One congregation’s attempt at reaching people for whom belief is problematic includes publishing a series of leaflets aimed for them. Other leaflets include: Why Bother to go to Take God Seriously? Why Bother to Read the Bible? Why Bother to Take God Seriously? Why Bother to Pray? Why Bother to Say the Creed? Why Bother to Think About Religion?
Churches are full of odd people! And that’s because going to church is an odd sort of thing to do. Years ago it was much more common – although nowhere near as common as is sometimes suggested. Men in particular have been conspicuous by their absence in church.
So why do people bother to turn up on a Sunday when they could be doing all sorts of other things, like washing the car, digging the garden or going shopping? The only good reason for going to church is because you get something out of it. If you find it dull or pointless, or both, you won’t go again.
Church services come in different forms. Some are more informal than others. Some have music. Some have sermons. Some use the old words; some use new words. People choose the ones that they find most helpful. But helpful in what way?
Churches are special places in that they are the only buildings where people come together, not so much to do something, or to watch something, but simply to be together. It’s all too easy to get sucked into a spiral of busy-ness in our everyday lives. Sometimes we need a time of enforced stillness. Church services may provide this quiet moment and encourage us to ask important questions, which often get pushed to one side. What really matters to us? How do we see our lives? What are our priorities? Do they need revising?
All the great world religions focus on such questions because they are the only ones that really matter. Unless we’re careful, we can get carried along by life, being simply passengers instead of trying to steer the craft. We can too easily accept the role of couch potatoes, instead of trying to make something worthwhile of the time we have been given.
Increasing numbers of people go to therapists or counselors or physicians to talk about matters that they might have been able to work through themselves had they been members of a church community. Church can’t offer simple, instant solutions, but it can give us a framework within which we can tackle the problems .
It used to be that people went to churches to be given what they thought they needed for salvation. The church was the centre of the community, and the church’s minister was the shepherd whose word was law. Times are very different now, with far fewer people prepared to take on the role of sheep. We all realise that the world is a much more complex and wonderful place than we used to think . What is sometimes called the ‘spiritual dimension’ of life is equally complex and wonderful, and instead of laws we need companions in our attempts to make sense of it.
Many congregations contain people who are no longer prepared to go along with ‘theobabble’ – that peculiar language much beloved of preachers, consisting of theological words strung together in the hope that they add up to something meaningful. Now they expect, quite rightly, that their intelligence will be respected, and their questions and doubts taken seriously. And they expect, quite rightly, that the focus of the sermon will be on the here-and-now, in other words, on how the issues preached about affect the everyday life of people living in the 21st century.
Most church services have a time when we reflect on the ways in which we have fallen short of what we should have done and been. This doesn’t mean that we have to feel wracked by guilt, but there’s no point in trying to kid ourselves that we’re beyond either criticism or hope. We
all need to try harder. As has been well said, churches are full of people who are trying.
There will be a time for reading aloud from the Bible and there will probably be a time for a sermon, usually related to one of the Bible passages.
There will be a time for prayer, when we focus on all sorts of concerns and consider how we might best help. And there may be hymns, some of which have odd words but good tunes, or vice versa.
Those who simply can’t see the point in reflecting on the big questions of life – or who find it tiresome or pointless to sit quietly for a while, or who have a short attention span – are unlikely to get much out of a church service. But those who think that life is too important to waste, and who feel that they need a time of stillness, may find that churches are able to provide them with a suitable forum for finding help in their personal journeying. Church can act as a much needed counterbalance to the self-centredness that is endemic in our society.