Participation in Sunday sports is often cited as an important aspect of the “secularization of Sunday,” one reason that church attendance has declined in recent years. For many, Sunday is no longer so much about church but about soccer, baseball, football, basketball, etc. Spending such time on fitness is thought by many to be a legitimate Sunday morning activity, apparently because of the prevailing belief that sports are good for you.
But for those who are looking for some concrete reason why attending church might be worthwhile, recent studies have proved that church is also good for you in the kind of measurable, tangible ways that are often the focus of such studies. A recent opinion column in The New York Times by Stanford University anthropology professor T.M. Luhrmann brought this point home in an article focused on one such study: “One of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years is that going to church weekly is good for you.”
The study finds that attending and participating in religious services on a regular basis will promote healthy behaviors such as avoiding substance abuse and adding to your circle of friends. It might even extend your life.
One would think that such news would cause a fitness-obsessed generation to stream back into the pews for a sense of well-being they have been missing. But evidently that hasn’t happened yet.
Maybe that’s due to the fact that the full benefits of church cannot be articulated in the results of such studies and some people may have lost track of what those benefits are. That may be because it’s difficult to quantify all that’s available at church. The nature of church is such that its full benefits transcend easy categorization and measurement in an academic study.
From a Christian Science perspective, here is a brief, informal attempt at listing of some of what might be in the “benefits package” awaiting those who are thinking of finding their way back to church. Perhaps if one is attempting to choose on a Sunday morning between kicking a soccer ball down the field or heading to church, it might help to consider the following:
1. The peace that acquaintance with God brings. “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace” (Job 22:21). Gaining a deep and lasting peace might make showing up at church worth the effort. Many people have found that it can be difficult to find peace without becoming acquainted with God.
2. Gaining ethical knowledge that’s practical. By getting to know the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes as well as other ethical instructions in the Bible, you might find yourself protected from all kinds of moral complications in life such as strife in your marriage, financial mix-ups, and unnecessary arguments with your neighbors. Loving your neighbor as yourself might turn out to be one of the best home-improvement projects you ever undertake.
3. The message that God loves you. The effect of hearing this part of the Christian message has been linked to greater well-being. You might want to show up to hear it just because you know it will do you good.
4. Knowledge of Christ Jesus. Turning up to hear about Jesus’ words and mission, his healings, his other proofs of divine power, and his resurrection might inspire consideration of a new approach to life. Learning more about Jesus might help your own spiritual growth and lead to what Jesus talked about when he said: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
5. The message of eternal life and how to work out your own salvation. The effect on one’s well-being of becoming acquainted with the spiritual fact that life is eternal might be one of the most important experiences of your life and certainly among the most long-lasting. You might realize that working out your salvation is the most meaningful endeavor available to humanity.
Sure, it’s possible to become spiritually inspired on a soccer field or basketball court. But it’s a little difficult to weigh what church offers in the same scale with any other human activity. Nor is there probably any other place where the above benefits would be available in such pure and user-friendly form. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, valued the concept of church, defining it, in part, as “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 583). When we participate in church, we experience what it means to be a part of that structure; we exemplify it and include it. And our presence and grateful participation in church blesses others who attend as well.
Although this list of reasons to attend church isn’t comprehensive, it might indicate the value of choosing church over sports on Sunday morning. After all, the First Commandment states that it’s important to put God first. The goal is more significant than kicking a ball into a net. It’s about the real goal of recognizing and participating in the kingdom of heaven itself.