The news is in – for the first time in 80 years, fewer than 50% of Americans belong to a church. Church membership has been steadily declining for decades; in 1999 over 70% of our population were members of a congregation; now 47% identify as church members. (Mirror Now Digital, April 18, 2022)
When I was in seminary one assignment was to define what “church” is. What is church? Why is it important? And why should someone be involved with a church?
I described church as being similar to a beating heart. With apologies to those with actual medical knowledge, I imagined the church this way – Blood flows into the heart where it is rejuvenated with oxygen and fortified by the heart’s energetic pumping. Then the blood goes out to reach the farthest parts of the body, offering much-needed energy and sustenance. Then the blood circles back to the heart to be reenergized again. The church is like that.
On Sunday mornings, I visualize the people of God gathering together, often weary from a long week of bad news and discouraged by events seemingly beyond their control. At church we find something sure and unchanging. Good News of hope and new life is offered. In the midst of our turbulent, chaotic world, we discover again God’s steadfast love that endures forever. Overwhelmed by images of violence, we accept Jesus’ invitation – “Peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Here we can find hope.
Here we can celebrate forgiveness and new life.
Here we can share community.
Here we can experience welcome.
Church reminds us that we are not alone. We have work to do – to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). And – what joy! – We do that with God’s help and the support of our congregation.
It isn’t that we “have to” go to church. We “get to” go to church to be revitalized by God’s living Spirit. We come into God’s presence together to celebrate that God can make all things new. It is a message of enduring, undefeatable hope.
I’ll be at church on Sunday morning. I hope you will be too.