Culture At Large

Is a strict church a strong church?

Andy Rau

This is the most interesting piece I've read in quite a while: are strict churches stronger than undemanding ones? Why are churches that demand so much from their members--regular attendance, adherence to behavioral standards, active community work and involvement--growing in size and influence while "easier" churches are not?

In a culture that values independence and leisure above almost all else, it's strange at first glance to see these "strict" churches growing, given the high social price that must be paid for membership:

Eccentric customs invite ridicule and persecution; membership in a marginal church may limit chances for social and economic advancement; rules of observance bar access to apparently innocent pleasures; the entire undertaking squanders time that could have been spent amusing or improving oneself.

So why would anyone submit to that when there are less-demanding alternatives readily available? Because the social price paid to join a strict church is outweighed by the experience of being part of an active, unified, and committed body of believers:

What does the pious person get in return for all of his or her time and effort? A church full of passionate members; a community of people deeply involved in one another's lives and more willing than most to come to one another's aid; a peer group of knowledgeable souls who speak the same language (or languages), are moved by the same texts, and cherish the same dreams.

In other words, the experience of worship and religion is more powerful when it's done as part of a committed community--so much so that people will gladly submit to "strict rules" to be a part of it.

Interestingly, the article presents this as an economic behavior--we pay a price in individual liberty and in turn receive an increased religious experience. (And it also points out that this can be a bad thing, as in the case of cults, which promise very powerful religious experiences but at too high a price.)

What do you think? How "strict" is your church? Does it fit with this hypothesis, or not?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church