In 1945, 60 per cent of Canadians attended church on a weekly basis. A lot has changed in the past 70 years. Attendance has dropped steadily, and church has gone from occupying a central place in society to being found increasingly on the margins.
There are a number of factors contributing to this shift. Secularism has grown as the predominant worldview, and church is seen as unnecessary and outdated. Even for those who believe in God and consider themselves Christians, regular church participation gets crowded out by the non-stop pace of today’s lifestyle. Others have given up on the church because of negative experiences of church politics, judgmental attitudes, mean-spiritedness, and hypocrisy.
I think most people just don’t see the point. Why would I give up my valuable free time (and the relaxation of a slow Sunday morning) to attend a church service? It just doesn’t seem that important or relevant. Can’t people live good, meaningful lives, and connect with God on their own time and in their own way, without being a part of a church?
I understand this mindset. As a strong introvert with an independent nature, I could easily convince myself that I would be fine on my own. My most powerful times of connecting with God tend to be in solitude. I admit, I don’t always feel a strong desire to be a part of a community of faith — kind of like I don’t always feel a strong desire to go to the gym or eat broccoli.
And yet I know I need a church; a group of people with whom I can intentionally share my faith journey. As much as I’d like to convince myself that I’m an island unto myself, the truth is I need other people to be a part of my life, and especially to be a part of my spiritual life. The simple fact is that as human beings, we need each other. We are better together. When it comes to church, there are many ways this is true. Here are four:
We are better together
We grow better together. Proverbs 27:17 says that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” In other words, as human beings we have the potential to challenge each other to reach new heights, gain new perspectives, win new victories. While these mutually challenging relationships don’t have to happen in a church setting, a faith community can be a particularly fruitful place to find them as people give their attention on a regular basis to what it means to live a good and godly life.
We serve better together. I can love and serve my neighbour on my own, but when I join with others the potential to make a difference multiplies. The church does not exist for its own sake, but for the sake of the world around it. In the same way that Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28), churches should actively seek ways to serve their communities and meet both physical and spiritual needs outside of their four walls. To be effective at this, many different personalities and gifts need to work together. The New Testament refers to the church as the “body of Christ,” where each part is important and necessary.
We worship better together. While I often connect with God in nature, there is something equally meaningful about being a part of a collective worship experience. Whether it is in the rich language of a traditional liturgy, or in passionate expressiveness of modern praise music; whether it is a few people praying together in the living room, or a cathedral filled to the brim with old and young, there is power in reaching out to God in community. Sometimes when it comes to something as nebulous as praying to an invisible God, it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
We struggle better together. If life’s journey was always easy, we could probably handle it on our own. But it’s not. Tragedy strikes, temptations come, burdens get heavy, and hard times drag on. In those times it is essential to have a mutually supportive community to gather around us and help us through. In the words of Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Churches don’t always get this right, but when they do it is a beautiful experience.
Can you get some or all of these needs met without ever joining organized religion? Maybe. But when thinking about church it is important not only to consider what you can gain by being a part of a spiritual community, but also what you can contribute. Could it be that by not participating, you are robbing others of the unique things you have to offer?
If you’ve given up on church, I encourage you to give it another chance. Sometimes you need to try a few churches (and ask God for help) to find one that fits you. Huntsville has a beautifully diverse group of churches, many of whom gather together on a regular basis for shared times of prayer and mutual encouragement. You can find a list here.
Join Muskoka Community Church Sundays through July and August at 10:30 a.m. in River Mill Park for our “Church in the Park” services. We have uplifting music, practical teaching, and a craft for the kids.
Jeremy McClung is pastor of Muskoka Community Church in Huntsville.
Since 2008, MCC has been serving the Huntsville community and beyond through their Sunday worship services, community involvement, poverty reduction efforts, and programs for children, youth, and adults.
In his free time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, April, and their three children, as well as music, art, the outdoors, golf, and curling. His passion is helping everyday people develop a relationship with God.