Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why do people go to church?

Why do people go to church? Perhaps, I should do a qualitive research project and ask people why they come to church. What are my hypotheses?

I would guess that most people come to church for the fellowship. Some might say they come for a connection with the transcendent which is what church represents. Some might say that they come for comfort, for inspiration, for validation, for support.

Why do I go? I think I go for the validation of shared values. To be a part of a group with shared vision, mission, beliefs and values.

It is important for a church to have leadership that facilitates the development of organizational structures, values, policies, and practices that meet congregants expectations, and preferences, and maybe helps them grow a little outside their comfort zone.

This kind of leadership requires resources, knowledge, skills, energy, enthusiasm bordering on passion. All the members of the congregation are leaders in some way and yet the professional staff have a special responsibility to be the steward of the vision, the catalyst that brings disparate ideas and efforts together, the orchestra conductor of sorts so that the congregation, the church community, can work together harmoniously in the pursuit of common goals. I don't know how a pastor does this effectively part time without strong lay leadership as well. Some people are good administrators who oversee the efficient functioning of the status quo, and some people are visionaries with energy and committment to the development and actualization of a vibrant and viable future.

For some reason, I do not see a lot of visionary leadership around in the UU world, but maybe I am looking in the wrong places. Where are the UU prophets, the UU missionaries, should I say the UU martyrs? They are a part of our past, our heritage, but I do not see them in our current landscape except in isolated instances.

I keep going to church hoping - hoping that the leadership I can get excited about will emerge. My mother used to tell me when I was a boy, "David, you have no right to criticize unless you can do it better." I have spent most of my 64 years on this planet muttering to myself, "I know I could do it better. I know I could do it better." But alas, there is only so much I can do and so I look to others.


  1. David, I go to my UU church for a variety of reasons, primarily an exchange of ideas. This necessitates discussion and fellowship which I also enjoy. It so happens that at my particular church, we have a discussion group so my metaphysical needs are met weekly. I enjoy this more than the service since it is primarily spectator in content. Secondly, I enjoy the mental stimulation of a good sermon. I dislike the more metaphysical ones that use "UU preacher speak" that tells me a lot about love, pathways, encircling of light etc. these tend to be cliché. The sermons that engage me are more "hands on" or storytelling, primarily applying UU values to the here and now. The ritual, meh.

  2. Dear David:

    Thank you for your comment. When I was going to Corpus Christi and people were transitioning to what is not Spiritus Christi people stated they wanted to be "spiritually nurtured." I have never been clear about what this means to be "spiritually nurtured," but I would guess in means "inspired" in some way. It sounds that perhaps this is what you are referring to when when you describe your experience in the "exchange of ideas" rather than "the ritual."

    As far as "ritual" goes, nothing beats the theater of the liturgical churches such as Catholicism and what makes the theater of the liturgy work so well is primarily the music and the poetry of the prayers of the liturgy which are often learned by heart by frequent attendees/participants.

    Having attended First Universalist this past week, 02/21/16, a woman I had never met before told me that what she likes the most about the service is the music.

    Most of the UU music from the hymnal leaves a lot to be desired especially when it is poorly executed and the congregation is not familiar with it.

    In summary, it seems that what people want from a church service is inspiration to live a fuller, more satsifying life, to be "spiritually nurtured" as my old Catholic friends put it.

    I am glad to read that the exchange of ideas does that for you and that you have found some ways in your church to engage in this.


    David Markham


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