So I just came across an article with the headline: Church Services Need to be Shorter, Says Bishop. The basic gist of the article is just that. Churches are losing people because of their length. People could be doing other things Sunday mornings and attention spans today are just too short.
Which is actually kind of sad.
Don’t get me wrong, half the time I’m more ADD than anyone. But I actually don’t have a problem with lengthy services when there is authentic worship and a well written, well thought out message.
I think of Bethel, one of my favorite churches in Redding, California. Now I haven’t actually been to this church in person, but I do have a subscription to their messages, worship and more via the internet. If I turn on a video of their worship time, I might finish an hour later (if not more). If I turn on a video of the message, I might finish an hour later (if not more).
And yet, despite how ADD I can be, I am typically fine for that hour (if not more).
I don’t care that the worship is long when it’s authentic! I mean, people are passionately pursuing God! They’re actually beckoning the Spirit to meet with them that day while other churches cross their arms and stare at the stage waiting for the music to be over with.
Don’t think that happens?
There was a church that I led worship at in which one person used to do that very thing. They would stand close to the front of room with arms crossed and stare blindly at the stage. And many times after the service they would approach me:
“Music sounded good today.”
I’d smile and say thanks, but on the inside my heart was lashing out. I wanted to scream. “I don’t care if any of you like the music! I mean sure, I want to make sure the worship sounds it’s best, but if you guys aren’t going to press into God I seriously could care less what you think of the music! It’s worship! Not some feel good concert!”
But welcome to the internet age. We can find whatever we want in the 5 seconds of a google search with little or no effort. “Surely God is the same,” we think. “If we give him 2 to 5 songs a service and blindly sing the lyrics on the screen, then He’ll show up. Then we’ll experience Him.”
And then we leave church every Sunday wondering why we’re never changing spiritually. We leave asking the question as to why God is more tangible in that Pentecostal/Charismatic church down the street who’s service goes on for 2-3 hours.
“It doesn’t matter how much time is given to it.” you might say. “All worship is worship unto God.”
Sure, all worship is worship. But that doesn’t mean that all worship is equal. Why did Cain kill Abel? Because he was jealous that God desired Able’s worship more than He did his own.
Many of our churches are so content with bringing the offering of Cain week by week rather than bringing the offering of Abel. We’re content with bringing something before the Lord that looks like worship, even though God really has no regard for it.
And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but or Cain and for his offering He had no regard. (Genesis 4:4-5)
I once heard a message about worship from one of my favorite preachers. Now I’m typically amazed by what he has to say, but I was actually upset with this particular message. He emphasized this idea that worship was supposed to connect us to the story of the Bible and to the body of Christ. We sing the songs together as a larger body. It became less about giving something of ourselves and more about community.
Now sure, the community aspect does exist in worship, but the point is to press into the Trinity. To offer something pleasing and beautiful—something that God has regard for. A congregation of people singing words on a screen is far from that. But when those words are become the authentic cries of a searching generation, then it crosses over into a worship realm. I also believe that it’s worship when you bring a sacrifice of praise. That is to say that you really try to worship even though it doesn’t feel like you can or your heart just doesn’t feel like it’s in the right place in that moment (more thoughts on that here).
Now worship services that are long because the of the message are a bit harder to address. This is because preachers differ in their styles and abilities.
Type A Preaching:
There are some preachers who speak for so long and don’t actually say anything. There are some preachers who never say anything new. There are some preachers who say the same exact thing every single week. There are some preachers who state the obvious and you never get the depth of the Bible. There are some evangelistic preachers who explain how the cross works every single week incase you’ve forgotten after twenty years. There are some preachers who don’t use the Bible in their messages. There are some preachers who make their sermon up on the spot. I’ve seen them all.
Type B Preaching:
But then I’ve also heard long winded messages in which I’ve held onto every last word. I’ve taken classes in which I was upset if I had to miss a session. I’ve even audited a class that I loved so much that I hardly missed a day even though my attendance wasn’t required. This preaching is deep, thoughtful and covers a wide spectrum of topics.
Sometimes it’s torture when you have to sit through Type A messages, but Type B messages keep you wanting to come back to church every single week for more. You want to go so that the wonders of the Bible can be made real to you.
Today, more than ever, time is a sacrifice. Well actually, with the use of technology we get so much done in so little time that many times we have more free time because of it. I guess what I mean is that time is a sacrifice in today’s day and age, because we are so bad at giving it to a God who doesn’t work in instant gratification, but to a God who works in the trials of a 40 day fast in the desert.
Yet we complain about church services being too long: Because we could be eating lunch. Because we could be out shopping. Because we could be sleeping. Because we could be watching the sports game.
There’s so much to do! How can we give one to three hours of our entire week to a church service!
Sure, some services are too long because of the things included in them: An overbearing amount of tradition. Too much time given to the announcements or offering. And so on and so forth.
But when it comes down to it, we really need to learn to press in and worship God—not start the latest “Jesus Express” denominational franchise.