Why Worship Services Are So Boring

Why Worship Services Are So Boring November 16, 2018

WHY WORSHIP SERVICES ARE BORING, by Mike Glenn

People who know me know I love college football and I love one college football team more than any other. Growing up in Alabama during the time of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, I have been a serious fan of the Crimson Tide since childhood. Friends know not to call me if the Crimson Tide is on TV because I won’t answer the phone. Friends who are watching the game with me know to give me plenty of space because great plays will make me jump to my feet and pump my arms violently in the air. Yes, furniture has been broken and friends inadvertently pushed over in my enthusiasm.

Bad plays by the Tide get the opposite, but as intense, of a response. I may throw something at the television. I may stomp off to another room in disgust. And if we lose, well, I’m going to need a few days to recover. I know, I’m a grown man. I shouldn’t act this way. I guess that’s true, but I would respond to you by saying you don’t understand. You just don’t know what’s at stake.

I’m perfectly normal when I watch other teams play. If Notre Dame is playing USC, I’ll loving watching the game. I’ll enjoy it and I won’t get upset one time. I can watch Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan and the rest of college football and remain perfectly calm.

Why? Simple. There’s nothing at stake for me.

I thought about this as I left our Sunday services this past weekend. We had a perfectly good worship service. The choir and orchestra were great. The worship band in our other services was good as well. I hit all the points in my sermon and was funny in the process. I received the usual feedback. “Nice sermon.” “Good job.”

And I received the usual criticisms, “The service was too long.” “the music was too loud.” “I didn’t get anything out of the service today.”

Honestly, one Sunday, I fully expect the back row to hold up numbered cards giving the service a rating like an Olympic event. Throw out the high and low scores and take the average of the rest.

Here’s your score. Try to do better next week.

For some reason, people sitting in the sanctuary don’t think you can see them from the pulpit, but I can. I see them yawn. I see them stretch and blink their eyes when they stand up to sing. I see them check their watch when I’m halfway through my sermon.

They’re bored. I know that.

Here’s what else I know – It’s not my fault.

And why isn’t it my fault? Aren’t I the one who’s in charge of worship?

No, I’m not.

Theologically speaking, the Holy Spirit is in charge of worship. The Spirit draws us into worship. The Spirit calls out our worship and makes known the revelation of God in Christ to which we respond in worship.

Practically speaking, each of us is responsible for our own worship. We are responsible for getting our hearts and minds focused for true worship. We’re responsible to bring an acceptable offering, to be ready to confess our sins and respond in worship to the moment when God reveals Himself.

We should bring testimonies to be shared and burdens to be laid down. Worship should matter. Worship should be something we can’t wait to get to because when we come away, our lives will be different. Worship should matter. And here’s the real issue for most of us. For most people, there’s nothing at stake during a worship service.

Sunday is nothing more than the day before Monday. No, you don’t have to worship on Sunday. Yes, you can worship anytime, anywhere.

But when worship matters, when something is at stake, you have to be with God’s people. There are moments so big you can’t praise God loudly enough all by yourself. You’ll find yourself almost willing to stand up in the congregation and shout, “Sing with me! See what the Lord has done!”

Sometimes, the burden is so great, you need your brothers and sisters to sing for you. You hurt so deeply, other people have to cry for you. There are times when life hits you so hard, you can’t even believe by yourself. You’ll need the congregation to believe for you.

Worship leaders can bring you songs to express your worship.

The liturgy can bring you a form to guide your worship.

But we can’t bring you worship.

Worship is a response to an encounter with the Living God. Anything else and you’re just going through the motions.

So, the next time you’re walking out of church thinking how boring the service was, just remember, it may be your own fault.

 


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  • DMH

    Yes, we are each responsible for our own worship. But…

    Is it possible that, to a significant degree, we are just reaping what we have sown? We in the typical evangelical church have sown the seeds of theatre and professionalism for a long time. Our worship services are physically arranged like a theater and the people on stage are there to deliver. It is a show, and as such lends itself to a spectaors critique rather than participation. This kind of arrangement does not encourage participation, connectedness, belonging, or relationship. Physical context/arrangement speaks louder and deeper than words, informing us of the place we have in the meeting and therefore how we are to act and think. As it is, the context does not steer us in the direction of “mattering”.

    The physical arrangement of things does not determine everything, we are each responsible for our worship, but I think many would find it surprising how much it matters… in making things matter.

  • I totally agree with the premise of this article, and it addresses the whole “church is a show” mentality that afflicts many churches. People attend churches based on what they, individually, will get out of that church and may struggle to think that they, themselves, are part of the experience and have a role to play. As DMH pointed out, I do think part of that is that our traditional structures may communicate that message, but that aside, yes, people need to be thinking about the space being -for them- to meet with -their God- and even the more “passive” portions of the service are meant to have their active attention and mental interaction.

    At the same time, it would be disappointing if someone who had a role in facilitating corporate worship felt this absolved them of the responsibility to think critically about how that worship is being facilitated and if those structures are a help or an obstacle.

    For instance, if a minister gave a sermon that was an in-depth morphological exposition of a particular Greek phrase in the text and hardly anybody understood the content, would you be ok if that minister said, “Hey, it’s the believer’s responsibility to know their Bible?” Or do you think that minister should meet their audience where they’re at in a way that may challenge them a bit, but also fully communicates?

