My name is Lily, I’m 29, single and a Christian. Moment of vulnerability here: I don’t like going to church. I used to like going and got SO much out of it, but now, not so much. My question is: Why should I keep attending?
Thanks for answering.
Your vulnerability is going to be really helpful for other people who are afraid to challenge this norm and ask this hard question. Thank you. Here we go…
You don’t have to go to church.
There. You’re off the hook. It’s not mandatory for your salvation. Plenty of people who love Jesus don’t go to church. God won’t be angry at you, and your friends and family will get over it and still love you even if you sleep in on Sunday. So there. You can quit now.
Before you get too deep into daydreaming about Sunday brunches and not having to slog through another small group, I’d like to ask you to consider three questions with me. Will you do that, Lily? Have I lost you already? Come back, friend.
What is it About Church That’s Not Working for You?
Lily, while the brevity of your question was commendable, it did leave me with questions about the nature of your fading church romance. Was there instability in the leadership of the church? Has the community become toxic in some way? Are there doctrinal issues that have surfaced that are making you question your association with this body of believers?
These questions, along with countless others, are valid and may be decent reasons to leave.
But my guess (and I’m really painting in generalities here) is that it’s not a big “thing,” it’s just, kinda, meh. It’s like a long dating relationship that, one day, you wake up and realize you want out of. There was no infidelity or dramatic reason for breaking up. You just realized he’s not the one for you and the magic has dimmed.
Is this your story, Lily? If so, I get it.
In my own heart, I’ve felt the pendulum swinging. Something has felt less and less comfortable to me about our run-of-the-mill, 10,000-Reason-singin’, Gen-X-pastor-posing-as-a-millennial type of church. Is there anything wrong with that brand of worship? Of course not, as great people are authentically engaging in this community. Seriously, I’m not making fun. Tastes change. But there’s a shift happening, and the 20 and 30 set are being drawn towards a stylistically different approach to Sunday.
Rachel Held Evans writes in her fantastic upcoming book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church:
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity … We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places He’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these … No coffee shops or fog machines required.”
This happens in every generation, and the Lilys of 50 years ago just needed more of that sweet Hymnal-singin’, pastor-in-a-robe goodness. Then, the Lilys of 25 years ago no longer wanted those things and decided that the rock and roll that all the kids like should have a place in church. Not to mention fewer pulpits, more humor and significantly more hair product.
Lily, my guess is that you’ve just grown tired of your church experience because you’re on the wave of a new generation of churchgoers. It’s not the church’s fault really, or yours: tastes change, romances fade, and without some measure of progress, relationships end.
However, it’s not all on the Church. Some of this is on you.
What is it About You That isn’t Working for the Church?
I dislike Christian clichés, so please excuse me as I ask you this question: How’s your heart? Really, look inside yourself and take a bit to examine your attitudes toward the church, your beliefs, even your expectations.
Because like a romance (please notice the continued use of a relationship analogy) our hearts can grow bitter. Maybe in the beginning, everything was flowers and happiness. You were in the honeymoon season, and every sermon just “spoke to you,” all the music was spot-on, and the community, focus on the Bible, children’s ministry, outreach, international missions—everything—was like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
But then, the honeymoon ended, and you drifted into a regular old relationship that you have to work to maintain and decide to keep the relationship vibrant.
Lily, would you entertain the possibility that maybe the issue isn’t that there’s a problem with your church, but maybe a staleness in your heart? This isn’t an attack on your character, but rather an educated guess based on a well-worn road where people become entranced by the Sunday show, feel like they’re engaging in community, never actually know others or allow themselves to be known, then wonder why they’re bored with this place. Well they’re bored because you can’t just be a stagnant spouse and expect the marriage to thrive. You have to participate, laugh, fight, apologize and remember why it is you fell in love in the first place.
What’s the Point of Church?
The reason you fell in love is because the Church is the bride of Christ. Yep. It’s that kind of relationship. Not one of consumerism or logos or meaningless catchphrases, but one of a marital bond. Put more beautifully:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the Church—for we are members of His Body … For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:25-32 emphasis my own)
Lily, that’s why you go to church. Because Jesus says the Church matters. He loves the Church, and you love Him. Now, I know you may be feeling a legitimate disconnect with your particular church—and I get that. And while it’s between you and God to sort out if you should stay and rekindle the relationship or mourn the loss and move on, my hope is that while you may be quitting on your church, you won’t quit on the Church.
Take it from me and thousands of years of Christians, the Church is still relevant. It may look different, be disfunctional and even lose its footing at times, but it’s still the best option for, as Rachel said, finding Jesus—“the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places He’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.”
Good luck with this, Lily. I, and many others, are in this struggle with you.
P.S. To avoid a Blurred Lines/Marvin Gaye type of situation, I should say that this article was written with the wisdom of my friend and pastor, Teddy. We are part of the Church together and he constantly reminds me of how beautiful The Bride is.
Have a question? Good! Send an email to [email protected]. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.