Why go to church? What’s the purpose of participating in a worship service? For many, the answer might be, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” For others, the answer could be, “Well, that’s what we’ve always done on Sundays.” Still, others might answer, “To glorify God.”
While some of these answers have kept some people participating in and attending worship, decades of dwindling church attendance show that these are not sustainable reasons to participate in a church worship service regularly. So let’s look at three good reasons from Scripture.
The first reason is to meet with the creator of all things in a sure and knowable way. How can we be sure God is there? He promises to be.
He promises to be there most assuredly in his Word and sacraments. That Word that is synonymous with his presence is his name. We worship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because, as Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20).
This brings us to the second reason and an important distinction. Paul writes in Galatians 3:14, “that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
The second reason to participate in a worship service is to receive the Holy Spirit and the faith we need to believe in God. By that faith, we receive the forgiveness of our sin through his Word and sacraments.
The important distinction to be made is how we “participate” in the worship service. We are not the primary actors in a worship service. God is. We are recipients of God’s mercy and grace. He always makes the first move. He calls us to worship in his presence and gives us what we need: faith to believe him and the words to say back to him in petition and praise.
While we meet with the creator of all things to offer praise and thanksgiving and to pray for others, we don’t do those things to bring God down or to serve him in some way. The worship service is less like servants entering the throne room to wait on the king’s needs and more like a father joining his family around the dining room table. He comes to us to be with us, to serve us by giving us his gifts in Word and sacrament.
This brings us to our third reason. Because we are primarily passive receivers, any of our active participation, our response to God first loving us, is for our neighbors. God does not need our praise to validate himself.
Rather, as we sing the hymns, speak the words of the liturgy, and receive the sacraments, we are doing what Paul urges the Colossians to do: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).
By participating in worship, we teach and encourage our neighbors, who teach and encourage us. We proclaim the truth of the Gospel to one another. We stand alongside each other as confessors of the Christian faith. Together we receive forgiveness as fellow sinners dining with the author and perfecter of our faith at the communion table.