Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why going to church is good for you

September 15th is Back to Church Sunday

This past Sunday, our congregation was out logging a record number of volunteer hours (see the post earlier this week on why volunteering is a really bad idea), doing God's work with our hands at non-profits and organizations all over town. It was profoundly inspiring. You can see some great photos on our web site, and via our church e-blast.

This Sunday, I invite us to commit to being in worship, and sustaining that pattern for the whole year. Worship attendance is a lot like many other habits. It takes commitment, then a sustained period of keeping at it, for it to become a natural part of our routine. It's like flossing, or exercising. It takes some work, but there is a payoff. It's about health, and life, and faith. It's worth it.

According to a variety of recent studies, attending church weekly really is good for you. T.M. Luhrmann (one of the great up and coming anthropologists of religion), summarizes the findings in a recent New York Times articles:

One of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years is that going to church weekly is good for you. Religious attendance — at least, religiosity — boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life. The reason for this is not entirely clear.
Having an active spiritual life is one of the best ways to accomplish a happier, longer life. There are a variety of likely causes. At least one: church participation extends our social network, which means the social support available to many church-goers is strengthened.

Luhrmann analyzes some of the contributing factors to the greater health of regular church-goers, and then adds her own insight, based on extensive anthropological research in evangelical communities:
[A skill Christian worship exercises is] the capacity to be caught up in your imagination, in a way you enjoy. What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale. Increasingly, other studies bear out this observation that the capacity to imagine a loving God vividly leads to better health.
From a theological perspective, of course, worship is good primarily because it is praise of God together with others. We do not worship first of all because it has benefits. We worship because God is worthy of worship.

And in fact, worship attendance is not a panacea. Many people go to church and remain depressed, or ill. Church is clearly not just about better health--it is also space for lament, and grief, and pain.

Many other things are good for us, also; many other things are good to do. But it is encouraging and promising that something many of us intend to do, but end up doing less often that we intend, is also just plain good for us.

So if you have been considering church for the first time, or hope to get back to church after an absence, make September 15th the day to do so. As a pastor, I like to joke that although I value daily Mass and wish I woke up to the Eucharist every day, I haven't yet gotten in the habit, so every Sunday is back to church Sunday for me also, because I've gone at least five or six days without worship.

82% of people will come to church if invited by a trusted friend

Furthermore, according to Thom Rainer’s book, The Unchurched Next Door: Understanding Faith Stages as Keys to Sharing Your Faith
, "82% of people will come to church if they are invited by a trusted relative or friend."

If you already find yourself in church regularly, this Sunday is a great day to invite someone you know.

Here are some simple steps that will help prepare you for Back to Church Sunday:

1. Make a renewed commitment to regular worship. Write it in on your calendar. Pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in your commitment.

2. Pray for and invite five people you know to join you for worship.

3. Share the Back to Church link with a friend or in your social network (http://backtochurch.com/roster/church_detail?ChurchID=21165).

4. Join the Facebook event page for Good Shepherd's Back to Church Sunday (or create one for your own church) (https://www.facebook.com/events/536938123043147/).

5. Why do you go to church? Personally, as a pastor, the central thing for me is communion, receiving Christ's body and blood. It is a tremendous gift. If you know why you go, it will help get you there.

I really believe in the mission of our church. I believe worship centers us in this mission, and prepares us to be God's ambassadors in the world. I invite you to join together regularly with us, and to invite others to do so also.


  1. If you don't mind, I would like to share some of this with my congregation as well...thank you so much for sharing! Sherry McGuffin

  2. Always. Blogs are to share.