Joining vs. Attending Services

Now that I am a church shopper (okay, I visited one church in early August), I have given some thought to what people look for in a church and why.

I think that looking for a church to join and become a part of is completely different than looking for a service to attend.

If you are looking for a church to join, then you look for a vision or purpose that matters to you, a leader you respect, and people that you enjoy being around.

If you are looking for a service to attend, the only thing that matters is if the service is of enough value to your spiritual life to continue attending.

I know that leaders find it frustrating when people choose to just attend services rather than get involved.

That is what is confusing to me right now.  I honestly cannot see myself throwing my life and heart into any of the local churches.  So then what?

Maybe it’s like dating after a divorce – no one really wants to start dating at 40, but you have to squeeze back into the miniskirt and get back out there if you are ever going to get married again.

Geez that’s depressing.

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28 thoughts on “Joining vs. Attending Services

  1. I’m struggling with this right now.

    We are back at the church we had left because our children are there. I don’t know how to be there, I don’t know how to navigate some rather murky waters right now.

    There’s some questionable teaching and I am not sure how to deal with it. Honestly, sometimes, i wish that I could just be like other people and just come in week after week and not question. But I can’t.

    :: sigh ::::

  2. Good questions, Grace. I’ve been attending a church for over a year now that I wouldn’t have chosen for its services (going along with family here). It’s hard to get below the surface and connect with people when you have a ironic/alienated attitude toward the service (which of course most people there love). So they are two different concerns, but they don’t separate neatly.

  3. Cynthia

    Take my advice now – get out of that place – and take your poor kids with you – if you sense toxicity in the teaching RUN.Have a look at an interesting wee site – http://www.martinzender.com
    I ordered his book ‘How to Quit Church Without Quitting God’ – it’s hilarious but deadly serious and gives you the permission to get out of there.I speak as a recovering church-a – holic who God jumped on again completly out of the institutions we call ‘church’

    Love in Abba

    Charlie

  4. Actually, Grace…I think the best thing that a divorced Christian can do is allow God to hear their broken heart and wait until God brings the right person across their path … which might take years, depending on the amount of healing required.

    I see no difference in toxic church relationships. The great thing there is that you still have God … it’s just the institution you’re rejecting. It’s always about the relationships, however, and once out of a toxic relationship, you must not enter another one until your system has cleared the toxins and God brings you to a new fellowship.

    Don’t be surprised if you end up somewhere totally different that you could ever have imagined.

    …a little depressing, yes … but full of hope in the power of God to heal and restore.

  5. I don’t think I will ever go back. The Life outside the the organized part is just to big. So much to see and explore.

    Perhaps what you’re talking about is more like trying to get into clothes that are three sizes to small. Now, that’s depressing :)

  6. I think squeezing into clothes 3 sizes too small is very much like going back to church-as-we-know-it. At least for me. No offense to anyone, but it is just sooo incredibly boring. And I wonder if the vibrant faith I have developed away from it would be stifled to fit back into it… ? I don’t know, really.

    But I think the woman in the picture is looking for a church that shares her concern for environmental sustainability! Horse manure compost?! Or was this some reference to carrying baggage? :)

  7. Ok, I’m a little more focused…for now leastwise.

    I think maybe this is the pivitol part;

    I think that looking for a church to join and become a part of is completely different than looking for a service to attend.

    You’re exactly right. No ifandsorbuts.

    Perhaps the better operational procedure would to be open to relationships that the Lord brings you into? That can happen whether you attend a “service” or not, but going to where other Believers are may be something that God will use to form relationships. Concentrate on the relationships and connectedness, not the structures or formats.

    Tom

  8. My spiritual life and actually almost all aspects of my life went through total deconstruction from 2006 – 2008. Now that I am at peace with God and know the security there, I have chosen to go back to the church I left. As I said before, my children are there … teenagers who want and need my presence and guidance. I feel like we left them to navigate alone for awhile.

    As I have gone back in, I am seeing people who truly love God. I don’t want to have an adversarial relationship with the believers there. I was fed up with the us vs them attitude inside and I don’t want to continue that now that I found freedom outside.

    I don’t sense God’s permission to abandon my kids and the believers inside, especially when there is teaching that is questionable.

    We are not members and maybe that is what makes it possible to be there. We attend, we support with our energy and time and we give money when and where God directs.

