Why We Go to Church

Some of my friends were elated when they heard that church meetings were canceled because of COVID-19, or Coronavirus, “Church cancelled!” texts went out.  Celebratory emojis were shared.  On a more serious note, a family member wondered whether there would be long-term effects on church attendance. Would people keep staying home on Sunday once they got in the habit?

We may well see a dip in activity rates.  But COVID-19 will only be the trigger.  The root problem is deeper.  Many members have lost sight of why we go to church in the first place.

Church as we know it probably developed after the destruction of the first temple in 586 B.C. with the creation of synagogues, taken from the Greek word for “assembly.”  Some scholars trace synagogues to a practice of having representatives of communities outside of Jerusalem pray together when their priestly representatives attended ritual sacrifices at the temple.[1]

Synagogues unified the Jewish people.  Temple rites were mostly confined to a separate class of Levites.  But all Jews could participate in song and prayer while the temple rites were being performed.  This kept them loyal to the temple and its priests, who depended on their tithes.  It also provided the community a place to gather.

Christianity made the commandment to gather together more explicit.  We are to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”[2]  “When you come together, every one of you have a psalm, hath a doctrine [a lesson], hath a tongue, hath a revelation.  Let all things be done unto edifying.”[3]  People that need that edifying won’t be getting it this week.

When I heard church was cancelled, I first thought of my friend Kyle.[4]  Kyle suffers from Schizophrenia and struggles to get work.  He has few friends outside of church.  I also thought of my friend Josh.[5]  He hasn’t been to church in a while, but he met many of his close friends there.  He has asthma and is afraid of going out because of COVID-19.

Some of you might not “need” church.  But there are many people that do.  If you find yourself rejoicing at the pause, think of those that might feel differently.  Think of the parents that need relief as their kids socialize.  Think of the young men that need mentors.  Think of the elderly that need friends.

Is there someone that comes to mind?  Should you send them a text to ask if they’re doing OK?  Should you call them to see how they’re handling the quarantine?  If they are sick or elderly, should you offer to get them supplies or groceries?  It doesn’t matter if they aren’t on your ministering list.  If you thought of them, then you should probably reach out.

When people complain that church is “boring,” they seem to be missing the point.  Could the talks be better?  Sure.  Are the lessons repetitive?  Yes.  Church can’t compete with Netflix or games as a form of entertainment.  It was never meant to do that.

If you find yourself bored, play a little game.  Ask yourself, “who can I help at church today?  Who can I sit by?  Who could I introduce myself to?”  Do you know people well enough that they would tell you if something bad happened?  If not, maybe you should get to know them better.

Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the purpose of taking the sacrament.  But you can still get that at home.[6]  The suspension of church really denies us the opportunity to serve our fellow brothers and sisters.

Maybe some members will realize that it’s more fun not to go to church.  Maybe some of them will keep staying home as a result.  If they do, that will be a sign that we have failed them.  Not because we could make church more entertaining.  Because after decades in the gospel, they still approach church as a consumer.

[1] Encyclopedia Brittanica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/synagogue

[2] Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV

[3] 1 Corinthians 14:26

[4] Name has been changed.

[5] Name has been changed.

[6] Assuming proper authorization from your Bishop and the presence of a priesthood holder.

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