Why do we go to church? I’ve wrestled with that question pretty much my whole life. I grew up in a family that went every Sunday because it’s what we were supposed to do. Now, I don’t know about you, but doing something because it’s what I’m supposed to do is way different than doing something because it’s what I want to do. So eventually, I stopped going to church altogether.
Maybe that’s not your story. Maybe you go to church because you’re searching for something. It could be hope, meaning, purpose, community, joy, or any number of other things. Maybe you’re looking for answers to three of life’s big questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? What difference do I make? Most of us have been told that the church is the best place to find what we’re searching for.
Interested in making church a habit? Then check out the Life.Church app’s new Milestones feature here.
The mistake I made, and the mistake so many of us make, is that we just go to church. And there’s a big difference between just going to church and being the church. We’ll come back to this idea later.
After being out of church for seven years, I started going back. Now, to be clear, I wasn’t going back to church because I wanted to. At 19 years old, I had graduated from high school and taken a year to try to figure out the right next thing to do. Toward the end of that year, I moved back in with my parents to save some money. When I moved back in, my mom told me, “If you’re going to live in my house, then you’re going to go to church.”
My response: “Yes, ma’am.”
I wasn’t agreeing to go to church because I wanted to. I agreed to go because church was way cheaper than rent.
Hear more about James’ journey from atheism to faith.
And for a while it was fine. I put up with the one hour on Sunday with my family because it saved me a nice chunk of change. Until one day, my mom came home from an event called Open Door. She got home and told the whole family, “I signed us all up to serve on the Host Team together!” I made the mistake of audibly groaning at this point, which was quickly met by my loving and gracious mother’s response, “If you’re going to live in my house, then you’re going to go to church and you’re going to serve with us.”
Thankfully, I had the wisdom to simply respond, “Yes, ma’am.”
That’s when everything started changing. Now that I was involved in serving, I couldn’t just show up to the weekend service, not talk to anyone, listen to the message, and sneak out without having to make a connection with another human. I couldn’t just go to church.
While serving on the Host Team, I was expected to show up early, get to know the people I was serving with, and greet everyone who showed up each weekend. You could say things were playing out very differently than I had originally planned. I didn’t realize it then, but I started being the church.
It’s probably important to mention that at this point in my life, I was not a Christian. I didn’t believe in all the Jesus stuff and sort of saw church as a place people go to make themselves feel better. It was great for them, but I didn’t need or want that.
But then I started meeting people who didn’t just talk about loving God and loving people; they actually loved God, and they really loved me. I found myself in a place where, even though I was skeptical of what these people believed in, I was jealous of how they treated me and how they lived. I started to want Christianity to be true before I believed it was true.
Why do we go to church? Because the church isn’t just a building. The church is a group of people committed to loving and serving one another the same way that God through Jesus has loved and served us. And when we choose to be the church, we start discovering the answers to those big questions we have about life: Who am I? Where do I belong? What difference do I make?
That’s exactly what happened to me, and I’ve seen it happen to countless others. Several months after I started serving at the church and becoming friends with the people I served with, I had this moment where I chose to give this whole faith thing a chance. I chose to trust—even though I still had lots of questions and doubts—that Jesus is the Son of God. I chose to follow Him. Because of that decision I started to discover who I am. I knew where I belonged. I discovered the difference I was supposed to make. I found meaning, community, and purpose.
You see, the moment someone moves from passively attending church to actively engaging with the people of God is the moment they move from simply going to church to actually being the church. So, what does it look like to start being the church?
It looks like serving others the way that Jesus would.
It looks like being in community with people we want to be with and we want to be like.
It looks like showing up consistently to church (whether in person or at Church Online).
When we choose to show up consistently with God’s people, and for God’s people, we will start to discover the power of being the church. It’s not something that happens overnight. It didn’t for me. It takes time, consistency, and effort. But the effort is absolutely worth it. Why? Because the church isn’t a building. The church is you. The church is me. The church is God’s people coming together with each other and for the world.
Why do we go to church? Because we are the church. And we exist for the world.