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It wasn’t a scientific study, but here are the answers that some of my friends, from different walks of life, gave when I asked them the question, “Why do you go to church?”

  • “To open my heart to God; to hear His voice through what the pastor and teachers say.”
  • “To join my brothers and sisters in worship as we approach God.”
  • “To make use of the talents that God has given me.”
  • “To connect with people of similar beliefs, and to strengthen each other.”
  • “To learn and grow spiritually.”
  • “To learn, pray, and worship with other people who are saved by grace just like me.”
  • “My wife makes me go—because I’m the pastor!”

That last friend was kidding, of course. But leaving him out, I was able to condense their responses into four main reasons for going to church: to worship, to fellowship, to learn, and to serve.

To worship

There’s a basic problem with all these reasons: they’re all focused inward. It’s as though these people are saying, “I won’t go to church unless I’m entertained,” or “I won’t go to church unless they run the program the way I like it,” or “I won’t go to church unless I’m treated just right.” But if we go to church simply to get something, we miss the greatest joy— that of giving God our devotion and worship together.

Psalm 100 tells us what true worship consists of: “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Years ago, my husband asked some fifth-graders to give him some good reasons to go to church. He was amazed at one boy’s simple but profound response: “I go to church because God needs my love.” Who would have thought! But just imagine how wonderful it must be for God to hear us sing songs to Him from our hearts and to hear the sincere praise and appreciation from the people His Son gave His life for!

To fellowship

There’s a little children’s ditty accompanied by hand motions that says, “Here is the church, and here is the steeple. Open the doors, and see all the people!”

People—that’s what the church is about. It isn’t just a building, for without people, that’s all a church would be—nothing but an empty building!

Church is all about who’s on the inside. And the inside is like a family. With Christ as our Head, we’re all brothers and sisters who care for each other through both the good times and the bad.

After Natalie graduated from college and moved alone to another state to begin her career, she was thankful for the feeling of family that her church provided her as a young person on her own.

She told me, “Moving to a new community and not knowing anyone in my new town, the local church became my refuge. I’m blessed to have a supportive young-adult group. They aren’t just people my own age that I can hang out with. They have truly become my family. They made this place, which is 22 hours away from my own family, feel like home!”

Chris finds such meaning in church fellowship that he makes a major weekly time commitment. “Each Sabbath, with much anticipation, I drive 40 miles to be in community with friends who share my core convictions and who also have a diversity of perspectives that challenge and enrich my faith. I relish the hymns that remind me of the grandeur and grace of God. And these are tempered by the meditative moments that prayer brings.”

Roberta, who attends church with her husband and three teenagers, told me, “Though most of us have our circle of family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, there’s just something special about gathering with those who share the same spiritual beliefs. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ, encouraged and strengthened by each other every week as we worship together.”

Life can be tough and lonely at times. As we get closer to Jesus’ second coming, we need to support each other like never before. Hebrews 10:24, 25 instructs us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”

To learn

Sure, you can stay home and read your Bible and learn on your own. But you can benefit from other people whom God has gifted with the ability to preach and teach. Ephesians 4:11–13 says that Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Jim recently told me that going to church helps him to think and learn. “I’m always wrestling with ideas, with faith, with doubt, and the why of everything. I seldom come home from church without some piece of the puzzle having been added. A sermon, a class discussion, or a chat with a friend—these help me make connections to other thoughts. And it seems that all the thoughts are helping me understand God, people, and the universe a little better.”

To serve

The rest of the rhyme I learned as a child says, “Close the doors and let them pray; open the doors and they’ve all gone away!”

And where did they go? To serve! To fulfill Jesus’ great commission: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ ” (Matthew 28:18–20).

If you want to live a life for others, if you want to look outside yourself and make a difference in the world, then join a church that doesn’t lock its doors and draw its shades. Join a church where the people’s mission is to meet the real needs of others and to love them to God.

Feels like home

Michael said, “I go to church because it’s like going home. A home where there’s family, community, and an eternally loving Father abounding in grace who’s reaching out to us.”

To me, that’s what church is. It’s a second home. It’s family. A family that worships God together, fellowships together, learns together, and serves people together. A family that’s working toward the same goal—to prepare everyone we can for the day when Jesus, the Head of the church, returns to take us home. Then we’ll fellowship together for eternity as we worship Him face-to-face. That incredible experience has its beginning here and now as we choose to become active in a local church—a place where we can worship, fellowship, learn, and serve.

Why Go to Church?

by Nancy Canwell
From the September 2014 Signs