Do We Need to Listen to a Lecture Each Sunday at Church?

Can you have a church service without hearing a preacher speak? Will you try?

Do We Need to Listen to a Lecture Each Sunday at Church?My wife and I recently visited a church. Though we didn’t know it before we walked in, their service would be different that week. There was no sermon. They used the normal sermon time to talk about the missionaries their church supported. They explained each missionary’s focus and updated us on their status. They shared the joys and concerns of their missionaries. People on the mission’s committee prayed. Then the service ended. The lead pastor didn’t say a word.

Several people apologized for there being no sermon and invited us back to hear their minister speak.

I shook my head. “Don’t apologize. This was better than a sermon.”

But they didn’t get it.

From my perspective it was a profound, meaningful service. We need more like this.

As I understand it, the Reformation removed the communion table (The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist) as the focus of the Sunday service and replaced it with the sermon. I get why they did it, but it was a mistake – a grave one.

Frankly I see more biblical support for celebrating communion every Sunday than I do for giving a lecture (that is, delivering a sermon) as part of our Sunday meetings. Though the New Testament does talk about giving messages to local congregations, I think it is always a traveling missionary who speaks on his way through town. I don’t recall an instance in the New Testament where a local pastor (an elder) gives a talk every Sunday. And I can’t remember any commands to preach a sermon to the believers during each weekly meeting.

Yet we view sermons today with the conviction that it must happen. We select ministers for their public speaking ability. And we expect to listen to a lecture each Sunday as we sit passively in our pews. Most people feel cheated if they go to church and don’t hear a sermon. (Never mind that few can remember it by the time they reach home.)

This fixation on the sermon is wrong.

Though instruction has its place, teaching doesn’t facilitate community. It doesn’t allow us to minister to one another (as we should), and it doesn’t serve the world around us (as we ought). While listening to an overly educated person detail the minutia of scripture every week may have intellectual appeal, it does little in a practical sense to deepen our community and advance our faith in action.

Let us dare to envision a church service without a sermon. Let us reimagine our weekly gatherings as a place to foster spiritual community and promote the love of Jesus to those outside the church.

It starts when we kill the sermon. Will you dare to do it?

How would you react if you went to church and there was no sermon? Can you think of a New Testament passage that talks about a local minister preaching a sermon every week? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Are Visitors Welcome at Your Church?

For the past several months, a roadside sign at a church proclaims “Visitors Welcome.” This amuses me. Isn’t that assumed? Doesn’t every church want to grow? I’ve never been to a church that had a “no visitors” policy. Why does this church need to advertise their desire for visitors?

My first thought is that their sign is a poor attempt at marketing. My second is that they may be trying to overcome a negative reputation. Another idea is that they want people to notice their church because the building is set off the road a bit.

Other churches have signs that talk about how friendly they are. They should let their actions speak for them. If they feel a need to claim that they’re friendly, they probably aren’t. Friends once visited a church that maintained, “You will never find a friendlier church.” They didn’t go back. Marketers know not to make such statements; it’s called an “unsubstantiated claim.” I call it lying.

Are Visitors Welcome at Your Church?To all these churches: Stop talking about how welcoming and friendly you are. Start acting like it. In doing research for my books, my wife and I visited over eighty churches. None of them said, “You’re not welcome here,” but too many acted that way.

We’ve been to churches where no one talked to us, no one greeted us at the door, no one even smiled or nodded. It’s as if we didn’t exist; we were invisible. Other places had only one or two welcoming folks out of hundreds, but sometimes one nice person is enough to make a difference.

Other churches excelled in their welcome. They greeted us before the service, affirmed us during it, and embraced us afterwards. Sometimes we stuck around for an hour or more after its conclusion because they were such gracious folks who received us so well.

Church is about community. If it wasn’t, we could stay home and worship God in our recliner. Great churches provide a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. They are winsome and inviting. Visitors are welcome – and the church’s actions remove the need to talk about it.

Are visitors truly welcomed at your church? What can you do to make your church more friendly? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Can You Be Evangelical and Charismatic?

My wife and I recently visited a church near our home. Their website said they were a charismatic church. This would make them a refreshing anomaly in an area filled with mainline churches and a sprinkling of evangelical ones. I anticipated what we would find.

Can You Be Evangelical and Charismatic?However, when we arrived, I was dismayed to read their bulletin, which proclaimed them as an evangelical church. Which was right, their online presence or their printed material? Were they charismatic or evangelical? Soon I would find out.

As the service unfolded, they were clearly evangelical. Though their worship was a bit more exuberant than typical for fundamental churches, there were no indications of the Holy Spirit’s presence or of the supernatural. Despite what their website claimed, their bulletin was correct. By their actions and their worship, they were, without a doubt, an evangelical congregation.

Having anticipated a charismatic experience, I was disappointed. Still I enjoyed my time there and lobbied for a return trip, but my wife felt that once was enough.

My wife was unaware of the inconsistency between their website and bulletin. When I shared my frustration over the mixed message, she shook her head in confusion. “Can’t they be both evangelical and charismatic?”

“Of course they can,” I answered, “but few churches are. They tend to be one or the other but not both.” (A third option is mainline/liberal.) She disagreed with me, but I’m having trouble thinking of an example. However, assuming they embrace the good parts of both perspectives, I’d love to find such a place. I’d feel right at home.

What do you think? Can a church be evangelical and charismatic? Can a person be both? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

An Epic Fail in Church Promotion

Easter this year was a few weeks ago, on April 5. A week and a half later, on April 15, I received a postcard inviting me to attend a church’s Easter service. Aside from arriving too late to do any good, the church wasn’t even nearby; it was an hour’s drive away. What were they thinking? Obviously they weren’t. The problems didn’t stop there. The postcard gave the address of one location and a map to another, which aren’t even close to one another. Where do they meet, anyway?

