I go to church because I desperately need Christian community.
In fact, Hebrews 10:25 tells us exactly that:
Do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We’re supposed to meet together so we can encourage each other!
What I’ve been finding lately, though, as my girls have left home and our schedules have gotten crazier with travel, is that church services don’t always give me what I long for. I know I’m going to sound selfish for saying this, and when I wrote the column I’m about to share with you for Faith Today, Canada’s national Christian magazine, it got a lot of flak, specifically from pastors. But I still think it’s largely true. And I hope that I can inspire some discussion about what church should look like in the information age, when the big thing that we’re all really missing and yearning for is connection.
(Full disclaimer: since writing this post I’ve switched churches, and I honestly love the sermons on Sunday morning. But I still wonder if the whole way that we do church services could use an overhaul).
So I’m prepared that you’ll hate what I’m about to say! But I hope I can spark some discussion anyway, because when the church format hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, while culture has, maybe it’s time we started to ask how we can best “encourage one another”, as Hebrews says?
I don’t think God ever intended that His people be bored for two hours every Sunday morning as proof of their dedication to Him.
Now I love church. I love my community; I love the fact that my daughters have other adults who take an interest in them; I love serving. I just don’t always love church services.
After all, what happens on Sunday mornings in most evangelical churches around the continent?
A pastor talks at you for thirty or forty minutes, a worship team sings for twenty minutes, an elder prays for ten minutes, and there you are, sitting in the pew, hearing your mother’s voice telling you to “just sit still and be quiet”. Meanwhile, all the friends that you are dying to talk to are sitting nearby, but you can’t chat because it’s absolutely imperative that you sing one more chorus of Hosanna.
Then church ends and you rush around, trying to catch up with at least fifteen different people, while your husband pulls on your arm saying, “we really need to go,” and your teenager claims she’s starving. And you leave the church without those heart conversations with your community.
The teaching model of services was quite appropriate in the early church and the Middle Ages–and even in some parts of the world today–when the primary need was for solid doctrine. When people hadn’t grown up in faith and didn’t have access to Scripture, they needed to be taught.
But that model has endured even though our needs have evolved. Today our primary need is not teaching; my Bible app has multiple commentaries at the click of a button.
Information is not in short supply; community is.
In our fast-paced, media-driven world, we crave authenticity and connection, two things that our modern church services really don’t deliver.
The early church didn’t have endless church services; they did life together. Communion wasn’t small cups being passed around while sitting on benches; it was people eating a meal. Of course, there were still boring sermons–Paul once droned on so long that he killed poor Eutychus, who nodded off while sitting in a window and fell to his death (Acts 20:9)–though he was later revived. Being bored in church is nothing new.
However, that doesn’t mean we should just accept it. As I’ve gotten older and my professional life has gotten more hectic, for the first time in my forty-odd years I’ve found it a challenge to get motivated to go to church, and that scares me.
When I led a praise team a few years ago, one of the biggest struggles we had was ensuring that those pesky announcements didn’t eat up too much time and deprive us of singing opportunities. I’ve now changed my mind. I think we need more announcements, not fewer. I want to know what’s going on in people’s lives far more than I want to sing another chorus. Two weeks ago a woman in my church spontaneously asked the pastor if she could share about a victory in her life, and she did so. I don’t know her well, but it was so encouraging to all of us to hear her story. Isn’t fellowship part of worship, too?
I’d love to do more rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep on a Sunday morning.
I’d love to pray in small groups in the service for the illnesses and struggles people are facing. I’d love to have the preacher speak for fifteen minutes, introduce a discussion topic, and then talk about it in the pews. I’d love to listen to evangelism tips from some of our members who are so effective. I’d love to hear from some of our young people as they struggle with what they want to do with their lives, so we can pray for them and encourage them. I’d love to read more Scripture as a congregation, pray more as a congregation, and hear more stories about what God is doing in individual lives. I’d love to feel like I had connected.
I don’t need polished. I don’t need professional music, or lovely carpets, or multimedia presentations. I don’t even need an excellent sermon. I need community, and with my ridiculous schedule and my husband’s ridiculous schedule, we can’t get it in a regular small group. So Sunday morning at 10:30 is all I’ve got.
I’m pretty sure almost everyone feels the same way–we’re just afraid to say it because it feels heretical. But I think we need to start talking about how we do church, because we’re not just losing numbers, we’re losing connection. And community was meant to be so much more.