Whats so great about church? No seriously – I stopped going.

bible, church, empty, pew, hymn, book, religion, christian, catholic

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For those of you that go to church for any religion, whats so great about it?

I’m actually looking for answers, here.

My experience with being involved in the protestant Christian church left me jaded and feeling more alone and confused than before. In college, I took a step back from religion (while attending a private Christian college – ironic, I know) to get my thoughts straight.

Since then, I’ve gone back to church only once. It was with my husband, Joe, who grew up Catholic but hadn’t been committed to a religion for years. Here’s what happened.

The second chance I gave the protestant church

It all started when a balding man knocked on my husband’s apartment door a few years ago. He handed Joe a pamphlet and expressed his concern about Joe being “saved.” This man said that if Joe didn’t pray this precise prayer asking Jesus “into his heart” before he died, he would burn in hell for all eternity.

Joe, being the smart man that he is, decided he should probably cover his bases on this one. He said the prayer with the man, who then invited him to a Christian church on Sunday.

After thinking through his options, Joe decided it might be nice to try church again to see if it could help him access his spiritual side. Even though I was skeptical, I agreed that we should go and give it an honest try.

So, come Sunday, we found ourselves walking through the parking lot toward a nude and beige building with a big cross on the front.

“That’s my man,” Joe said when he saw the familiar balding man greeting people as they entered. He gave Joe a surprised smile and totally ignored me. It was awkard but I think he was just caught up in his surprise that his recent convert actually showed up.

He led us into the foyer and with one glance, I felt even more out of place. We were by far the youngest people in the building. By far.

When we entered the room with all the pews, Joe’s door greeter guy lead us to seats in the very center, four rows back. A location my teachers used to call the “splash zone,” as students sitting in the middle near the front are most likely to get “wet” with knowledge.

We politely took two seats next to a woman dressed in a fancy autumn colored dress who assured us the pastor gives great sermons and we will surely be pleased.

I hoped she was right.

Then a small band entered the stage and directed us toward the hymn book, which I was totally unfamiliar with. But Joe, with his experience in Catholicism, knew what to do. He flipped it open and we began mouthing the words, wondering how long this part of the service is going to last.

After singing hymn number 153 and 162 which was accompanied by a tiresome amount of standing and sitting and standing again, it came time for us to fellowship (a.k.a. shake hands and smile as wide as possible) with the surrounding strangers.

I mustered up a smile while the introvert inside me cringed with every handshake.

Once that was over, we were directed to sing yet another hymn. At least this time we were sitting.

We must have been terrible at hiding our lack of interest at this point because after the song, the fancy autumn dress lady explained that they do sing “the old songs” but it’s only because their words have so much depth.

I responded that indeed I have heard some powerful stories behind some of those hymns. She aggressively insisted that the words themselves had enough depth to them. I just nodded and smiled, hoping it was enough to get her off my back.

After a few introductions of the various programs the church offers, we stood to read the Word of God from the King James Version.

I don’t remember a single thing the young pastor said after that. Whoops.

When we approached the door greeter after the service, he immediately informed Joe that the next step was probably baptism.

We were totally taken aback.

I mean, we just came to the thing he invited us to and sat through all those hymns and the first thing he says to us afterward is that we need to go to the next thing?

No “How’d you like it?” or “What’d you think?”?

This guy wasn’t interested in us, he was interested in the success of his new converts. We felt like cogs in some religious machine. Which leads me to my next point…

Why I haven’t gone back

If this church is the answer to my yearnings for love and peace and harmony and relationship, I would rather have chaos.

If sitting and standing when we were told to on Sunday mornings is the answer to my deepest insecurities, then I would rather spend my time searching for another way, even if it doesn’t exist.

If there really is profound and freeing truth in Christian teaching (which I believe there is), I just can’t accept that the facade of modern evangelical church is the best way to get that point across.

I do realize this was just one church, one pastor, one doorway greeter. But I’ve been to loads of Christian churches, and I know that fancy powerpoints and rockin’ worship bands don’t make much of a difference.

No matter what specific programs are going on, it seems like it’s the same ‘ol model: get people from out there to come to our thing, our program, our building to listen to our message so we can grow our congregation.

Who is the church really focused on in this model? It seems to me like themselves.

I just can’t get excited about supporting that.

Many people in my generation are seeing through the system for what it really is: a system. And they are heading elsewhere to find a spiritual path that actually feeds their need for authenticity and belonging.

This doesn’t just apply to Christians, either. Many people from many religions are wondering if there is another way.

Not that there’s anything wrong with religion per se. I actually think religion has a valuable place in our life.

