Why Church Still Matters – An Introduction

Institutions are taking a beating right now. People are either leaving them, wishing they could, and in some cases, being kicked out of them. I’m speaking broadly here. People are leaving our political parties; the ranks of the independents are swelling; and no one trusts politicians or our government. People are also losing their religion. Those who claim no religious affiliation make up 23% of the current American population as of one year ago, a number far larger than in previous years. And no one seems to want to work for a large corporation anymore. While perhaps entrepreneurship is struggling, all the cool kids are bucking the corporate lifestyle trying to come up with the next big thing.

The internet amplifies this. At one time, we all read the same basic newspaper, watched the same television shows, and received our filtered news from the same small collection of sources. No longer. We are all journalists now. We have our own individual voice, our own platform to voice our own opinion. We are our own religion, our own political party, our own business – a nation of individuals.

I’m exaggerating here, but I see these trends.

A couple of weeks ago I talked about why people are leaving, specifically Mormonism. I have only attended Sunstone once and then only when it came to me, a few months ago in Mesa, Arizona. They commonly have a session entitled, “Why I Stay”. There they get a panel of faithful Mormons who present a talk on what keeps them engaged in their faith despite and through the challenges they face. I’m not really going to do exactly that here. I stay for the most basic reasons. I simply cannot imagine leaving. And I could, I suppose, describe all the reasons why I think this is so and perhaps I’ll get to that in this discussion.

Instead, I plan on doing something more ambitious here. I want to lay out all the reasons I still believe institutions matter broadly and why religious institutions matter in particular.  I believe it’s to our detriment when we leave them and perhaps more importantly, to society’s detriment as they diminish. Churches need to have a voice in the conversation.

What I want to do, though, is to respect and honor a person’s decision to leave the faith of their parents. I went on my Mormon mission to a deeply religious part of the country, Alabama, trying to convince people to leave their religious heritage for mine. I rejoiced when they did. I know these decisions were not always easy and many of their friends and family members left behind felt abandoned and betrayed.

A faith journey should not be easy. It is often lonely and difficult. It is also a uniquely individual experience. We are all called in our own way. What may look like abandonment to me may actually be someone called by God on a journey I could not understand or undertake on my own. Everyone’s challenges are unique to them. I honor their struggle and wish them well.

Given that, I plan on painting with a broad brush, speaking in generalities, offering broad principles. Individual application may vary.

I’m not a professional writer or theologian or anything that makes me remotely qualified for this, but I’d like to get better. I write because I want to work through stuff. I want to learn and writing is discovery. Most of my current thoughts on this subject are horribly half-baked, more like vague impressions, shooting out of me in a million different directions. I’m not sure where this project will take me or what I might learn or say a long the way. I have no idea how many posts this will take, but I hope that working through them for the next few weeks, will help me flush the ideas out and end up in a more solid place.

I think this topic is important, for me and for my family. I know people are leaving church. I know there are many in the church who are trying to convince them to stay or to return. I know we are constantly encouraging others to join with us. We are a missionary-minded church. I think most people who leave don’t do so easily. Most struggle over weeks and months. It’s not an easy decision nor should it be. The analogy I like to use for church membership is marriage – it’s not a perfect analogy but I think it applies here. Church membership is a commitment made up devotion and love. But sometimes people, through great pain, leave their marriage. Sometimes they leave their religion.

Someone close to me reminded me that someday my own children my choose to leave the church. This is a possibility. I want them to stay. I want them to be committed. Deep down I love this church and have benefited greatly from it. I want my children to have that same commitment and experience. Maybe these set of blog posts will be for them.

For tonight, I ‘ll leave it at this. I love the song by Hozier, “Take Me To Church”. It has a decidedly anti-church message, but the tune is beautiful and the message resonates. I hope to factor the ideas of this song into my argument, both to counter it and to include it.