Why come to church?
There really isn’t any need to anymore. If you want to sing songs about God, there’s great stuff you can download to your iPhone. You can watch videos for free on YouTube. Or if you want to go old school, you can listen on the radio. If you want to be charitable, there are lots of ways you can donate online. Find your favorite charity and in the comfort of your PJs, just click a few buttons on your track pad and “boom” you’re done. And as for sermons? If you want to hear about the Word of God for your life, there are tons of great ones out there. Personally, I’d go for a good podcast instead of the guys you see on TV or if you’re REALLY hip, you can do worship online. So why bother? Why bother to climb out of bed on a Sunday when you can do everything you do at church from the comfort of your home? Because church is more than the sum of its parts.
There are definitely tangible benefits from coming to church.
But that’s like telling you that Brussels sprouts are good for you. Everyone knows it, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to eat it. The church needs to do a better job of convincing people they need to be here on a Sunday, and I think I have a few reasons that would be hard to ignore. Kids who attend regularly have a longer average life expectancy by 8 years. So even if for no other reason, you should be bringing your kids to church. But there’s good news for you adults, too. Regular churchgoers have a 33% chance of living longer than those who don’t. They did a study with nurses over a 20 year period and found that those who attended church more than once a week were 33% more likely to be alive than those who never attended worship. Studies have also shown that dads who come to church have happier marriages…whether their wives come with them or not. And if you live in an area with others who share your religious beliefs, you are likely to have higher incomes, fewer school dropouts, and a college degree. With that many benefits, it’s hard to imagine why the NFL doesn’t move their games to some other day of the week. Although with DVR, there really isn’t even that excuse any more.
But there are even more important reasons for being in church.
If you don’t already know, this is one of the early letters written to help believers in their faith. Unlike some of Paul’s letters which were often written to specific churches and places, this one was meant to be a general letter about Christian belief. In this passage, the writer has just gotten done telling how people used to offer sacrifices to God in hope of cleansing themselves and starting life anew. But that obviously didn’t work because day after day, year after year, the priests had to continually offer sacrifices to God, but now…now God has written his law on our hearts through his son Jesus Christ and has made us whole. We have become a forgiven people. And because we are forgiven, we can approach life in a new way as we are about to read.
19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Church attendance has always been a problem.
The early disciples didn’t have all of these scientific studies to draw from to convince people to come, but you have to figure with Jesus only having left within most people’s life time, it shouldn’t be that difficult, but it was. And having fancy data doesn’t seem to have helped us all that much anyway. We have access to all of these scientific studies and that still hasn’t stopped church attendance from dropping. According to the current research, only 23% of Americans both profess faith in Christ and attend church as an active participant. Only 23%. That means more than 227 million people are not active in a Christian church. The sad part is that “active participant” is defined as someone who comes only once a month. That’s it! On any given weekend, 17.5% of Americans can be found in a Christian church. You might think to yourself, “Well, maybe they’re all part of other religious groups,” but that’s not it either. When you add in all the other religious groups, the number only goes up by 2%. We, as Americans, have decided to devote our time elsewhere.
But here’s the thing. There’s a reason it’s important to be here.
Beyond just the scientific data showing all the benefits of being at church on a regular basis, there’s an intangible yet very real reason why it’s important and it’s what we hear in the passage from Hebrews. Being together, in community, centered around God leads to some amazing things. Worship reminds us that we have a God who loves us and when we are together we hear the stories and meet the people who have been deeply affected by God’s work in their lives. Those stories and those people help to shape us and strengthen our faith. But more than that, they often inspire us to do more and be more than we thought we could. Together, the people of God can do more for the world and for one another than any one of us can do separately. The church has inspired organizations like Habitat for Humanity that’s served more than 9.8 million people as well as local groups like Open Gate Ministries here in Dinuba. It’s the church that built what we know as hospitals today, sponsored many of the greatest universities, and inspired and supported scientific achievement. Which is not to ignore some of the wrongdoings of the church as well. There has been plenty of that. But when we are working together in unison to reach people for Christ, we can do some amazing things. Sometimes right here in worship.
One Sunday when I was serving at Roswell UMC, I was sitting in the back for worship.
It was a rare occasion when I wasn’t either involved in worship or teaching a Sunday School class, but on this one particular Sunday, I wasn’t doing either so I planned to simply sit there and soak it all in. Now, on those rare occasions, I usually sit up near the front by the other pastors and their families. There was an unmarked section of pews where they would all sit, sort of like the ballplayer’s wives section at a baseball stadium. But because I had been talking to someone outside I was late coming in and didn’t want to disrupt worship, so I decided to sit in the next to last row. There was only me and one other woman in the pew and she was sitting pretty far away from me. I noticed she had a diaper bag, so I guessed that her little one was in the nursery and sure enough, she was. When it was time for us to greet one another, I made it a point to walk over to her and say “hello.” She turned to me and said, “I’m so glad you were sitting here. I’ve been meaning to talk to you.” Turns out her husband was Asian American (and by coincidence had graduated from UCLA) and she was Caucasian. Having seen me in worship before she had questions about what it was like to be a mixed race family in our church. I spent time with her that morning talking about how great it had been for my family and that seemed to put her at ease and not long afterward, I had the chance to welcome her into membership at Roswell UMC. Each time I saw her after that, it was a subtle and powerful reminder that sometimes we come to worship not always for ourselves but for others. Sometimes, God can use our mere presence to help someone grow closer to him. So that’s why we come to worship. Not just because it makes you a better person. Not just because it helps you to grow in faith. But because sometimes we are needed as part of the body of Christ to help one another. As the writer of Hebrews put it “to spur one another on to love and good deeds.”
We come to church for the promise of a better life.
But that better life starts here and now. It starts with each one of us, here today, offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice for his will. To allow God to use our very presence to serve his Kingdom. If worship was only about singing songs, donating money, and reading from the Bible, we wouldn’t need to gather. But it is so much more. “Church” is about the experience of God that can only happen in community. The world around us has a Janet Jackson attitude. Always asking the question, “What have you done for me lately?” And to be sure, there are a lot of fringe benefits in coming weekly to church. But for us, for God’s people, worship is not just about what we get out of it, but also about what we give to God. So the next time you find yourself hearing those familiar words, from either your children, your spouse, or even yourself – “Do I have to go to church today?” – I hope you’ll remember what we talked about here this morning and can answer that question with a heartfelt “YES!” We made a promise when we joined this church to give of our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Fulfill that promise today and everyday for the Lord and Savior who gave his life on the cross for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 29-30.
 The American Church Research Project.