- Easy, accessible parking for visitors
- Friendly greeters
- Comprehensive bulletin
- Smiling pastor
- Church pews
- Blend of contemporary songs and meaningful hymns
- Announcement of weekly activities
- Mention of significant events – birthdays, anniversaries, weddings
- Offering, with mention of a special project
- Seven point sermon
- Salvation prayer
- Cookies in the fellowship hall following the service
- All in 1.5 hours.
The experience was pleasant, yet unremarkable; cozy, but not life-changing; cheerful, but that was the deepest emotion to surface. It was like a Thanksgiving meal that had all of the expected food on the dining room table, but upon eating it finding there is very little spice and hardly any flavor. Nobody goes back for seconds. The leftovers stay in the fridge until they go bad.
My criticism this week is not directed at the EFCA or even this particular church. It is with what “going to church” appears to have evolved to in our culture. Maybe the following examples will help explain my frustration:
On Sunday, six people stood on the front of the stage, microphone in hand, leading the song service for the congregation. None of the songs were new or unfamiliar; we are talking about the standard easy-listening church fare. Just in case someone in the congregation didn’t know the hymns, the words were projected on the screen behind the pulpit. But surprisingly (or not) the singers all had a similar crutch. Each of them had a music stand with all the song sheets. Most of the time each of the singers’ gaze was fastened to the papers that they didn’t need. It may sound petty, but it really bothered me. I was certain that I could have walked forward and gathered the stands, the sheets, and the microphones and we could have had a more meaningful song service. It just felt like we were going through the expected motions.
The sermon too was standard fare – all scriptural, all sweet, all encouraging. The pastor broke down the message into seven points, but it appeared that he was making the passage fit the delivery, not the other way around. Of course in the bulletin we were provided a sheet with sermon notes, with each of the seven points listed, minus a key word or two so that we could fill in the blanks as we paid attention. Certainly the goal is to put memory aids in front of the congregation so they have more than just one touch point with the sermon, but when did spiritual growth ever equate to filling in the empty spaces with the preferred answer? As it was, I felt like I got a passing grade that morning by filling in all the correct words in the blanks, but learning didn’t happen, life-change didn’t occur. I can’t picture Jesus testing the disciples knowledge of him or the Kingdom in quite this way…
Honestly I was more challenged spiritually and encouraged in my faith last week when I went to the New Age congregation than I did this Sunday. At least last week we broke up into small groups and discussed what was going on in our souls and how various spiritual disciplines can help us grow and connect with God. This week was more like watching a rerun of an old TV sitcom. We know the jokes, we’ve memorized the words, we know the characters and their expressions. We understand the theology and creeds as they have been provided, but we are bored with the experience, it isn’t helping, and joining with the laugh track just makes us feel phony.
I’d love to visit these very friendly people again absent of their music stands, song sheets, and fill-in-the-blank handouts. It felt like their expression of church got trapped with the trappings and the building stopped when they got stuck in the building.
Or maybe it is just me.
But I’m afraid others may feel this way too… A few weeks ago I overheard a conversation at a high school sporting event. One soccer mom was asking another what they did with the Easter weekend.
“Well, this may sound awful, but we stayed home from church this year.”
“Ya, I don’t really like the big crowd on Easter Sunday and the struggle to find a parking spot.” She paused, unsure if she should really say her next thought out loud. “Plus, I already know that story…”
I don’t think the mom was dissing Jesus or the significance of his resurrection. What she was trying to verbalize was that what her local church was offering on Sunday morning, even on Easter Sunday, wasn’t necessarily helping her along in her spiritual growth and development. She had no appetite for what they were serving.
She isn’t alone.
I don’t think this week was about connecting with the very fine EFCA folks. I think it was connecting with those in my neighborhood who are so disillusioned with the current form and function of church gatherings that they just don’t want to do it the same any longer.