Several months ago, I was listening to radio host Larry Kudlow as I was driving. I enjoy listening to him because he’s a great economist and he’s just about the most genteel, polite and elegant talk show host on radio or TV anywhere. While I was listening, he said something that I’ve been thinking about ever since. Mr. Kudlow is recovering from drug and alcohol abuse, but is many years sober. He said on the radio that day that one of the most helpful ways for him to stay sober was that he served as an usher at every Sunday noon service at his local church. He said that that single act — ushering at his church every Sunday — has had more powerful positive influence in his life than anything else. It got me thinking about my own life. And Larry, I couldn’t agree more.
Many people, even if raised in a religious family, stop going to church in high school or college. They often don’t even think about returning until they have children of their own. I know this challenge from personal experience. There are many doubts. Which church should I go to? What if they believe things I don’t? Will they impose their beliefs on me? What if the people are weird? What’s the pastor like? What do they teach in Sunday school? Am I really sure I want my child going to THIS church?
Even once you select a church, going to a new church for the first time can be a daunting task. Being in a room full of strangers with your child and striking up a conversation among people that seemingly have known each other for years can be intimidating. And with your child in tow, it can be doubly taxing.
I have some advice for you. Persevere. Keep going until you find a church and church community you like. And don’t just attend. You need to get involved to reap the full benefits. Be an usher. Teach Sunday school. Volunteer to run coffee hour. Help out at events. Take photos for the website. Offer to run the website. Help with the newsletter. Sing in the choir. Organize a social outing. Help with a charity drive. Help run the finances. Help supervise the grounds. Bake something for the bake sale. For all of your many talents, there is a task waiting for you at the church. They need you. If you take it as a matter of faith that your efforts will be rewarded, but at the same time have no immediate expectations that they will be, you will find that after a few years’ time good things will start to happen.
Now that I’ve given you sound advice, let me allay your fears.
People who haven’t been to church regularly in many years as an adult may forget what church is. People have many motivations for coming to church. Am I going there to worship? Am I going there to meet people? Am I going there so my child can go to Sunday school? Am I going there in a time of need because I need help? The answer to all these questions is yes. But there is so much more. Our church is like our second home, a second family, the kids there like cousins, some more distant than others. We have a lot of fun social events. The biggest tangible benefit to me came from meeting people in the church who have lived here all their lives. My church has provided an extended family.
People also find many reasons not to go to church. There seems to be an ever-increasing barrage in the mainstream media against religious people and against Christians in particular and against certain of their beliefs. But it is an illusion the media creates that America is not religious. The reality is much different. Church is part of the social fabric that keeps our civic society intact. Whole books have been written about this (just ask me).
Through the book discussions and talking to people one on one, I have found an enormously wide range of views inside our church. At one book discussion, one parishioner proclaimed outright she didn’t believe that Jesus was divine. The world did not end at that moment and no one in the room reacted. In fact, everyone accepted this view as nonjudgmental adults. Churches are nothing if not welcoming. Churches nowadays are more catholic (with a small ‘c’) than ever — catholic in terms of encompassing a universe of beliefs.
It’s true, one can find unpleasant people at church. But you can find unpleasant people everywhere if you go looking for them. My advice: don’t look for them. There are no more unpleasant people in churches than anywhere else. And I find there are far fewer in my church.
One of my proudest achievements as a church-goer was helping a family caught in ‘church gridlock’. I helped them break through the gridlock to realize that it’s more important to simply choose a church than to be certain you are choosing the perfect church. At last report, everyone — especially the kids — are very happy with their choice. And no, they didn’t choose my church, but that’s perfectly ok.
Church is good for kids. And as with yourself, go the extra step. Put your kid in the choir. Yes, boys too. Every child ought to sing religious songs. And I’m here to tell you that they no longer do that in the schools. One of the best parts of church is the beautiful liturgical music. I’m not talking about the hymns, though many of these are very nice as well. Religious music has been written for hundreds of years. There’s a lot to choose from, so you only hear the best.
In Desmond Tutu’s book Made For Goodness, he writes that people are good, but they can lose their way. This is price of the gift of freedom given to us by God. People can be led back by talking to God. In his words, “We are hungry for God, but we don’t always know that it is God that we crave... So we shut the mouth of our desire for God with busyness or with things...and emerge at the other end recognizing that what we have is not what we need.” You don’t need to go to church to talk to God. But I find that it helps.
Now, notice that I’ve written an entire essay about going to church without talking much about church doctrine. People (and there are a lot of them) who like to sneer at church and Christians say they are all hypocrites, that they don’t live by the teachings of the church. Tune these purely destructive voices out. Go to church anyway for your spiritual and personal growth. Nobody’s perfect and you don’t have to be perfect to go to church. After a while, you’ll find that the good rubs off on people. Yes it does.
Go to church. Come to church. We’re waiting for you.