    This level of self-critique should be rigorously applied to the structure and elements of our worship services and the specific forms they take and the person’s role who delivers these elements. We do not have an apostolic definition of exactly what a worship service ought to look like. We should be regularly reviewing what we’re doing and if it is conducive to facilitating a corporate experience of the mysteries of the faith or not.

    If someone isn’t getting anything out of a worship service, it’s true that they should inquire into their own hearts before blaming that on something else. What are they doing to “get the most” out of worship? Would they be happy anywhere? Do they really just want a big show that’s entertaining? Etc. Etc.

    But at the same time, it’s also the responsibility of the people facilitating all this to examine themselves and reflect on what they’re doing. If this issue is so widespread in your congregation that it’s worth writing a blog about, maybe it’s worth examining what you’ve directly or indirectly communicated to the congregation about worship, or what you haven’t, or what elements just exist in the form that they do because of tradition but are actually ineffective or may work against your intent. Just as it would be a misdiagnosis for someone to shove all that responsibility onto “church leadership,” it would be equally wrong for “church leadership” to just declare the problem to be with the worshippers.

  • David

    Totally agree!!!!

  • azbuckeye

    I follow two astute comments, both of which I agree with totally. I briefly (until the army moved me) attended a start-up church where the pastor did thoroughly explain the Greek. I loved it, but it stayed a small church until …. maybe we should say it’s no one’s fault; churches just need to fill a niche.

    Also, I recall one pastor who told me that Saturday night was when he quieted his family’s hearts for worship. No pastor has coached us in that. Today, the pre-service atmosphere is quite casual as we socialize. Even as the singing begins, we’re still socializing as we settle in. Not sure how we can be helped to be re-oriented, but coaching could let us know there is a seriousness to holiness.

    My comments are not criticisms of Mike’s essay. These were just attempts to broaden the perspective. There is one glaring issue with what Mike wrote, however. Mike wrote, “I can watch Clemson, Ohio State … and remain perfectly calm.” Oh, really? I recall a few years ago when THE Ohio State University, as it is correctly called, played the Tide, and it was the latter that got rolled. Bet mike was not so calm that night!

  • Must admit I don’t worship all the time. It’s not because I’m bored. It’s because I disagree and I don’t think the church will budge from its theology. Not boredom, resigned discouragement.

  • Markus R

    Our understanding of worship is often wrong or lacking. We come to gather not just with each other, but also with the saints above, in the presence of our Lord. We are climbing Mt Zion in celebration and to be fed by the Word and Sacrament. This is a glorious thought.

  • Ldon

    When worship becomes an act to attract people, then it will become boring and meaningless to those with a desire to worship God in spirit ( not the flesh or hype) and truth ( nothing hide no hidden motives).
    Sad to say many Churches are using the Praise and worship sessions as a means to fill the pews rather than a means to lead people into sincere heartfelt
    praise and thanksgiving to a loving God.

  • Chad V

    DMH, very insightful comment.

    Indeed, the modern evangelical church service, having been reshaped by the contemporary Christian music industry and attractionalism, has created what we have today…a spectator event in every sense where the professionals make it all happen up front while the rest of us watch or maybe try and join in. The typical “liturgy” today is composed primarily of a music set and sermon sprinkled with a quick offering collection, prayer or two, and occasional communion. Many have written about this but suffice it to say that we are reaping what we’ve sown. I believe that if we can rediscover a simple but rich participatory liturgy that is built around the word and table (not music and sermon) then the church just may awaken from her Sunday morning service slumber and rejoin worship. Some churches are making this change. Many more need to.

    IMO this is a more serious issue than many will acknowledge; not simply a matter of style preference. How we worship corporately strikes at the very heart of how we are formed corporately as the church. Peace.

  • DMH

    Thanks Chad.

    Has the contemporary Christian music industry really reshaped things? I grew up in a Baptist church… before ccm existed… it followed the same “theater” trajectory- as did the Calvary Chapel I later attended, as did the Four Square, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Vinyard… Every church I have experienced has followed the same trajectory: theater type set up and professionalism (and I’m not against education and training).

    There are a variety of ways “church” could be done, it just seems that we ( in the west) have gotten stuck in a rut. Personally I would advocate for something along the lines of house church. IMO it has a way of making things matter more.

  • Chad V

    The CCM Industry, though not alone as you pointed out, has certainly pushed the trajectory that you mentioned forward. In this phenomenon music leaders trained in theology and congregational music were replaced with pop musicians. Many of these individuals, though beautifully gifted and godly, were ill equipped to understand congregational singing dynamic and build a corporate liturgy much beyond what they were used to in a concert setting.

    I like the house church idea. It could be a correction to the institutionalism we see so prevalent today. I still have my doubts however that the house church model will work well in our current society.

  • DMH

    Yes, CCM added some adrenaline… though something had to be done about those hymns… 😉

    I’m no idealist. House church has its problems. In terms of culture I tend to think that a house church trajectory (doesn’t have to be a full blown house church) is not what society wants but it is what it needs. We have to think about what church is and what characteristics we want to form in people and then do “church” in a way which reinforces those things. So for example (to perhaps grossly oversimplify), if you think “church” should be a family it’s counterproductive to stack rows of seats, build a stage and pulpit, and do your main communication in that setting. IMO an actual meal would serve the purpose better. What are we trying to create and what serves our purposes best?

  • Shani

    So, I was born in the 2000’s, yea, a youngling here. My taste and other youths taste of music is different from older generation. Older generation songs are more slower and I don’t know the song lyrics, thus when these songs are sung I just can’t relate. I can’t feel the worship if I can’t connect to the song that every one else is singing.