This summer, when I began attending Weight Watchers, I said to my friend, “This must be how someone feels when they go to church for the first time!” Now I’ve gone to church for as long as I can remember, so I’ve never felt even slightly uncomfortable about walking into church (which I realize is not the case for everyone). But Weight Watchers was a new experience for me.
As I’ve gradually become a regular attender, I’ve gained some new perspectives on what I think God might have had in mind when He designed church to be a support system for us, as believers. In the process of becoming overcomers, we need each other!
The parallels are limited, of course. Obviously the mission of the Church—which is to preach the gospel and make disciples—is infinitely superior to the mission of shedding excess pounds. But still, considering the similarities has been helpful to me.
7 Things I’ve Learned
So here are seven things that Weight Watchers has shown me about church:
1. By showing up, I admit there’s a problem.
By joining Weight Watchers, I was admitting I needed to lose some weight. I wouldn’t have joined otherwise! By walking through that door, I was saying, “I admit I have issues with food. I have a problem, and I need help.”
And though we don’t always think of it this way (especially if church is part of our routine), going to church is a way of admitting a problem, too. By walking through that door, we’re saying, “I admit I have issues with sin. I have a problem, and I need help.”
At least that’s the way it should be.
If we show up at church to prove that we’re “good people” who don’t have issues with sin, we’re sadly deceived. Church is the place where people who recognize their problem with sin and their need for a Savior congregate. Now, showing up at a meeting doesn’t automatically solve our sin problem. But admitting the problem is always a good place to start.
2. Therefore, showing up requires humility.
Even though my weight gain was obvious by the way my clothes were fitting, it was still really humbling for me to join. To become a Weight Watchers member was to say, “I have some weight to lose, and I’m not doing so hot on my own.” There was something humbling about following a new eating plan and admitting my need for support.
It’s the same with church. There’s something really humbling about saying, “I want to follow Jesus instead of caving in to sin, and I don’t do so hot when I’m on my own.” By gathering with other Christians on a regular basis, we’re humbly admitting that we need them. And conversely, when we stay away from church, we’re also saying that we don’t need other Christians—which is probably evidence that we lack humility.
3. Insecurity can keep you away.
My friend Jackie joined Weight Watchers before I did. So when I decided to join, I naturally reached out to her with my questions and concerns. I said, “Jackie, they don’t weigh you in front of other people, do they?” She assured me that no, it was private. (What a relief!)
Then I asked her about where I should go when I walked in the door, and she said, “You want me to meet you in the parking lot and walk you in?” What a sweet friend. I’m not usually insecure about trying new things, but this was intimidating!
Going to church can be that way, too—especially for someone who has never gone before or has been away for a long time. They wonder, Will they make me confess my sin to someone? Will I have to recite verses or pray out loud? Those of us who have been around for a while need to be sensitive of the insecurities newcomers might feel. How can we be that assuring friend who answers questions and offers to walk someone in?
4. Denial can keep you away, too.
The day before my first Weight Watchers meeting, I dusted off my scale, took a deep breath, and stepped on. Then I immediately dissolved into a puddle of tears. It had been a long time since I stepped on the scale, and the number I saw brought sharp confrontation.
Going to church can be the same way. Without regular reminders, we get comfortable with our sin. We justify it and avoid the truth. But then, when we finally open our Bible or sit under the preaching of the Word of God, we open ourselves to sharp confrontation.
This is not comfortable. Living in prolonged denial is far, far easier. And many people—even churchgoing people—choose denial over being confronted with painful truth. Why then do some of us “step on the scale” and allow ourselves to be weighed by the truth of Scripture? We do so because we long for change, and we know that denial does not produce change. Truth does.
5. Weekly reminders are so helpful.
I joined Weight Watchers because I knew I needed to shed some pounds, but boy is it easy to wander back to my old eating habits! Spending an hour each week in my meeting, focusing on strategies for overcoming cravings and reminding myself of the truth about things like eating vegetables, exercising, and drinking water is so very helpful. It’s like a weekly reorientation.
It’s the same with church. We are in a spiritual battle, and we need strategies for overcoming cravings and old habits that lead to sin. Even if we have large portions of the Bible memorized, we still need to refresh ourselves with the truth about things like surrender, purity, and compassion. By meeting together with other believers and discussing what is true and right, we reorient ourselves and prepare ourselves for battle against the temptation that is sure to come.
6. Belonging is nice, but the goal is still change.
From day one, I received such a nice welcome at Weight Watchers. Someone greeted me when I walked in the door, and everyone put me at ease. I was among friends. Nobody was judging me because of my extra pounds.
Yet it was understood that I was not there just because I was looking for a place to belong. I was there because I wanted to change. This is how the church should be, too—though admittedly we sometimes struggle with this concept.
I saw a church that had a sign over the entrance that said, “Sinners welcome here!” What a refreshing reminder that church is not a place for people without sin. When people visit our churches, we want them to feel welcome and accepted, not judged and shunned because of their sin.
But though we accept people as they are, we don’t want them to stay the way they are! Our goal should be to help each other shed the burden of sin, not help each other get more comfortable living under that burden.
7. The transformation takes place between the meetings, not at them.
It didn’t take me long to realize that going to my Weight Watchers meetings won’t transform me. It’s the choices I make between the meetings—tracking my food, saying “no” to desserts, and eating more veggies—that makes the difference.
It’s the same with church. Attending a weekly church meeting won’t be transformative if we don’t allow truth to influence the rest of our week. In the parable of the sower, Jesus compared the truth to seed that a farmer scatters. Growth only happens when the seeds of truth sink into the good soil of an open, receptive heart. As we receive truth in our weekly church meeting and let it inform our behaviors and choices during the weeks between, God is the One who multiplies this truth in our lives and makes us grow.
Room for Growth
I’m still a newcomer at Weight Watchers, with a lot of room for growth and transformation. And though I’ve attended church my whole life, I still desperately need to grow and be transformed spiritually as well. We all do.
So no matter how long you’ve been at church, remember that attending is a way to admit your need. After you receive Jesus as your Savior from sin, you still need the support of others to fight your battle against sin. You need to be transformed continually and to have your faith refreshed repeatedly. Gathering with brothers and sisters to receive truth each week is God’s way of accomplishing all of this in you!
The Church was God’s idea. He designed us to need each other and to grow as groups, not individuals. We mustn’t let insecurity, denial, or pride keep us away. We must enter our weekly church meetings saying, “I have an issue with sin. I want to follow Jesus. And I need you all to help me do that.”
Do you attend a weekly church service? If not, could pride, insecurity, self-reliance or denial be holding you back? What shortcomings do you need to admit to yourself? What pride do you need to lay aside to get the spiritual support you need? What plans will you take this week to connect with other believers?