Some of Those Who Attend Church Enjoy the Experience

Church exterior in the Fall

As hard as this might be for some of us to believe, some people do enjoy attending church services. They might find comfort in the familiar rituals, especially if they grew up with them. They like choir music or singing hymns with others. A few might even find the sermons interesting. Many more like the social aspects involved in gathering with like-minded individuals.

It is not unusual to hear people who attend church describe the experience as "inspiring." This means different things for different people. It can be as simple as meaning that they feel better when they attend. It can mean they are thinking about something in a different way. It can mean they've experienced a sense of fellowship with others.

During my childhood, I would have placed my mother in this group of people who enjoyed church. She liked seeing the family get dressed up in the morning. She loved singing the familiar hymns. She retained enough of most sermons that she'd discuss them later. She enjoyed the social gathering that would take place after every service. I know she didn't find every service inspiring, but she got something out of most of them.

None of this ever applied to me. The only thing I ever enjoyed about church was being allowed to hear the sermon. This was uncommon. It meant that I'd been allowed to skip Sunday school and attend the whole service. As bad as the service was, Sunday school was much worse. It involved arts and crafts, adults treating me like I was 5 years younger than I was, and condemnation for asking questions. The sermons were far more interesting.

Of course, those who enjoy church are not the only ones who attend services. Besides those of us forced to attend, there are those who believe it is in their interest to do so. They don't enjoy it, but they believe it is good for them. For some, attending church reflects their fear of "hell" or the disapproval of their gods. They don't want to risk divine condemnation, so they show up and endure the service. For others, it is about tangible benefits like community or belonging. They go to maintain their standing in the community.

I recall seeing a subset of these people every Sunday who seemed to attend to be seen. While I had no way of knowing this was the case, the signs were there. They didn't look like they were listening to the sermon. It looked like they were glancing around the room to see who was there and make sure others saw that they were there.

It is important to recognize that the formal service is only one small part of what most churches offer. Churches provide a community to their members. Those who attend are part of something. Outside of the service, there might be social events like potlucks. Members may work together on various projects to benefit their local communities. We partnered with other churches for an annual food drive.

Some of this sounds pretty good, and it can be for those who remain in the good graces of the community. I know some Southern Baptists who rarely associate with anyone outside their church. They are quick to explain that they can find everything they need through their church. It is not surprising that they do not hold opinions that differ from those of others in their church. The price of non-conformity might be expulsion. The prospect of losing one's entire community overnight would not be appealing.

Those of us on the outside are quick to condemn this sort of thing. "It sounds like a cult." That might be, but it does seem to work for some people, at least some of the time. While there are consequences for not going along with the accepted norms, some are fine with that. They share the prevailing values. Besides, there seem to be consequences for not going along with norms in many contexts. Churches are hardly unique in this respect.

Church never worked for me. That doesn't mean it can't work for anyone in any circumstances. I will not deny that it can provide some benefits to some people. We have to figure out for ourselves whether it should be part of our lives.

Image by author via NightCafe