This is the question that has been on my mind for a while now. Why do we go to church? What is the point of gathering as a community on Sunday mornings for a service of worship?
It's easy for me to get caught up in the details of what I love about worship. I grew up going to church and have always felt the need to attend worship services. But we live in an age where many did not go to church as a child or never felt connected to a church community. There are others who take Sunday mornings as precious family time or a time to relax with a paper and a cup of coffee. They can find God through moments of sabbath relaxation.
So what are we really to say when asked why worship services are important? Can't we find the spiritual in many realms, not just the Sunday morning service? Can't we connect with community in a variety of ways?
I have spent time trying to figure out why Sunday morning worship is important to me, and why worship services in general are important.
I am a person who likes to live in a rhythm. My routine may alter on a daily basis, but there are moments in my days and my weeks that are set in stone. Worship is one of those things that I guard. For me, there is something about scripture, sermon, and sacrament that speaks to my innermost being. There is something real that happens in those spaces. In my teenage years, church was the one place where I could get my mind off my own needs and focus outward on something that was bigger than me. That was freeing.
As a seminary student, I get caught up in different worship practices, some that I like and some that I loath. I can easily find myself analyzing rather than engaging. I find myself drawn out of worship to ask questions like, "Why would they use that hymn?" and "Did they really mean to do that?" I still find that space with God, and I still worship, but I get caught up in the mundane. Worship is familiar and I can come into it knowing exactly what will happen. It is as familiar to me as grocery shopping. The layout may change from time to time, but I know what to expect and I always come out with the things that can nourish me.
I wonder what a person who had never been in a worship service might actually notice. They might have an analysis going on their head about the worship service, but they would not automatically know what was happening next. Even things as familiar to me as the Lord's Prayer might be new. What would they see? Why would they want to be there? Why would they go to church?
And the why is often very different than the what. People come into church for a variety of reasons, but mostly they come searching for some sort of meaning. So what would they see? What would they see in a building laid out like a concert hall with a praise band and a casually dressed, conversational preacher? What would they see in a large cruciform cathedral with a large choir, a roaring organ, a large altar party, and a celebrant adorned in a chausible? Neither is better than the other, and the adornments may neither draw someone in or push someone away.
What the person is searching for is meaning, for some sort of answers to a number of life's questions. So the real question, the question that seems so basic it almost gets forgotten when approaching this topic is this: What is our message?
Do we present Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior, or do we present Jesus as the head of a corporate body of Christ? Do we get caught up in personal sin or do we search diligently to corporately bring about Kingdom moments in a fragile and broken world? Do we live personal salvation or corporate salvation? The answer should be yes. Both are necessary, but I think often churches lean one way or another. It's not wrong to speak of a personal savior, nor is it wrong to speak of a corporate body. But to live into the Church is to keep both the personal and corporate in conversation.
The person coming to the worship service is seeking. If someone is feeling isolated, too much individualistic talk may create the impression that we are supposed to seek on our own. They may need to hear the message of living into the body and being accepted by and connected to the community. If someone feels like they are losing themselves in the crowd and are trying to gain a better sense of identity, they may need a message of a personal Christ.
So why do we come to church? Why do we get up and gather together into a worship space? Why don't we just find the spiritual on our own? I think that the message of a personal Christ is true and still speaks, but the idea of the corporate Christ has been pushed away. We can individually find Christ, but it is much easier to live Christ in community. We worship together so we can bond together in our connection to God. It is that bond of humans seeking together that can transform and inform life in ways that could never be done alone. I think that is why we come to church, and why worship services still matter. Praise bands and thurifers are just window dressings to an experience that brings a unique community together to corporately celebrate Christ and give each other permission to dream of their own role in the coming Kingdom.