I'm constantly confused when I hear people's church stories. Some people have gone to church their whole life and never questioned it. Others were taken as children and hated it so much that when they went to college, gave it up completely. There are even people who sit in the pews week in and week out and would tell you that they don't believe in God anymore, but don't know how not to go to church. I wish the Barna Group could conduct a study to figure out what makes the difference. Unfortunately God made people with different personalities and experiences and I don't think we could pin it down to any one thing.
I'm not sure when it all started, but somewhere along my childhood-teenage path I started viewing church differently. Church wasn't only about eating Cheerios and drawing on children's bulletins while the pastor rambled on at the front. Church wasn't just the place my brothers and I got in trouble for talking and had to suffer Dad's knee squeezes and stare-downs. There was even more to it than that.
I'm convinced that my first impressions of church were a result of my parent's decision to join a "Share Group." The Share Group had Bible studies and social events and even played in a volleyball league. The best part was that they brought the kids along. We got to go on camping trips in the beautiful Colorado mountains and eat good food together and make lots of friends.
Since we attended a large church, having a Share Group meant that we belonged. Here was a group of people that not only believed in the same God but would talk about it in everyday language as if it really mattered. It was worth getting together for it and discussing it. It wasn't just a lazy tradition. It wasn't just words on a page or a liturgy or sermon or hymn or praise song. It was THE thing of life. By joining a Share Group my parents helped teach me that people form the outer walls of our faith, protecting it and keeping watch over it, no matter how dark and scary and turbulent it gets at night.
I remember feeling so secure during that phase of our life.
Sometimes I worry that the buzz phrase "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" has tainted our view of our church body. Of course we do need to know Jesus personally, but that's not where it ends. Our faith is not meant to be hoarded, but to be an extension of Him.
Maybe finding the balance is what makes the difference?