    I do believe that God has led us back in because of relationships we had and will have there. It is difficult not to concentrate on the structure or the format. I wrote last year about a line in Revolution by The Beatles … “You tell me it’s the institution, well you know you’d better free your mind instead.” and how that challenged me that if I don’t change my mindset, I would carry the same issues around with me.

  9. No way!!!! – going back – I will attend but NEVER join.

    GRACE KILLERS – they are … opps sorry, not you!!! They had robbed us of the grace of God which is freely given and replaced it with their laws.

    I LOVE the picture!!! I bet an attractive lady like that won’t stick her hands into that bag of horse@@@@!!!

  10. Why bother shopping?

    Maybe it’s like dating after a divorce – no one really wants to start dating at 40, but you have to squeeze back into the miniskirt and get back out there if you are ever going to get married again.

    Only if you think that the only “spouse” to be found is in a building with a sign that purports to identify itself as a church.

    You don’t have to squeeze into anything, grace. Run free, and let the Spirit take you. There is so much life outside those four walls. You know that already, don’t you?

    If you are looking for a service to attend, the only thing that matters is if the service is of enough value to your spiritual life to continue attending.

    I personally have never found this to be true. There may be something from time to time that adds value to my spiritual life, but the many things there that take value away and restrict my spiritual life are much more prevalent. For me, the negative far outweighs any positive.

  11. Steve quoted Grace then commented;

    (Grace) If you are looking for a service to attend, the only thing that matters is if the service is of enough value to your spiritual life to continue attending.

    (Steve)I personally have never found this to be true. There may be something from time to time that adds value to my spiritual life, but the many things there that take value away and restrict my spiritual life are much more prevalent. For me, the negative far outweighs any positive.

    My experience is the same as Steve’s…there may be some “value”, but the detractions outweigh the sum of the benefits.

    I’m learning to not seek “the event”; there may be excitement and activity there, but its half-life is extremely short…what little actual life that may be present that is. And, after more than a year meeting with and sharing life with other Believers in a HC/organic setting, I’m finding that it’s difficult to not make our gatherings into an Event. When we tell each other that what we really want is to focus on Jesus and to listen and respond to what He is revealing of Himself to us through us…the natural tendency is to create a program/proceedure that we have some familiarity with. We are working through this, and, we are doing so together. And, we’re not alone–Jesus makes His presence noticable. He has proved time and again that He’s not scared off by our stumbling slovenness and ubiquitous ignorance.

    Ask Father to bring to you or take you to people that He wants you to love extravagantly. That’s the church for you.

    T

  12. Grace,

    I think I’ve discovered a way to help people out with this. I would like to start putting visitors to our church through an application process. The first time you visit we would just make you stand and introduce yourself, then give you all the papers to take home and fill out – name, address, criminal record, where you stand on all the important issues, sexual orientation, etc, etc. The next time we met you would need to get up in front of everyone for the oral exam. You know, I figure if people are going to judge me every week on what I say and how I act, I want at least one opportunity to judge them. This way we can hopefully weed out the self-centered thrill seekers who only want to use the church for their own personal gain, rather than those really committed to helping carry out God’s mission. And we want to make sure you fit our expectations; rather than you just getting to decide if we fit yours. However, any single women in mini skirts would automatically receive a pass. But we would still want them to stand up front. Heck, it’s almost assured you could be on the worship team.

    Just trying to be helpful. ;)

  13. I hear ya Grace. I don’t think there is ONE answer except to be free to not find one answer ;)

    Revolution is in the process of evolving and in the mean time, we’re gathering as friends and loving it but I personally feel something missing from my spiritual experience – – I have no idea what or how to find it but I guess I trust God to bring it to me/reveal it to me so I don’t try too hard. for now I’m trying to grow to be comfortable being free..it’s an odd feeling and one I’m not used to.

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  15. You guys are so funny!

    tom,
    Didn’t you once mention that manure was in your realm of expertise?

