Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Does It Matter What Church I Go To?

This is my first serious faith-related blog in awhile, and it's about a subject I'm a little sensitive about because I've been frustrated trying to figure it out... and my journey has (very) occasionally resulted in people accusing me of not loving God enough, or something. As a result, I'm a little anxious about actually posting it. Heh. If it comes across snarky, defensive or cynical, I apologize - it's not meant to. I'm really just trying to work this all out.

The title isn't a rhetorical question. I really genuinely want feedback on this, especially if you're somebody who thinks choice of church is important.

A brief recap for those who don't know: I've been working out church's place in my life for several years now. While I do currently attend a church, it is entirely out of social obligation. I go because I'm supposed to go and because my husband goes, but I've pretty much given up on expecting anything out of it. This isn't in any way a reflection on this particular church, but rather on the fact that I've never gotten anything out of church. By treating church attendance as a social norm-conforming task I must do rather than something actually beneficial for me, I can at least stop being frustrated by the fact that it never is visibly beneficial for me.

Given all that... does it really matter what church I attend?

I'm perfectly comfortable just choosing a church at random or simply going wherever Jacob wants to go.

How do you select a church when none of the usual criteria seem to matter?
  • Corporate worship has never done a thing for me, so worship style doesn't make a difference to me.
  • I'm highly unlikely to ever find a church that holds all the same Biblical stances as I do personally, so finding a perfect doctrinal match isn't going to happen. The few doctrinal issues that I would hold absolutely essential don't really help to screen many churches out, as Christian churches generally believe, for example, that Jesus is God.
  • I've never been inspired by a sermon, so I can't seek out a specific style or format of speaker.
  • I can't possibly judge from a few visits how I feel about individual church members and whether I'm likely to feel socially comfortable there, let alone make any kind of lasting friendship. It takes me years to make up my minds about people.
  • Ministry opportunities of some sort can be found at pretty much every church, so there's not a lot to help me make my decision there.
Right now my only real criteria is "stuff said during service won't make me actively angry and snarky," which is pretty loose as far as criteria goes.

So here's the question. How do I choose a church? Right now my policy is that I'll just follow Jacob wherever he wants to go, so that makes my decision easy, but let's suppose I was single and dealing with this. How should this affect my choices? Should I be more specific in my criteria, hoping that some day some of them will matter to me? If so, which criteria get top priority? Do I choose technically correct sermons over a comfortable social setting? Would it be better to choose a church I actually disagree with on several topics, assuming it'd be better to be challenged and have to think through stuff than agree with what's being said? Is there even such a thing as choosing "the wrong church for me" in this situation? Maybe I should continue assuming it really doesn't matter and just go wherever because it's probably not going to make any difference anyway.

I genuinely have no idea.

I hear people talking about making sure to choose the right church, but I'm no longer sure it makes a difference for me. I'm okay accepting that maybe I need to attend a church (though I still can't quite figure out why, aside from social obligations) but then I have to choose the right church. It's like asking someone who feels sick to their stomach what they want for dinner and then emphasizing that they have to make the right choice. My honest answer to that is, "Well, I'd rather not eat anything, but if I have to, somebody else should choose for me and I'll eat it because I'm supposed to. I already have to eat it, don't make me responsible for the choice too."

This whole post is coming off more cynical than I mean it to be. I'm not angry anymore that church doesn't work for me. (I used to be.) I don't even think I'm angry anymore that I probably have to attend church because of social reasons. I'm pretty resigned to all that. Now I'm just... pondering what this actually means for me on a practical level. And I would love to get feedback, especially from any of you who think it does matter what church you go to.


  1. I have been thinking this one over since yesterday, Hannah, and I guess there is no easy answer.

    I think it IS important what church you go to for this reason:

    - They need to be doctrinally sound on the big issues, i.e. Jesus was 100% God AND 100% Man, He died and acted as propitiation for our sin, God created the Earth, etc. I say this because without those foundational pieces, a church cannot preach the Truth.

    BUT - I don't think you need to agree with every doctrinal statement of the church. There is wiggle room. Was it a Literal 7 Day creation? Maybe. But I wouldn't take a bullet for my view either way.

    Finding a church that strikes a balance between solid Biblical teaching and room for Grace on the issues that don't matter in the grand scheme of eternal salvation = important [this includes the congregation extending grace to you for being less involved or approachable than *they* would like you to be].

    Barring that, I don't think it is important what church you go to. The Bible of course calls us to gather as a fellowship of believers, but I think that can look different all over the world. If formal church services are required in fancy buildings with microphones, then house churches in basements in Malaysia don't count. I think that would be a wrong interpretation of the scriptures. I also think that in today's society, gathering online in community counts as fellowship. I know I garner more genuine interaction with people through blogs and poetry that I find online than I do on Sunday morning in the service most of the time.

    I do think the reason we are to attend church is to have a community that holds us accountable and can action on church discipline as the Bible lays out, should it be required. Maybe an online community fits that bill for you, but for some it would just offer the chance to backslide unnoticed.

    Since you have isolated the fact that church does nothing for you personally, then maybe your best bet IS to go somewhere that is beneficial to Jacob. I think a lot of parents choose to go to churches because of what they offer for their children. Maybe your task is to go to a church that supports your spouse and his spiritual needs, so that he can better support yours in turn. Engaging in and interacting with the formal church setting for the sake of your spouse may be a way that God has called you to minister to Jacob.

    Phew. I think I said it all, and with tact. We'll see. :)

    1. Oh, I like that: "Finding a church that strikes a balance between solid Biblical teaching and room for Grace on the issues that don't matter" - I think that does make sense. That could be how I need to think of the doctrinal issue. Not "do they agree with me in all things" (because that's not going to happen, and if it did it wouldn't necessarily be good for me because I'd never be challenged) but agreeing in the essentials + grace. That makes sense to me.

      The church discipline thing is an interesting thought. I'm going to have to mull it over. Though I will say I don't think most churches *have* held me accountable. Going to church once or twice a week is not going to clue anyone in to actual struggles I have within my faith, as most of my sins and struggles are not openly outward like... excessive drinking or fighting with people or leaving my family to pursue my dream as a pole dancer. Small groups and that kind of thing are maybe supposed to do the trick, but for me, it really is my smaller community of friends that hold me accountable for how my walk is going.

      After a few discussions with people and some thinking and praying, I think I *have* settled it within myself that it's OK for me to be going solely as a point of being with Jacob and supporting him in his churchy endeavors. I feel like I have peace with that now, which I wasn't sure I did when I wrote this blog.

      Thanks for your comment! Said tactfully indeed :-) I appreciate it. It was really funny to me that I posted this saying, "So I am going to church, what now?" and got all sorts of, "Aww, you don't have to go church" comments, while before I had been posting, "So I'm not going to church anymore" and got a lot of, "WHAT WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?" I'm not sure whether it was my "Please don't be mean to me" disclaimer or whether all my friends just like contradicting what I'm saying I'm going to do. :-P