But religion that makes you feel like a cog in a machine, that makes you more scared than when you started, that only has space for plastered smiles and nice clothes, that pits you against other religions? Yeah, I think there’s something wrong with that kind of religion.

My main goal here is to start a conversation about this. I don’t know everything, but I do know my divine disappointment with what I find every time I go to a Christian church.

Do you have something to say in the church’s defense? I’m willing to hear it with an open heart.

Do you also feel disappointed by the church? I surely can’t be the only one.

Do you belong to another religion that is doing something different? How is that working for you?

I’d love to hear your specific answers to these questions. After all, starting the conversation is the first step toward change.

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11 Comments

  1. Jordin,

    Thanks for posting this. You are on track. It’s unfortunate that the church is failing Christ in many ways. In fact, Jesus tells us that this will happen in our time (ref. the New Testament).

    Many churches are trying to get people in the seats but don’t know what to do with them when they get there. The result is much like the experience you had. The man you referenced in your post sounds like he wants to do the right thing but only knows how to do part of the job. The real work starts when someone actually shows up on Sunday. Most people leave it up to the pastor at that point.

    There ARE “real deal” churches out there but you have to go look for them. Most people don’t feel like doing that (and honestly, they shouldn’t have to).

    I read the New Living Translation and Voice Bibles because they’re in today’s English. The KJV is not the only accurate translation.

    I ask God to show me what to do about church and He leads me in the right direction every time. Churches are made up of people–people are flawed. I don’t believe God is all that happy about everything going on in the church either. Having said that, I’d encourage you not to give up completely, though I can relate to how you feel.

    1. Hi Chris! Loved your perspective. I appreciate the solidarity as well as the wisdom that Churches are made up of people and people are flawed. Perhaps I will try again one day.

  2. Hey Jordin- I LOVED reading this entry. I believe many feel the way you do. I have even been there. We all have reasons for having a bad taste in our mouth’s regarding church. I can’t speak for others but for me it was seeing that church was a business and very focused on numbers and keeping it’s members. I tried many different churches after being crushed by the only church I had called home. A church that I attended as a high school student, raised my kids in and built a life around. Our family attended our son’s church through Union Gospel Mission while he was living there. After he moved back home I would attend church at a few different churches. But, honestly I was okay listening to sermons online and doing a bible study at home on my own. I still had a relationship with Jesus and wasn’t worried about not having a home church to attend every weekend.
    Then one friend invited me to her home for a bible study. She didn’t attend church and the study was out of a book with no church affiliation. It was a group of Jesus loving women ranging in varied ages and seasons of life. It was honest and real and I enjoyed our time together. But, as with a lot of groups we dissolved due to busy lives and new commitments. I was asked to coffee by one of the ladies and she told me that there was a small group of people who were interested in planting a church. She told me her background and of a church split that left many without a church to call home. She invited me to a Worship and Prayer night where I could learn about this vision of planting a church. I went and loved the music, the prayer time and a young Jr High pastor who was feeling lead to pastor a church. I invited my husband to the next Worship/Prayer evening and he was interested in this upcoming church plant.
    Now 3 1/2 years later I am happy to say I have a church that I love attending. What started out as about 14 people doing a weekly bible study because they didn’t have a church that felt like home-to dreaming of having a church to call home-to organizing Worship/Praise evenings etc. My husband and I liked their vision of a church. We picked areas to serve in as we got ready to have our first church service and we both serve in those same areas. We are considered the “older” members of our church and the babies/toddlers almost out number the adults. I know God orchestrated all of this. From the small bible study I was invited to and then the worship evening and then hearing about forming a church that loves Jesus and does life together. We have made amazing friendships through our church and we truly do life together. To know that you can be transparent and not worry that it will be “shared” not as gossip but dressed as “prayer need”…. UGH…
    Anyway, I’ve done church and I’ve gone without. For me I need Jesus and even though I can hear a sermon online or read my bible at home I have found a church that I love and enjoy attending and being a part of. A church that really cares about people and showing Christ’s love for everyone. The only reason numbers are discussed at church is to figure out how we all fit into the space we have.
    Thanks again for sharing. Your honesty and openness is appreciated.

    1. Hey Jana! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I am so happy to hear that you’ve found a church that you love and that supports you in your spiritual journey. Awesome!

