One of my favorite places to sit and work is Panera Bread. No, this is not a plug for Panera Bread! It’s just that I enjoy the atmosphere – something about it helps me to complete my tasks more efficiently. I can sit in a booth for hours and lose myself in my work despite the noise around me.
But once in awhile I will tune into that noise and pick up on some interesting conversations. Especially about church. Sometimes there will be a pastor sitting nearby talking about church matters with a staff member. More often than not, however, I will just hear people complaining about their church. And usually, they are complaining about the worship service or the pastor’s sermons. How the service does not conform to their tastes. Or how they wish the music was different or the sermon was more interesting.
This got me thinking about what people expect from their churches and how they might be easily disappointed. The church experience is supposed to be a time of worship and communion yet how many American Christians expect to see a show on Sunday mornings? And how many churches try to oblige this wish by creating a “production” as opposed to a genuine worship service? Unfortunately, I have been in plenty of churches where I felt like I was more of a TV show prop than a congregant.
Years ago, I attended a church that offered a popular contemporary music service complete with a shiny reflective wooden floor, spotlights that changed color, stage fog, and large screens on either side of the stage on which were projected lyrics and closeups of the worship leaders. It was a loud experience; I could never hear myself singing. I could never tell if anyone around me was singing either. But there was a certain energy in the room that built up as the worship service proceeded. People raised their arms and their bodies drifted back and forth. And then just when the emotion in the room seemed to reach a high point, the music would stop and the pastor would run onto the stage with a Starbucks mug in his hand. He would tell a few jokes and begin the sermon, hoping I suppose to benefit from the positive energy that had been created by the worship.
Thirty to forty-five minutes later, when the service was over, I always felt somewhat drained and disappointed. The emotional high was gone and in its place was an emptiness that made me question if this was really all there was to the worship experience. The best way to describe this feeling is in this little graph that I made up:
The emotional rollercoaster starts with some sugar and caffeine and reaches its peak during the music service. By the closing prayer, the emotional high has worn off and you go into a new week wondering what exactly it is that you got out of church.
Someday, as my blog progresses, I will draw another graph to show what I think emotional levels should look like during a church service. We will return to this topic in the future. It may be necessary to redefine what worship means and address the whole purpose of church.
But until then, what has your experience been like at your church? Do you think that church should be exciting? Do we need excitement to draw people into the sanctuary? I’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below.