Estimates of church attendance on a given Sunday vary. If you ask Americans, as Gallup has done for the past 70 years, 4 out of 10 will tell you they attend church each week, roughly the same percentage that said they did so in 1939. Attendance rose to 49% in the 1950s, but otherwise has remained fairly constant through the decades. If you ask The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, it will tell you less than 20% actually attend church on a given Sunday. The Pew research estimates attendance at 37% of the U.S. population with only one-third who seldom or never attend.
This, it seems to me, is remarkable. What other voluntary activity could attract this many people on a regular basis? According to the most extreme estimates, between 50 million and 125 million people attend church every week. By comparison, the average attendance per week to all NFL football games combined totals a little over two million. Although the percentage of those attending church has declined over the years, church attendance is still a huge part of our lives.
As I have thought about it, I have asked myself the question, “Why do I go to church?”
I go to church because, down deep, I believe in Jesus Christ. I think it is what He would want me to do. Even though the Jewish authorities turned against Him, it was always Jesus’ custom, or “habit” to attend the synagogue each Sabbath. (Luke 4:16). And even though churches are seldom what they ought to be, I need to follow Jesus’ example.
I go because I need to be encouraged in my faith and I want to encourage others. While I have been disappointed by some pastors and church leaders over the years, I find that going to church lifts my spirits. Other believers take an interest in me and pray for me. And I seek to do the same for them. (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; 10:25).
I go to church because churches make the world a better place. All churches, as we know are flawed. Someone once asked me if I knew of any churches that did not have any problems. I asked if he knew of churches that didn’t have any people. Where there are people, there will be problems. But most churches seek ways to feed the hungry, help the poor, comfort the grieving and care for the aging. Churches pull us outside ourselves and call us to a higher and better world.
I go because I want my children to go. Even though my children are grown and gone, I still want to be an example to them, as I sought to be when I was raising them. Going to church is a discipline. Sometimes I don’t feel like it. But I have learned over the years that the best things in life require effort. Worship, Christian fellowship and service are disciplines that I believe are worth passing on to the next generation.
I am sure there are many other reasons why people attend church. There are other reasons why I do as well, but these are the three that stand out the most in my mind.
If you haven’t been attending church. I hope you will do so this week.