So I’m one of those people who affiliates herself with a denomination (Unitarian Universalist or UU), but doesn’t attend church and isn’t a member of a church. I realize that in the larger picture, this is undesirable and “bad,” but, after a few years of guilt, I’ve ceased caring.
Before reading my reasons for not attending church, you may wish to read what others have written regarding recent Pew research that only 24% of those who identify as Unitarian Universalist (UU) in a survey are actual members of congregations at Philocrites, Transient and Permanent, The Journey, Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, Boy in the Bands, and The Chalice Blog. This will help you read what I’ve written within a larger discussion of affiliated but unchurched people.
And please note that I attended UU Sunday school and five different UU churches regularly from age 5 to 27, went to seminary, have been an employee of both a UU church and a Catholic school with required Mass, so it’s not like I haven’t thought about church, theology, religion, and spirituality. For the record, I’ve also written about when church worked for me here and here and here.
Here’s my list of why I don’t go to church any more:
1. I don’t actually think church is important for me right now It certainly has been very important in the past. It might become important in the future. And it’s certainly important to others. I’m not denying any of that. But considering I’ve regularly attended UU churches all around the country, I think I have a sense of what church is about for UUs, and church isn’t for me right now. However, I don’t think that means I’m less of a UU or less spiritual or religious.
2. The time of day sucks I go to the Sunday Farmer’s Market, and it closes by 11:30. I like the place a lot; I like vegetables and fruit; I like wandering around. I always run into someone I know and have a chat. It makes me feel really good, and I’m not willing to trade that for church right now. And my Sunday mornings aren’t limited to the market. This Sunday, my friend Beth is coming over for brunch. Next Sunday, I’m having brunch out with other friends. For people with standard working hours (many of my friends), Sunday morning is one of the rare times to socialize.
3. My needs don’t seem to matter much in church This is a biggie. When I was single, I felt woefully out of place in the UU churches I attended so much so that I volunteered to work in the RE programs where people (and by “people” I mean the kids) were closer to me in age. I rather liked those experiences, but it certainly didn’t make me want to hang out with the adults in the rest of the church. More recently, I’ve found that the UU churches I’ve attended have seemed populated entirely with parents of young children and retirees, and served their needs pretty well with programming (at least to an outside observer), but left me with the sense that I would be more highly valued in the church if I reproduced (or retired). Along those lines, I’m never particularly interested in the additional programming at church. Social action often seems low to absent, and family game night and folk dancing seem everywhere. That’s just not what motivates me to join the club.
4. Petty Dysfunctional Shit As someone who has experience with petty dysfunctional shit (often on a daily basis!), I seem to be able to identify it fairly quickly, and, unfortunately, one place it thrives is in churches. I have no need to deal with an additional time-suck on my energy during my down time. Plenty of churches have let The Crazies take over.
All of these seem like selfish reasons, but I since not attending church my soul and life seem to be thriving. And it took a long time in order for me to learn how to take care of me, so I’m going to keep doing it regardless of perceived selfishness.
Let’s say you read what I wrote above, and still had some interest in me attending your church despite what seems like abject grumpiness (perhaps it’s just honesty?) on my part. In that case, I’d suggest the following:
1. Don’t make church the end-all-be-all-of-ministry and of religious and spiritual experience, because it’s not. It’s a part, and not the whole. And there is a growing number of unchurched folks out there getting their needs met elsewhere. As people with liberal religion, and a growing number of unchurched folks, I think listening to why and how they ended up unchurched is a good first step.
2. Offer an alternative service time and alternative ministry to Sunday mornings.
3. Spend considerable time understanding how to minister to single people, people who don’t have kids, and people who don’t fit into the mainstream of the congregation. Ask them what they want. I’m guessing it’s not folk dancing and family game night.
4. Stand up to The Crazies. And every church has them.
I don’t feel particularly good about this post or proud about it, but I thought it was important to state the legitimate reasons that I don’t attend church regularly in light of the larger discussion on the people who affiliate as Unitarian Universalist, but don’t attend church.