    Out of respect for my readers, I was looking for a miniskirt image that wasn’t provocative. This is what I came up with.

    cynthia,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. It is possible after a season of detox to go back into a situation with a healthier and more informed perspective. I admire that you are able to be a contributing participant, but as you said, it isn’t necessarily easy.

    erin,
    I understand. At least you know what you want (or don’t want).

    maria,
    None of it fits together neatly when the people you consider community, the vision in your heart, and the service that nourishes your soul don’t exist together in one building on a Sunday morning.

    charlie,
    I think that a lot of the people who read here have discovered their freedom to not attend church, but others (after leaving for a season) have also discovered a freedom and desire to attend. I’m glad that you are experiencing God’s grace and love in your freedom from religious obligation.

    peggy,
    This might surprise you, but I told my husband the other day that I am healed and I am done with detox. So there.
    And I am ready for everything else to line up neatly. :)

    I’m sure I’m in for a few surprises.

    abmo,
    Too funny! Three sizes too small…

    …but maybe if I lay down and don’t breathe I can make it work.

    sarah,
    I considered not using the image because I didn’t want people to think I was implying anything with the horse manure reference, but it cracked me up every time I read the post. Of course, I probably have a warped sense of humor.

    mark,
    You know, I just don’t want to believe that, but I also can’t see myself joining, but then I think there should be something that I would be willing to join, if not, then maybe the problem is me.

    steve,
    I understand what you are saying, and it seems that it should make sense for me. I also understand what dan is saying, and it seems like that should make sense for me. And I feel caught in this alternate universe where none of it makes sense, and even if I thought I knew the “right answers”, I couldn’t make it happen anyway.

    tom,
    Ask Father to bring to you or take you to people that He wants you to love extravagantly. That’s the church for you.

    I’m pretty sure that attending a service would be easier. :(

    dan,
    I actually agree with you. I don’t know how to be an uncommitted attendee, yet at the same time, I am reluctant to just jump in there and join. What do you do with that?

    Sadly neither my voice nor my legs are eligible for the worship team. ;)

    makeesha,
    I really am so glad that you understand both the desire and lack of ability to fulfill it. At least it makes me feel not completely crazy.

  16. It is difficult isn’t it? Church is quite different than the various pigeon holes we make for it. On the one hand it’s about kingdom expansion and spreading Good News (and I mean these to encompass way more than what many churches mean by the same words). On the other hand it is about corporate worship…a kind of icon of what is occurring in heaven. On the other hand (three hands?) it is relationships and life lived among “family” members. On the even other hand…etc.
    Sadly there are very few (if any) churches that seem to do all these things really well. Does this sorta speak to your dilemma? You want it all (and rightly so).

  17. inheritor,
    You should probably pass on the miniskirt. :)

    Yes, that pretty much sums it up. I know that you have been fortunate in finding a church that encompasses all of this for you. I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t matter.

  18. Grace
    Not too many recovering alcoholics can go back into a bar and have one drink.It’s not ‘church’ or ecclesia (gathering in Greek) that is toxic but the model obstacle rivalries that seem to be the problem which always end up in violent expulsion.Ecclesia is a community of broken people who admit it ,not a fashion show of spirituality with leadership often playing the role of supermodels.To attend such a fashion show is often due to the power of mimesis between spectators and models alike not a devotion to God who is outside desire.That’s my experience,while others may differ.

    Charlie

  19. Good analogy charlie. I agree with you. I am just trying to appreciate and stay open to the positive possibilities. I also agree that “the show” aspect of church is often a sick codependence between the performer and the audience.

  20. loved the metaphor of church shopping and dating after divorce. You could go so many different directions with that and it’s so accurate with the folks at Adullam. Me included.

  21. Grace,

    Yes, manure used to be in my realm of expertise. ;o)

    Occupation, until last fall, was livestock production (1976-2007, B.S. Agri, pre-vet, 1976 UofArk)

    Farming is basically materials handling. I’ve handled a lot of material, a significant portion of that as manure.

    T

  22. Tom;
    Ask Father to bring to you or take you to people that He wants you to love extravagantly. That’s the church for you.

    Grace;
    I’m pretty sure that attending a service would be easier. ;o)

    Tom;
    I’m pretty sure you’re right. ;o)

    T

  23. Sarah – great analogy – first para

    I think squeezing into clothes 3 sizes too small is very much like going back to church-as-we-know-it. At least for me. No offense to anyone, but it is just sooo incredibly boring. And I wonder if the vibrant faith I have developed away from it would be stifled to fit back into it… ?

    that describes how I feel too.

    and having gone up in clothes size [expanded] since I had my kids – I see another anology also.

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