Skip to main content

What Draws People to a Particular Church?

Pastor Mary and I had a conversation this past week that I find myself thinking about a lot.

The conversation started Easter Sunday, when we were commenting on the standing-room-only turnout at the 9:00 and 11:15 services. “Why,” we wondered out loud, “do so many people choose St. James’ as the church they attend -- not just on Easter Sunday, but throughout the year? What draws them here?”

I was recalling to Mary that in our newcomer classes, I often ask people to line up along a spectrum called, “Why I Come to Church.”

On one end of the spectrum is what I call “Word,” and at the other end is what I call “Sacrament.”

If the main reason you come to church, I say, is “Word” -- the way that the readings and the sermon make Scripture come alive and make God real to you -- then I ask you to line up on that side of the spectrum.

If on the other hand, the main reason you come to church is “Sacrament” -- the way that the liturgy, communion, music or any other component of the worship service itself makes God real to you, then I ask you to line up on that side of the spectrum.

(Oftentimes people protest, “What if it’s both, in equal portions?” “That’s fine,” I say. “Line up in the middle!” I do the exercise to get a sense of what is important to people at that particular point in their life.)

A few years ago, I started noticing that people were saying, “Well, what if both those things are important but the main reason we come is something else?” And so I started asking, “Or is there something else?”

And what I keep hearing is “community.”

Word and Sacrament are important, but what brings a lot of people to church is a sense of belonging to something wider and bigger and lasting and important. What brings a lot of people to church is a sense of being “known, needed, and loved” that no other community organization can quite meet, because what binds us together is NOT a common cause, or even agreement on doctrine, but a sense of belonging -- being a part of -- a living breathing diverse body, called the Body of Christ.

Mary and I kept the conversation going throughout this week, and I’m delighted to say that in Sunday’s sermon, she’s going to explore this a bit further, asking questions like, “What is most essential to a Christian community? Its beliefs or the way that a community lives out its beliefs? What is most essential, the believing or the doing? And which comes first?”

I hope you’ll enjoy the continuing conversation as much as I have!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

If there's a will, there's a way.

For Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that this year.
What I'm fasting from this Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
(Let me be clear: that does not mean giving up news or otherwise burying my head in the sand: it means staying informed while finding ways not to get pulled into a downward spiral of feelings of numbness and helplessness; it means giving up unproductive feelings like hopelessness and resignation and taking on visible behaviors like giving encouragement and taking action.)
It means making visible -- here, on my blog, and even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories…

Fasting from Discouragement, Making Visible the Good

So for Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.

But I'm re-thinking that.
Now one of the things I'm thinking about fasting from during Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
That would mean taking on encouragement: to make visible -- even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories" as being quaint -- they are tossed in at the end of the news as an inspiring story, or put in the style section. But stories of good things happening -- people coming together to do things, is not a touchy-feely, feel-good story, but something affecting real change.
So for starters: I'm inspired by the leadership example of…