November 10, 2019

Why They Go to Church

church window

During a recent Sunday, I saw a few people on Twitter asking why Christians bother with church. It was more of a rhetorical question than anything, and I don't think they were really seeking answers. It was more about wanting to point out how those attending church are wasting their time. I certainly felt that church was a waste of my time, but I recognize that many churchgoing Christians do not feel this way.

I am not going to claim to know why all Christians go to church. I suspect that different Christians would give different reasons for why they attend church. In this post, I thought I'd mention some of the reasons I have heard from Christians over the years. I am sure that this list is far from exhaustive, but these are a few of the reasons I've heard repeatedly.

Fellowship

I think that many Christians go to church primarily to socialize with other Christians. It provides them with a convenient opportunity to gather with like-minded people. For evangelical fundamentalist Christians here in the South, church is often the entirety of one's social circle. They don't associate with people outside their church, at least not closely. But even for Christians in other parts of the country who are not part of any evangelical tradition, church serves a similar function. Of the various reasons Christians go to church, this one strikes me as the one that should be easiest for atheists to understand.

Being Seen

I don't mean this one to be quite as cynical as it sounds, but I think that many Christians go to church, at least in part, because they want to be seen there. It is important to them that others know they are going because regularly attending church is one mark of a "good Christian." If there's one thing I remember from all those years of being forced to attend church, it was that Christians notice when someone is absent and discuss it with others. They place a fair amount of social pressure on themselves and others to attend church, and they are quick to disparage those who attend less often. Thus, one reason they attend is to prevent others from making similar remarks about them.

It is Good for One's Soul

When I threw fits about being forced to attend church, I'd usually get the rationale that I need to go because it was "good for you." And when I asked how it was possibly good for me when I hated it so much, I could count on hearing about my "soul." I do not mean to suggest that most Christians go to church because they fear hell, as I doubt that is the case for most of them. But they think there is some vague supernatural benefit in attending church in the sense that it is good for their soul. Of the various motives for which one might squander one's Sunday morning, this is probably the one with which atheists will have the most difficulty. After all, most of us recognize that there aren't any souls.

Tradition and Family

For Christians who grew up attending church, continuing to do so is one way to carry on a tradition that was meaningful to them. This seems to be especially important if they have young children or older relatives who are part of the picture. I hate to see atheists condemning Christians for this because many atheist parents do similar things with regard to secular traditions that were an important part of their upbringing. And it isn't like atheists are immune to the desire to please older family members either. Just because atheists have cut one particular tradition (i.e., god-belief) does not mean that many don't still participate it a variety of other traditions. Some atheists even continue to go to church with their families.