. It brings together people who would never otherwise sit next to each other and when it has its heart beyond its walls and roof, it does amazing things for those who’d otherwise never visit it.
It is a place built of people; a space where God is present.
It seeks to demonstrate and live out the love of God in fallible, often broken human beings.
It’s why I get up on a Sunday morning.
And yes, it just happens to be good for my body and soul.
© Not Only Sundays, March 2017. Scripture quoted from the NIV translation. Images sourced on www.pixabay.com image under a creative commons licence CC.