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Why bother with church? I think that’s a great question, and I can think straight away of a couple of reasons why you might ask it.

It might be because you think: “I’ll be the odd one out—I won’t have any thing in common with those churchy types.” Or it might be because you think you’d be judged. You think that other people will look down on you because of your history or your background, or something like that.

On that first one of feeling like the odd one out, the Bible says that, incredibly, when we put our trust in Jesus we become part of a new family: we’re adopted into God’s family. That means that Jesus Christ himself becomes our brother, and God becomes our heavenly, loving, perfect Father. And that means that we’ve got a bond between us that is far more powerful and deep than anything that we can ever imagine.

So churches are therefore groups of people who, even though they might be different from one another on the surface, have a great, great bond between them. So what you find in churches that understand this is groups of people that want to be like a family—they want to love one another, and go the extra mile for one another.

So—whether you’ve had a good week at work or a bad week, whether you need someone to put an arm round your shoulder… or you need someone to go out for a coffee with and get something off your chest… or you need someone just to cook you a meal because you’re feeling exhausted—church communities are places where people want to go the extra mile, and love one another as families.

Now I know it’s not always like this, and just like in blood families it can be hard, tough, and sometimes we get it wrong. But even so, there is this incredible bond between people who put their trust in Jesus which means we are part of one, incredible family.

What about that second thing, about feeling judged? Well, Jesus said he didn’t come for those who had their lives sorted, but for people who realised that they didn’t have their lives sorted: that they needed his help.

Sometimes I think we can think of church a bit like an exclusive club, where the people on the inside look down on the people on the outside. But Jesus said that we should look at things in a completely different way. He said that church was more like a spiritual hospital. He even says these words in Mark’s gospel: he says that the healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick.

He says: “I’ve not come to call the righteous (those who think they’ve got their lives sorted), but sinners (those who realise that they haven’t got their lives sorted).”

What Jesus was saying was that Christians are people who realise that they need a spiritual doctor. In Bible language, we’ve turned our backs on God, and we’re spiritually sick. And yet God has come down to earth in the person of Jesus Christ as the ultimate spiritual doctor, to save us and to help us to change.

And if we understand that, then we won’t look down one another, because we’ll realise that we’re sick people and we need God’s help, just like everyone else does.

We don’t always get this right as churches, and you may be someone who feels burned or hurt by your own church experience.

But I can say from my personal experience that I’ve been in churches where people have understood these kind of truths about Jesus—they’ve understood putting Jesus and his teaching first, that we’re to be communities that are like families that love one another, to be communities that recognise that we’re spiritually sick.

And when I’ve been involved in churches like that, it’s been an incredible thing—it’s been a place where people want to love one another, don’t want to stand in judgement on one another, and want to admit when they make mistakes. And, as hard as it is, as difficult as it is, churches like that are incredible places to be part of.

 

Thanks for clicking on “Go Deeper” after watching or reading Jason’s answer. Going to a particular church meeting for the first time can be a really intimidating experience: particularly if you’ve never been before or have got bad memories of church from the past!

Churches vary hugely. Some have thousands of people at them; some have a dozen. Some have meetings that last under an hour; some go on much longer. But a good church will have the Bible at the heart of everything, because the Bible is God’s word; and it’ll be welcoming and friendly to newcomers, because that’s how Jesus was to people.

Exactly what happens when a church meets varies from church to church: but this short section just gives you a bit of a heads-up about the main things that go on, so that you know a little bit about what to expect and roughly what to do!

Singing

The Bible encourages people to sing “to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father” (Ephesians chapter 5 verses 19-20). And so people sing in churches, even when they don’t sing in other places (apart from in the shower).

Things worth remembering:

  • You don’t need to join in: it’s perfectly OK to stand (if everyone else is standing to sing) and look at the words, and think about what they’re saying about God.
  • You don’t need to sing in tune: in church meetings, it’s about what you’re singing, not how you’re singing.

Praying

As Jason, said, one of the amazing things about being a follower of Jesus is being able to call God “Father”, and speak to him as a perfect, all-powerful, all-loving dad. That’s what prayer is: and it’s why the most famous prayer, the one Jesus taught his first followers (often called the “Lord’s Prayer”), begins “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).