  3. I totally get what you were saying in this article. But there are really good churches out there. I attend one. I did stop church during college but I had a need to go back and I’m glad I found where I’m at and have raised my kids in this place. There’s a lot of talk about not going to church among Christians nowadays and I think to each his own, but the Bible does talk about meeting together. I think instead of telling people to do their own thing we should encourage them to find that just right place. I would caution against prosperity pastors and churches where you don’t see action on part of the poor. I would also caution against churches that change the Bible to fit what is popular or social activism. There are churches out there that stick to the Bible, take care of the poor and practice what they preach.

    1. Thanks for your input, friend. I appreciate how you can see both sides of the issue and have found yourself in a similar situation to me at one point. I’m happy to hear you’ve found a place you love.

  4. Wow…what a great, honest, and heartfelt post. As a pastor, your sentiment really rings home. There are many people that feel this way. I don’t have a solution or an answer without sounding quippy or trite. The church I’m involved with tries so hard to be real, but we often fall short. There are many reasons for this but too complicated to sum up here in the comments section. I just interviewed a guy on our podcast named Jeremy Penn, who started something called the Crowded House network, specifically to create a spiritual experience for people who feel the same way you do. You can hear it at smallchurchpodcast.com.

    Anyway, I’m subscribing to your site and I look forward to reading more good stuff in the future.

    God bless,

    Phil

  5. Jordin,
    This was such a brave post and you reflect the frustration of so many people.

    I sought out God as a child – when my parents had become disillusioned with the church as young adults. I went to church with friends and eventually walked myself to church down the street from our home. From the age of six-years-old on, I went to church on my own.

    In my teen years I left the church and came back, and in college, I dabbled in several religions outside Christianity. It came to a point for me where I just wanted to settle the restless yearning in my heart. I prayed asking God, “I want to know you no matter what the answer is.” I was an extreme skeptic having gone through the gamut at that point.

    I started reading the bible and then a friend invited my fiance to his church. We went, but hesitantly. Several Christians we knew seemed judgmental and others seemed obsessed. We didn’t hold formal Christianity in very high esteem at that point. We were so leery. One Sunday the pastor preached on tithing and my future husband left after the service saying, “See, I knew they just wanted our money.” He stopped attending after that (but came back six months later).

    I started going to a small group. The leader there was a young man who had just graduated from seminary. He was transparent, caring and full of knowledge. I would grill him with hard questions about all sorts of things. He was patient, wise and just imperfect enough to help me feel comfortable really letting my doubt and anger out of the bag.

    Over time, I started reading books about Christianity such as the writings of CS Lewis and listening to talks at a local Christian college. I heard and witnessed plenty that turned my stomach, but something deeper kept my attention. People can be very poor representatives of an ideal or another person – or God. That doesn’t make God bad, imaginary or nebulous. Just as some people can be really good at marketing a plot of swampland. That doesn’t make the acreage livable.

    I came to realize that my real bones of contention were with God. My real curiosity was about Him. My real longing was for Him. I’ve been in pretty good churches, some lousy ones and some in between. All churches are full of imperfect people. This guy you met seems to be immature and misguided. As you said, he cared more about getting you there – to fill a quota or satisfy some urgency he feels – than actually getting to know you and finding out about you and engaging with you.

    God isn’t like that man who approached your husband. That’s all I want to say. Church may be done better or worse in some places t
    han others. Going to church isn’t the answer. The deal is if there is a creator of the universes, and He actually made you and loves you, what do you do with that? How do you respond to Him?

    I get that the church is a flawed and sometimes very misrepresenting place. I would encourage you to continue to think about God and to sort through who He is and what place He has in your life. If that leads you to seek out a church so you can gather with other imperfect people to worship and learn about Him, great. Plenty of people can attend church and miss out on knowing God. I would say that’s a lopsided way. The bigger picture is to get to know God and to let Him into your life.

    This feels awfully personal to write in a comment – almost like meddling. I hope it doesn’t feel that way from your end. I really relate to your post and wanted to share my experience in case it would help you sort through that unfortunate experience.

    1. Patty…thank you SO MUCH for sharing this. You have clearly learned so much from your experience, and I admire your contentment with the place you’ve found in your relationship with God.

      I loved everything you said, but my favorite line was when you said, “God isn’t like that man who approached your husband.” That sums up the theme behind my entire post…because if god is like that man, I think I’ll pass. But because I don’t believe God is like this man at all, is there a different way we can do church that won’t cause us humans to turn into these judgemental/numbers-oriented followers?

      I so relate with you and your relationship with God. Thanks so much for the encouragement to continue getting to know Them, I think I’ll follow your advice ;]

      Much love,
      Jordin

    1. I so appreciate your offer, I must just take you up on it. I love the homey-ness of your site – loved it so much I signed up for your email newsletter. Talk soon,

      Jordin

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