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Rethinking church service effectiveness

Rethink churchIt’s obvious that way too many people attend church every Sunday and never connect with a word that’s said. I could walk into an average church on any Sunday morning and find numerous people dozing off, daydreaming or privately thinking about unrelated matters. My question is this: how much responsibility should those leading the service feel when attempting to hold the audience’s attention? Is it because [tag]church service[/tag]s have become irrelevant and boring or is it because these individuals aren’t personally connecting with God during the week so Sunday is no different? Is it because our means of worship and communication in church services are really that ineffective or is it because people don’t worship on their own time thus making a church worship service just a meaningless act? It probably involves some of both, but at this moment I’m more apt to lean toward the latter.

Even so, I’m not willing to dismiss the fact that church services could probably stand to be re-evaluated for effectiveness. The [tag]Purpose Driven[/tag] [tag]ministry philosophy[/tag] is big on evaluating, scrapping and tweaking programs that aren’t effectively accomplishing their purpose. There’s probably a lot we could change in our services to make them more effective. I wonder what a church service would look like if we stripped away everything that’s not in scripture and honored God’s Word more than tradition and people’s opinions.

The Sunday morning format has generally been the same in every church I’ve attended since I was born. It starts with music followed by a quick welcome, more music, announcements, special music, tithing, sermon, closing song, see ya next week. And almost every service is geared around the sermon topic, the focal point of the worship service. The approach to each of these elements has generally been the same, too. Now, at 26 years old, I’m still kinda young, but our world has changed considerably even in my short lifespan. Why is the church still the same?

Seth Godwin, marketing expert and author of the best seller Permission Marketing, said this in his blog last Sunday and I think it has big implications for preaching:

What’s the point of talking to a group?…

I’m serious. We spend a lot of time in presentations, or at the United Nations, or sending our kids to school. We have orientation sessions and keynote speeches and long-winded oratory on the floor the Senate. Why?…

Here’s my point: In our scan and skip world, in a world where technology makes it obvious that we can treat different people differently, how can we possibly justify teaching via a speech?

Speech is both linear and unpaceable. You can’t skip around and you can’t speed it up. When the speaker covers something you know, you are bored. When he quickly covers something you don’t understand, you are lost.

If you teach – teach anything – I think you need to start by acknowledging that there’s a need to sell your ideas emotionally. So you need to use whatever tools are available to you–an evocative powerpoint image, say, or a truly impassioned speech.

If it’s worth teaching, it’s worth teaching well. If it’s worth investing the time of 30 or 230 or 3330 people, then it’s worth investing the effort to actually figure out how to get the message across. School is broken. Legislative politics are broken. Linear is broken. YouTube and Bloglines, on the other hand, are new platforms, platforms that enable the education of millions of people every day, quickly and for free.

I’m not at all thinking that preaching should be done away with, just that it needs to be evaluated and modified for maximum effectiveness in today’s society. Right now an average church sermon at an average church often feels like sitting through a lecture at school except without accountability to report its contents on a pending exam.

Dennis Poulette reminded me of a quote from The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis,

Most listeners process information in the range of 300 to 500 words per minute (the rate generally declines with age). But most people speak at a rate of 100 to 200 words per minute, which means there’s serious excess capacity on the listening side of the transaction. And with excess capacity comes the tendency to daydream, fret, plan, doodle, and – if we’re not careful – lose track of what the other person is saying. (page 62)

It seems to me that the [tag]modern church[/tag] (and youth group) needs to find new effective ways of communicating the truth of God’s Word to those attending the services. How can we change our presentations to be less linear, to keep up with the rate that people process information, utilize new platforms and “emotionally sell” our message while, the same time, not lose anyone in the process?

Of course, this does nothing to to force people to seek God during on a personal level during the week, but given the state of our ever-changing culture I’m sure there’s still a lot that can be improved about our church services that might encourage such spiritual development.


Posted on October 3, 2006

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  • http://www.harleyghost.typepad.com harleyghost

    tim — good post. thanks for your insight

    HG

  • http://discerningthetimes.blogspot.com matt redmond

    Be careful…preaching Christ and him crucified was scorned in the first century also. Not just the message but also the medium per 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. Students can handle it. I have been doing youth ministry for awhile and I promise you the Holy Spirit will honor God-exalting and Christ-saturated linear teaching (non-linear teaching is a tautology) with the glory of God as the goal. Throw away your marketing strategies. Yes, get creative! Use media and the like but let your teaching and instruction be centered on the Biblical message.

    The Bible is a provocative book. It needs very little help to be interesting. If it was a movie it would be rated PG-13 and R. Only boring milquetoast used car salesmen posing as preachers can make a book full of sex, wine and violence boring. We are the ones who make doctrine boring. If you lean on events and a “purpose dirven (fill in the blank) ministry,” your students will love events and programs. But if you lean on the meaty doctrines of the supremacy of Christ over all things and soak it all in prayer….you will have students wanting to give their lives in Saudi Arabia because of their love for the glory of Christ.

    May God bless your work…it is impossible work we do.

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