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Hacking Church: How to attend service 52 weeks in a row

Hacking Church: How to attend service 52 weeks in a row

    I think it’s safe to say that many people have the desire to attend church more consistently and improve their spiritual life. On this date last year, I was not a member of a church and I rarely attended any church services. On February 26, 2006 I set a personal goal for myself to attend church for an entire year without missing a single week. This coming Sunday, will make it 52 weeks in a row that I attended church without skipping even once. I will give you tips on how to find a church, and how I to find the motivation to attend every week for an entire year.

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    Keep in mind that your church won’t be perfect
    The first step prior to attending church on a regular basis is to actually choose a church. When I set my goal to attend church for an entire year I was not a member of any church. In fact, I was deep in the “church-shopping” process and did not have a church I attended regularly. Finding a church was the most difficult part of my journey. I visited several (probably over 10 churches) before I came to the realization (thanks in part to the Purpose Driven Life and my girlfriend) that no church is absolutely perfect. What I mean by that is (in my opinion) no church will match your tastes on every facet. I think you could spend years visiting various churches and never be totally satisfied with any of the churches you visit. Gaining satisfaction with your church will take time. Rather, you have to find a church that will satisfy you enough to motivate you to keep coming week after week.

    Get to know the members
    For the past four or five years I’ve attended various churches (I’ve moved a few times) without ever being a member. I would go to church, sit quietly by myself in the back and leave immediately at the end of church. I am in the process of becoming a member of a local church and I have learned an important lesson. You cannot get to know a church without getting to know the members. This lesson took me many months, if not years, to finally figure out.

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    Get involved with the church
    Getting involved with some facet of your church (whether volunteering, ushering, reading, or joining a committee) will increase your accountability for attendance. Besides the benefits to your community (and the spiritual gains you experience) by volunteering at your church, you inherently gain a great deal of accountability in regards to attending weekly. I had the mindset of “how can I serve on so-and-so committee and not go to service on Sunday? How would that look? What would people think of me?” I’m not advocating making a huge time commitment or attending service simply to not look bad in the eyes of your congregation, but offering to fill a position in the church will definitely motivate you to at least make a weekly appearance and keep you motivated to achieve your attendance goal.

    Substitute Saturday night for Friday night
    The number one barrier preventing me from reaching my goal was the desire to sleep in. Previously I posted about how I get up at 5AM Monday through Friday. By Friday night I would be pretty tired, so I would tend to stay in and go out on Saturday night. This social schedule makes getting up for church very difficult on Sunday (especially after a few too many “adult beverages” on Saturday night). This tip is more common sense than anything else, but switching Friday to my big social night allowed me to relax on Saturday night, and in turn, have no problem getting up for church on Sunday morning.

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    Promise someone
    Whether it is yourself or a loved one, promising someone that you will attend church every Sunday will help motivate you. In my weight loss article, I made a comment about the importance of making your diet public. I think this mindset can be applied to attending church as well. Tell someone that you plan to attend every Sunday — this will increase your accountability leaps and bounds. If you would rather keep this information to yourself, write it down and put it somewhere that you will see it every day (fridge door, bathroom mirror, inside your wallet, etc.).

    Go with a friend or loved one
    77% of church-goers that attend service with a friend report happiness in their spiritual life. Try bringing a friend, a family member, or a significant other to church with you. Besides making the experience more enjoyable and meaningful, having confirmed plans to attend church with someone else will increase your accountability.

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    Rationalize the time

      I gained some motivation to attend church by comparing the amount of time the church-going process takes to the length of the entire week. My church service (including travel time) is only 1.5 hours total and that is only .89% of the week (168 hours/week). I also rationalize the length of the church service as half of a movie, three sitcoms, less than two episodes of Prison Break, etc. whatever works for you.

      Conclusion
      At first, I was motivated by making my attendance “mandatory” and comparing the amount of time I was spending at church to other “lazy” activities I enjoyed. I was able to balance making myself accountable and not feeling pressured to attend. As time progressed and I got more comfortable attending church, the motivation to attend became inherent. I started noticing major improvements in my spiritual life. By attending church every week for 52 weeks, I was able to meet many people, strengthen my faith, improve my personality, become more involved in my community, and most importantly strengthen my relationship with God. If you think that 52 weeks seems daunting, try setting smaller goals for yourself like attending 3 out of 4 weeks per month for six months. How do you find the motivation to get to church week-in and week-out? Have any of you set similar goals? How did you fare?

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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