Why a Non-Believer May Want a Church
If you are not sure there is a God or what you think about God, read on. This column is for you. This is a religion column for folks who are agnostic (not sure if we can know God or what we can know about God) to outright atheist (someone convinced that there is no God).
I would like to offer a few reasons why skeptics and outright non-believers may want to find a church. This may upset folks who are already Christians, so you can feel free to drop out reading about now.
The truth is that there are people in every church in town who are in the same situation. They are not sure if or what they believe or they are quite sure that they do not believe in God. They might find themselves in church each week to keep peace in the family or to present a front as a Christian, which doesn’t always hurt in business when you live in the Bible Belt.
Doesn’t that make them a hypocrite? Perhaps, but not if they don’t claim to be a regular Charlie Church. And besides, most of us are hypocrites when we take a closer look. Very few humans actually practice what we believe 24/7. We all mouth off at times when we wish we would have just kept quiet, or remained silent when we wish we would have spoken up for our beliefs. As long as participating in church does not make you do something that your core values say are wrong, there is probably not a conflict.
Besides, there are two occasions when the families of agnostics go looking for a church (preferably with a wide center aisle) anyway—weddings and funerals. These are two public occasions where a church can be the preferred setting. But what about the 52 Sundays a year when no one you know is getting married or buried.
First, churches provide a community. This is great for families and perhaps even more important for singles. Church can be like the TV show Cheers, the place where everyone knows your name. Getting that connected to a church will take a bit of effort on your part, but there is a pay off. At it’s best church can provide a community of support when things go bad and a place to share your joy when things go well. This is true for skeptics as well as believers.
Second, churches can provide human touch. You can avoid contact in most churches if you want. But if you find yourself in need of just a simple touch, there is no place easier find a pat on the back or a hug than in church. Not threatening, even loving human contact with no expectations. Pretty cool and maybe downright essential. Though as I say, you can always pass if that’s not what you need.
Third, for parents, a church will help provide a moral framework for your children. Even though you don’t believe in God, you might find it important that someone talks about how we shouldn’t kill, steal, or harm others. Learning to do unto others as you would have them do unto you is good for all children and churches will help you with this. A church community is also one of the best introductions to a large multi-generational group kids experience. It’s nice for them to find older kids and adults who care for them who are not even family.
Fourth and finally, church can provide a time and space for you to think about things beyond the daily routine. Church should challenge you to consider what you think about the meaning and purpose of life. For non-believers even if church does not challenge you to believe in God, it can provide a context for thinking through how you find meaning and purpose in your life. You get a chance to clarify your own beliefs even if it comes through deciding that you do not agree with the beliefs of the church your are attending. Where else will you have an opportunity to think through moral questions and decide where you stand?
Of course, the church is pleased to have non-believers listening in on the sermon. How else will they find new believers? That may be true and also beside the point. I’m a pastor too, I know churches love to see knew folks come to faith. Yet, I don’t want to trick folks in to church and then beat them over the head with the Gospel. This column is not to lay some snare, to trick you into the pews. Instead, I want to challenge non-believers to consider that there may be good reasons why church can fit into your life.
An hour or so of your time on Sunday may seem like a big price to pay on a rare morning off. Yet it will not be without its payoff, and I’m not even writing of eternal rewards. A sense of community, a caring touch, a moral framework for children, and the challenge to reconsider what you believe about things that matter to you—all of these are reasons why church shopping might make sense for you, even if you consider yourself a confirmed skeptic.
(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Church in Kingsland, Georgia.)
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526