So what’s my theory about why people are not coming to worship service as much as they used to? It’s not complicated really. It’s simply boredom. People struggle, as I do, to see how singing a few monotonous choruses and listening to a self-help sermon qualifies as worship. If anything it’s a distraction to true worship. I can sit through an entire John Macarthur sermon on the radio and hang on every word, but I can’t sit through 5 minutes of a normal Sunday morning worship service. And I’m not the only one. I know quite a few people who just go to Sunday School and skip the worship service altogether. For that reason I think people have rightly surmised that the worship service as we know it is in trouble, but they have tried to fix it the wrong way. It’s not the format of the modern worship service that is the problem. It’s the form. And I mean form in the true sense of the word.
Here is how Chesterton reveals “form”:
Modern philosophical terminology is not always exactly identical with plain English… It
is not really very difficult to learn the meaning of the main terms; but their medieval meaning is
sometimes the exact opposite of their modern meaning. The obvious example is in the pivotal word
“form”. We say nowadays, “I wrote a formal apology to the Dean”, or “The proceedings when we wound
up the Tip-Cat Club were purely formal.” But we mean that they were purely fictitious; and St. Thomas,
had he been a member of the Tip-Cat Club, would have meant just the opposite. He would have meant
that the proceedings dealt with the very heart and soul and secret of the whole being of the Tip-Cat Club;
and that the apology to the Dean was so essentially apologetic that it tore the very heart out in tears of
true contrition. For “formal” in Thomist language means actual, or possessing the real decisive quality
that makes a thing itself. Roughly when he describes a thing as made out of Form and Matter, he very
rightly recognises that Matter is the more mysterious and indefinite and featureless element; and that
what stamps anything with its own identity is its Form.
–G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Aquinas
So with that meaning in mind, what is the true form of worship? I think it can be seen most clearly in the way the early Acts church did things. They didn’t have 2,000 years of pretense and tradition to contend with. They worshipped in the way that felt the most right to them. That involved small groups of people talking, singing and praying together, meeting each other’s needs and keeping each other accountable. We already have a system that looks a lot like that. It’s called Sunday School. If most of us would be honest with ourselves we would admit that Sunday School feels a lot more like true worship than the “worship service”. It’s more raw, and more personal. It just feels more like a “gathering together”. And I think that is the main flaw with modern worship services. The other issues involving format just exaggerate that fundamental problem.
I often wonder why we even still have a worship service at all, but never fear, even with my cynicism in tact I still have a solution. So here is Dave’s 3-step formula for getting people back to the worship service:
- Shorten the entire service to 30 minutes. The sermon should last no longer than 15 minutes. I am a firm believer that if a sermon lasts longer than 15 minutes you will not retain hardly any of it. If it’s so long that you have to take notes then that’s a problem, because nobody carries there sermon notes around in their pocket all week. Listen up preachers: YOU ARE NOT MORE SPIRITUAL IF YOUR SERMONS ARE LONGER! You have to understand that when you preach for 45 minutes, you are crossing over into lunch time when people are starting to get real hungry, and we’ve already been at church for an hour or more before you started preaching.
- Bring the children into the service. Children need to see how adults present themselves to God. They can not learn that in “children’s church”. They will see their parents and imitate them. That’s a good thing. The alternative is imitating their friends. That’s not so good.
- Don’t make the pastor preach every Sunday. I know this is controversial, but I also can’t understand why it would be. It just makes sense to me. A normal pastor can’t possibly visit sick folks, attend meetings, administer the church and still come up with 3 good lessons each week. I think the pastor should only preach once a month. That way he has 4 weeks to come up with a good lesson that is well researched. The rest of the sermons should be done by guest speakers, a core group of good sunday school teachers and anyone else that can teach. Remember, it’s only 15 minutes so even a testimony would be fine.
Maybe I’m living in a fantasy land, but remember, it’s the content that’s sacred, not the format. The format can change radically as long as the core (i.e. it’s “form”), which is worshipping God, is the same. Teach the word, pray and help one another. Anything more than that can be changed whenever necessary.