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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!


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