Why bother with church?
Recently, I attended a free, two-hour training session sponsored by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) on how to advocate for legislation with the Hawai’i State Legislature. Two aspects of the useful session particularly caught my attention.
First, the session used technology to connect people gather in four locations (one each on the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawai’i). Sitting in the session, I wondered why more groups, such as the Episcopal Church, do not use similar technology to offer seminars in multiple locations. The technology is available for free. Gathering in multiple locations can boost attendance, as it did for the ACLU. Some evangelical churches already use this type of technology to allow congregations that meet in various locations to worship together and to hear the same sermon. Slow adoption of this technology has unintentionally both limited audience size and restricted groups to hearing speakers locally available.
Second, I was among the oldest five percent of those attending. That sharply contrasts with my experience in Episcopal Churches; there I am usually among the youngest twenty percent of those present. Part of the difference in the age of those attending the advocacy session is that older persons interested in advocacy frequently acquired advocacy skills at a younger age. However, part of the difference may be that attendees desired to learn the skills being taught. Why should I – or anyone else – attend church? What does the Church actually offer?
Historically, people attended church for reasons that most individuals no longer find compelling. Those reasons prominently included the conviction that eternal salvation required faithful worship, peer pressure and, sometimes, legal compulsion.
Today, church involvement and attendance can provide three potential benefits: (1) a local congregation is a community and belonging to one is a much needed antidote to the pervasive problem of loneliness; (2) spending an hour in worship is a time to pause and to think about life’s meaning, direction and other philosophical questions that tend to be ignored given life’s non-stop busyness; (3) an opportunity to become a more virtuous, ethical person by thinking about virtue, observing persons who intentionally strive to grow in virtue and perhaps practicing the virtues, e.g., discussing Jesus’ parables or feeding the hungry.
Other non-profits may offer one or two of these benefits. A good church should consistently offer all three.