If you think about prayer like that, it’s not surprising that Christians like praying when they get together. Normally, it’s led by one person from the front; sometimes there are times when people can, if they want to, pray on their own. If you agree with what’s said up front, then you can say “amen”, which basically means “I agree”, at the end. But again, there’s no pressure to join in.

Bible reading and talk

Since the Bible is “God-breathed”, or written by God (2 Timothy 3:16—for why we can trust what the Bible says, have a look at this Tough Question), good churches will hear one or more bits of the Bible read out. As its being read, good questions to ask are:

  • “In this bit, what is the Bible telling us about what God’s like?”
  • “Is the Bible telling us anything about what we are like as people?”

At a good church, during the meeting there’ll be a Bible talk (sometimes called the “sermon” or “message”—why have one name when three will do?!). Someone will talk about one (or more) of the Bible sections that have been read, pointing to what they tell us about Jesus—who he is, why he came and what it means for us today.

If there are Bibles on the chairs on in the pews, or the sections read are on a sheet provided, it’s worth keeping the section they’re speaking on open in front of you, so that you can see how what the speaker is saying comes from what the Bible says.

When they’ve finished, it might be helpful to think:

  • “What’s a one sentence summary of the talk?”
  • “Was there anything that has helped you think through who Jesus is a bit more?”
  • “Have you got any questions about what was said?”

Offering/Collection

Some churches have a time for those who go along regularly to give financially. Usually, some of this money goes to help the church pay its staff, and some goes to help poorer Christians either in the neighbourhood or overseas.

If you’re new, you don’t need to feel under any obligation at all to give—and no one will mind, or keep a record of whether and how much you contribute! Churches are about helping people think through what Jesus’ life, and their life, is all about—not about making money.

Lord’s Supper

This is another part of a church meeting with lots of names: Lord’s Supper, Communion, Eucharist, and many more. Some churches do it every week, others much less often. Basically, it’s a time where Christians eat bread and drink wine as a visual reminder of how Jesus’ body was broken (the bread) and his blood spilt (the wine) when he died on the cross. It’s a great reminder that Jesus’ death means he offers eternal life to anyone who accepts him as their Lord and asks him to be their Saviour.

Again, churches take the Lord’s Supper in very different ways. In some, people go up to the front to eat the bread and drink the wine: in others, it’s passed along the rows. If you’re still thinking things through, and haven’t decided to put your trust in Jesus, the thing to do is just stay in your seat, or pass the bread and wine along to the next person (you don’t need to say anything as you do that).

No one will be watching, and no one will mind! Usually, the Lord’s Supper happens at some stage after the Bible talk, so it’s actually quite a good chance to think about what the speaker said.

Afterwards

If you’re new, the time once the formal part of the meeting is over can be a bit nerve-racking. As Jason said, church is like a family, so people usually stick around afterwards to catch up and encourage and look after one another. If you stay in your seat, at a good church someone will fairly quickly come and say “hi”: or if you feel like it, just go and introduce yourself to someone nearby and tell them you’re new. Or, if you’d rather, it’s absolutely fine to head for the exit straight away!

What church isn’t

As Jason said, church is a family meeting, where people who have Jesus as their brother and God as their Father meet up. And it’s a spiritual hospital, for people who know that they’re not perfect to come and be reminded that if they’re trusting in Jesus, they’re forgiven their failures and have been given eternal life in God’s kingdom. It can be daunting going for the first time: but it’s a great place to be.

That’s what church is; but it’s worth just saying what church isn’t. Attending church meetings aren’t going to make God love us, or forgive us, or give us a place in his kingdom beyond death.

It’s not like God has a big ticklist and if you go to church enough times, you get enough ticks to get into heaven. Simply going to church won’t make anyone part of God’s family.

The way to become part of God’s family, with a place in his kingdom, is not about anything that we do. It’s by recognising who Jesus is—God’s King and God’s Son—and why he came—to die and rise to give us a place in God’s kingdom.

Here’s how one of Jesus’ closest friends during his time on earth, the Gospel writer John, puts it: “To all who received him [that is, Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

But going along to church is a great way to think through who Jesus is, and whether you want to “receive him” into your life yourself. If you’ve never been, or you haven’t been for years, why not:

GIVE IT A GO—you can find a good church near you by going to the “Find a Course” section of this website.

GO TO a Christianity Explored course, run by a church near you—a great way to meet and make friends with some people who go to church, and some people who are in a similar position to you—again, go to “Find a Course”.