Friday, October 15, 2010


I’ve been giving some thought to worship services. In particular, I’ve been giving though to some of the stuff people do to “improve” the worship service. Over the past few decades, churches have been changing stuff up by incorporating contemporary music into their services and shortening the sermon. They’ve replaced the pulpit with a high stool and the pastor no longer wears a tie. They’ve removed the hymnal and gone to big screens. You know what I’m talking about.

Here’s the interesting thing: I’m not so sure these improvements are improvements at all. Take contemporary music, for example. I like some of the contemporary music and think it should be used, but in every church I’ve visited that had gone totally to contemporary music I’ve heard someone (usually a church member) complaining because the music is too loud. I can’t really say much about the tie. I think most of these guys would look better if they’d wear a coat and tie, but as long as they peach the word, I don’t suppose it makes much difference. As for the stool, I suppose it’s okay, since they want to appear on the same level as the people there. I’ve often taught classes while seated. But the real reason for the pulpit is to give the guy a place to put his Bible and notes. Without it, he’s either fumbling with his notes, using a teleprompter or he isn’t going to have much to say.

The thing that really gets me is this idea that people don’t want to hear a long sermon. I don’t know where that idea came from, but I don’t think it’s true. There are limits to how long people can sit and listen, but the fact is that people enjoy listening to speeches. Somehow we’ve forgotten that, thinking we need to find a way to entertain people to get them in church, but the “entertainment” people prefer is to listen to a speech. Yes, I know that more people will show up for a concert than for a sermon, but if you had a concert every Sunday they would stop showing up. People will go to a political meeting to here a candidate speak. People will turn on the television to hear the State of the Union Address. People will go to meeting where they listen to one lecturer after another. And the thing that seals it for me is that I enjoy listening to speeches. You might decide I’m weird, but I know too many other people who enjoy listening to a well presented sermon to think that.

So we’re here trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. We ask why people aren’t in church and decide that they don’t want to listen to a speech. Who would want to do that? Pretty much everyone, actually. But the thing is that if we ask people why they don’t attend church they may say something about the sermon. And they might say they would attend if the music was better. That doesn’t mean, however, that what they say is correct. People don’t usually say they enjoy listening to speeches and yet they choose to sit through them all the time. What I think is that we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by assuming that people have short attention spans.

We can’t just assume any ol’ speech will do. People won’t show up if all they get is a boring speech, but if we can give them a good speech, we’re more likely to hold people than if we try entertaining them with other things.