Why do Christians go to church?

This last Fall, we took a survey in our church asking people to rank our church from “ick” to “wow” on various categories. This is a non-scientific study, of course, but the vast majority of our church attendees gave our church a “wow” on our preaching and mid to high marks on everything else. Also, my own anecdotal research shows that the vast majority of people in our church found our church because they were intentionally looking for a church.

As a result, I have a few ideas on why Christians go to church when they go. Please weigh in with your perspective as well.

main reason: obligation

“Church is the right thing to do.”

I think the most prevalent reason Christians attend church services is that they believe church attendance is the right thing to do. Perhaps they were raised to go to church. Perhaps they read my previous post or another article somewhere telling them they should go to church. Perhaps they read the Bible and were convinced themselves of the moral rightness of going to church.

However, that kind of motivation plays out in different frequencies for different people. Paying my taxes is the right thing to do, but I only have to fill out paperwork once a year. Going to church may be the right thing to do, but that doesn’t tell me how often I need to do it. Some people go every week. Some go whenever it’s convenient. Some go on Easter only.

The bottom line is that Christians who go to church do so in large part because they think it’s the right thing to do. From that point of view, the only question for a churchgoing Christian is which church they should attend.

secondary reasons

Christians who are convinced they should go to church are only limited by their schedules and their felt needs regarding which church to attend. If they can find a church that meets their criteria, they’ll attend it (again, frequency is a completely different issue), if they can’t find one church that meets their criteria, they’ll bounce around, and if they can’t find a church that works for them, they’ll still go to church, just even more sporadically than they normally would.

George Barna released some statistics back in 1999 on why people chose the church they chose. I got this chart from churchrelevance.com.

Top 9 Reasons that Church-Attenders Choose a Church
(research conducted by the Barna Group in 1999)

  • 58% – Doctrine/Theology
  • 53% – People Caring for Each Other
  • 52% – Preaching
  • 45% – Friendliness
  • 45% – Children’s Programs
  • 43% – Helping the Poor
  • 36% – Denomination
  • 35% – Like the Pastor
  • 26% – Sunday School

Of course, that was over ten years ago. I’d like to see some statistics from the past few years. Nevertheless, this list reinforces the kinds of things Christians have been telling me about their church attendance for years.

If I could summarize what I hear from Christians who regularly go to church:

  • Christians want to be “fed” or enlightened. They want the teaching of the church to give them moments of serendipity over the content of the Bible or the practice of their lives. The longer a person is a Christian, though, the more moments like that are in their past, the more “knowledge” they have about the Bible, and the harder it is to provide those serendipity moments for them.
  • Christians want to be sure their kids are taken care of. Many Christians fear that their children will grow up without the sense of obligation to the church or even without a personal faith commitment, so they want to make sure they have a positive experience with solid Biblical education.
  • Christians want to avoid “hypocrisy” and are generally sick of church infighting. If the church has strong leadership, and the feeling of healthy relationships, they will stay. Otherwise, they are likely to leave.
  • Christians want to serve. This is last on the list for most that I talk to, but it is a strong motivator for many. They will seek out churches where they can actively use their gifts. However, I have met many Christians who use this as a mental excuse for their true pursuit of influence and recognition. We still have Pharisees in our churches who say they want to use their gifts when they really want people to honor them for their activity.

final thoughts

Even though the first reason is often the most conscious reason (people tell me all the time, “I know I should go to church more”), the secondary reasons are often the real ones. Christians who go to church believe that the church should be beneficial to them, and they will keep looking for churches until they find the one that fits the bill best.

In our church, people seem to come primarily for my teaching. As a result, it seems clear to me that the people who come to our church are consciously looking for the kind of teaching I provide, and the people who don’t return to our church after visiting are either not looking for my kind of teaching specifically or they have placed a higher priority on something else that our church doesn’t do well enough.

What about you?

So these are my musings, but ultimately, I’m more interested to hear what other people have to say. Why do you go to church? What is your real motive for attending church in general, and what are your specific reasons for attending the church you do attend?

I’ll read every one of your comments!