(*Note: in lieu of a new set of poetry stanzas today, I'm posting another of the devotional columns I wrote for my hometown newspaper, this one coming just before Easter earlier this year)
It’s Easter this Sunday (*see note above)—the day when Christians celebrate the most momentous event in all of history, when Jesus Christ, who had borne the weight of the world’s sin in his death on the cross, rose triumphantly to life again. It’s also traditionally a day when many people who had not been regular churchgoers would make an attempt to come back to church. I’d like to encourage you to consider making just such a resolution, and not only for one day, but as a lasting habit. This isn’t just self-serving (though obviously, as a pastor, I want people to come to church!)—it turns out that there are very good reasons for going to church regularly, regardless of the level of your beliefs.For those who might be skeptical about organized religion or have just gotten into a rut of doing life without church—maybe you grew up in church but drifted away, for instance—you should know that there’s significant research that shows that going to church is probably the absolute best change you can make to improve your life. In study after study, regular churchgoers are shown to be significantly happier in their relationships, report more satisfaction in their sex lives, have vastly lower rates of depression, suicide, and substance abuse, report a greater sense of meaningfulness, and enjoy participating in service and civic engagement more than any other segment of the population. Churchgoers were the only demographic group in America whose mental health did not show significant diminishment over the course of the pandemic. Recent studies from Duke University have even shown that on days when church services are cancelled (for bad weather, for instance), the social wellbeing metrics for the entire area go down at an alarming rate, including the metrics for non-churchgoers. It’s not quite clear what this data means, but it appears to show, in a surprisingly clear way, that church services are doing something that has a markedly positive effect on everyone in society.
Of course, improved wellbeing isn’t the whole story, but the data is clear enough that it should be eye-opening even to skeptics. The reason why the numbers hold true is that something very real is happening in church: people are being changed by the living presence of Jesus Christ. You can find the hope you seek. You can belong to a family centered upon the illimitable, unfathomable love of God. It’s open and available for all.
Further, there are good reasons for coming to church beyond just the good it will do you: most importantly, because the message we proclaim happens to be true. We live in an age where the tide of intellectual skepticism against faith is beginning to turn, even in the highest levels of academia. Recent discoveries in physics and cosmology (and increasingly in philosophy) point toward the existence of God and the conclusion that we live in a designed universe. (Two recent books are good starting-points for getting a grasp on this developing evidence: The Return of the God Hypothesis, by science philosopher Stephen Meyer, and Is Atheism Dead? by Eric Metaxas).
All that to say, even if you’re a skeptic, there are really good reasons for coming to church this Easter. If you’re a Christian who has fallen into a rut of not attending, the reasons for returning to church regularly are even more compelling. Christianity is not a system of faith that you were ever meant to practice on your own. You are part of the communal Body of Christ (that is, the church), and the Bible is clear that we absolutely need each other. You are a branch connected to the vine of Jesus himself, commanded to abide in him (John 15), but you simply can’t do that if you are unconnected to his Body. You’re choosing a life of self-impoverishment by not connecting to church. The Sunday worship service is a crucial avenue by which we grow in the grace of God. There is no replacement for it. So starting this Sunday, take up the challenge to see for yourself. Come and see. Come and be transformed.