The postcard also included social media info for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Each one was for their parent church in California, with no reference to this (nearly) local congregation they wanted me to visit at an indeterminate location ten days too late. Only HQ’s website made any mention of the church in question, but it was minimal. To further frustrate matters, they provided no phone number or email address. Their epic marketing fail still confounds me.

Too, often, this is how we invite people to church: haphazardly and without thinking things through.

What we need to do is make our invitation timely, personal, and relevant. What could be easier? Go out and try it.

[I wanted to visit this church for 52 Churches, but they moved before I could. Now I don’t care.]

What’s Next for 52 Churches?

Our journey of visiting 52 Churches in a year is over. I shared my recap and my reflections on our pilgrimage. It was a great experience.

What’s next?

Quite a bit, actually. 52 Churches is now a book, seeking publication.

I only posted a fraction of what is in the book. Plus the book includes my summary and conclusions. If you want me to notify you when it is available, just email me.

But who says we need to stop at fifty-two? In the months since Church #52, we’ve visited more – a couple dozen and counting – continuing to explore how the various branches of Jesus’ church worship and serve him. Look for more posts about more churches in the future, perhaps one a month.

In many ways, 52 Churches isn’t over; it’s just beginning.

Reflecting on Church #52: Misrepresented Services

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #52.

This church offers two services. They call the first one blended, combining traditional and contemporary elements, whereas the second one is promoted as contemporary. Both are mislabeled.

Church #4 successfully combined traditional and contemporary elements into their service. Though this church makes the same claim for their first service, it comes off more as a traditional service with a contemporary element awkwardly tacked on the end. For me it was too little, too late.

I also found their second service mislabeled. It was less contemporary and more so “safe.” A friend who attends this church flinched at my description of safe. She also knew I was right. I suspect what we saw was not so much an effort to provide a contemporary service, but an effort to connect with unchurched visitors while not offending members clinging to the past.

To be correct, they need to either relabel their two services – calling the first one traditional and the second one blended, would be more accurate – or they need to do a major overhaul of each. Change is in order, with the first option likely appeasing members, whereas the second option would be more effective at connecting with the unchurched.

[See my reflections about Church #51 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Reflecting on Church #51: Come Back Twelve Times and See How Your Faith Grows

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #51.

This mega church does so many things right. Though I don’t want to go to a large church, this one really draws me. Of all the churches we’ve visited, this one appeals to me far more than any other. If I were searching for a new church to attend, I’d give this one serious consideration.

This church also has a Sunday evening meeting, which allows for more intentional connections, as well as small groups. These two options offer to counteract my reluctance to go to a large church.

However, I won’t come back twelve times to see how my faith grows, as our tour guide suggested. If I did, I’m sure I’d just keep coming, having formed a comfortable habit after three months.

This would be an easy church for me to slide into. I’d feel comfortable, and surely my faith would grow. But I know that with so many people who attend this church it would be hard to consistently see the same people each week. That would make it hard to form friendships.

[See my reflections about Church #50 and Church #52 or start with Church #1.]

Reflecting on Church #50: Best in Class

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #50.

This church holds five services each weekend, and we attended the first one. I was disappointed over the lack of college students present, despite its proximity to campus. I doubt many students would attend the two Sunday morning services either, but I wonder about the two Sunday evening ones. I suspect a different demographic shows up then. Maybe I’ll make a return visit but on a Sunday evening, hoping to meet some college students. Would those services be different or are all five the same?

Of the three Roman Catholic churches we attended, this one interests me the most. The people were more friendly, the structure less formal, and the message more accessible than my other two experiences. Even so, they still have a way to go to match some of the more engaging Protestant churches we’ve attended.

If I wanted a Catholic experience, this would be my go-to church. Yet I also know a steady diet of it wouldn’t be good for me. It’s a nice place to visit, but finding true community there would be a challenge.

[See my reflections about Church #49 and Church #51 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Reflecting on Church #49: A Leader Worthy of Being Followed and a Congregation That Won’t

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #49.

Out of several hundred people, only one greeted us before the service. His name was John, and we later learned he was the senior pastor. For an extra-large church, it’s especially commendable for the senior pastor to personally greet people as they arrive. A better scenario is for members to welcome visitors and not expect paid staff to solely handle that responsibility. Surely in a church this size, some outgoing people could be recruited to handle this important task. Even better would be for the people to just do it without being asked.

Leaders should never expect their followers to do something they don’t or won’t do themselves. I commend John in setting the example for his congregation by being available and greeting visitors. What perplexes me is why we saw no one imitating his example. Are they unwilling to follow their leader?

There must be an underlying issue at this church, and it makes me uncomfortable. I fear something is seriously wrong with the overall mindset of this congregation.

[See my reflections about Church #48 and Church #50 or start with Church #1.]

Reflecting on Church #48: A Great Place to Visit

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #48.

This church did many things right, especially the warm way they welcomed my wife and I into their community. Several of their practices were personally inviting and spiritually significant. Their meeting felt more relevant than what most churches do at their services.

However, there’s one thing I can’t get past: everything seemed old. I feel guilty for saying this. Their service had a formal vibe. Although their style had a novel pull, I realized that with repeated visits it would quickly grate on me for its ceremonial constructs and reserved rigidity. And the congregation was mostly older, with very few young people. Even though many in this church have a youthful spirit – just as I claim to have – I can’t get past their age. Older congregations have a bleak future; there is no next generation to rise up and continue the journey.

Despite its many positive elements, my concerns overshadow them and keep me from wanting to return. Though it was a great church to visit, once was enough.

[See my reflections about Church #47 and Church #49 or start at the beginning of our journey.]