Is Going To Church A Priority?

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Part of how I answered the question on Instagram was to say that it depends on what my priorities are.

Here’s what I mean:

“Church,” as I understand it, is largely a way to intentionally practice the Divine gift of life with other people. Certainly, there are facets of regular church attendance that means I can “worship” God, particularly in music and that I can learn or be taught. I also get to join other people in efforts to act justly in the world. But those aspects of what we’ve called “church” over the past 40-70 years at least are pretty accessible without regularly gathering with the same people. Which is to say, I think the thing that makes “going to Chruch” irreplaceable (if it is) is that I can create a stainable and predictable life pattern with people withwhom I want to do those things; to worship God with these particular people or learn and be taught with and by these particular people, to do justice with these particular people.

So, if it’s the people part of going to Church that is irreplaceable and essential, then my priority has to be relationship.

Part of practicing that gift means being in a place where I can be supported and helped and challenged and guided. It also means being somewhere I can be a support and a help, and a guide.

In other words, if my “priority” is to get some of the things a church expression offers, the “people part” is going to seem like an obstacle at some point.

And that’s.. problematic.

Because if there is anything consistent about our poor practice of “Church,” it is the treatment of people as anything other than people, particularly as a means to any kind of end. Whether that’s institutional leadership treating congregates like points in some kind of cultural game or congregates treating church staff folks like vending machines or search engines or anything other than emotionally complicated and precious children of God.

A friend of mine on the east coast recently remarked that close to 70% of the people who left their congregations during the pandemic never returned to that same congregation. A good number of those people went to other congregations, but another good-sized group of people simply didn’t return.

There is a good bit of analysis being done by experts right now about why folks aren’t going back to church if they were attending. Here’s what I understand: That, having prioritized the features of the church as a product, a lot of people discovered they could get those same features online or without being mixed up in the mess of people. In other words, after years of conversations about not being too focused on our programs, a lot of church cultures were exposed for being too dependent on programming. In the long run, I think that’s a good thing; it forces a moment of deep reconsideration and the opportunity to bet on resurrection and newness. Good leaders don’t want live how we’ve lived. They care too much about people and want to see folks grow in faith and love.

I think there are a lot of good leaders who are actively (even if a tad precariously) in the very beginning stages of a very difficult and very necessary reinvention of what it looks like to “do and (more vitally) be church.“

See, along with the things that have been exposed about church culture, what has also been revealed is that there are many whose critique of Church practice actually comes from a place of growth and maturity; one might even consider it a fruit of the Spirit’s work in God’s people. These are folks who are ready to take into their grasp what they can wisely and lovingly get their hands and hearts around and help make something new with it.

So, if your priority is to be a part of that process, then now is a good time to “get in,” and “going to church” makes sense as a priority. But if your interest is in getting something like what was being offered before, I fear you might not get what you want and not only be disappointed; more than that, you might end up making that process of rethinking, reimagining and newness at least a bit harder for the complicated and precious beloved ones you’d find there.

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