Sunday Morning

Friday, May 26, 2023

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Dear Pastors

Sunday Mornings

Last week I identified six reasons why in-person attendance has declined significantly in the last 30 years. Five of the six reasons are largely beyond our control. We can however control what we do (and perhaps what we don’t do) every Sunday of every year. But before I make a few points about that one pastor responded with this comment:- “For centuries, church has centred on a building (the ‘church’), an event (Sunday morning service), and a person (the clergyman). That, I believe, is going to have to change. The church needs to think about how it can ‘expand’ … options that are not on Sunday morning, are away from the building, and/or are not clergy-dependent”.

This comment raises a really important point about our model of church if you like. There are a growing number of voices that suggest that reform is needed here. Though I think there is a very strong argument for this I have concluded that this would need nothing short of a miracle. Our current methods and style are so deeply entrenched in our culture that only God could move the needle on this. That said there are certainly some really cool innovations happening in the ‘Fresh Expressions’ community and reading about a few of those recently leaves me hope-filled.

But for now let’s talk about Sunday mornings as we know them.

  1. Service Length. Based on my reading and my own experience, 75 minutes seem about right.
  2. Creativity. The day of the 20-25minute song service (always standing for some reason) and 40 minute sermon is well and truly over…….at least as far as the millennials are concerned. There are so many components these days particularly with the use of multi media that you can incorporate into a 75 minute service that can pack quite a punch. One of the things that I am hearing a lot more about is providing some time for conversation and/or Q and A which is relatively easy to do in most NZ churches because there are less than 100 people in attendance. In short I think the time has come to spend a lot more time on the planning of creative elements in our Sunday morning services.
  3. Special events. I am a great believer in busting the mould now and again. Most people look forward to a special occasion, right?
  4. Sermons. A lot to say here but the literature seems to highlight four issues. Biblical, clarity, relevance and length.
    Biblical. Christians are tired of ‘opinion pieces and hobby horses’. Most Christians really do want to know what does the Bible has to say and what does that mean to me.
    Clarity. You have heard it said, “fog in the pulpit, mist in the pew”. The art of good preaching is clarity. Sure be interesting and be insightful but clarity is of the essence. When people are asked .what did he/she actually say this morning there should be no uncertainty or confusion………none!
    Relevance. Please tell me what good is a sermon if it doesn’t teach me something new that I can apply straight away, answer a question that is top of mind, challenge a mindset or help me live a life more pleasing to God on Sunday afternoon at home and on Monday morning at work? The Bible is to be lived.
    Length. There are no real surprises here and most pastors know this. Here’s our challenge. Pastors love speaking and people are happy to listen and learn (by and large) but not for to long. If you have developed skills in creative speaking/preaching, you are clear and relevant then 30 minutes may still be OK. Otherwise you may be best to aim for about 20mins. A lot of good stuff can be said in 20 minutes (2600-3000 words on average).
  5. Fellowship. Most everywhere I go now churches encourage after church ‘café style’ fellowship opportunities. I think most of us are acutely aware of the importance of this component to the Sunday morning experience. On the subject of coffee I don’t think barrister coffee is essential but I would suggest a good blend of plunger coffee.

Finally for today. One of the things I am hearing more is for solid and systematic bible study. This is music to my ears. If the Sunday morning sermon is your only teaching offering in your church then your sermons are likely to be very teachy (high on content and probably quite long) and low on inspiration. If however you have other offerings in your church for Bible Study then your people can dip into some other learning opportunities that are specifically designed with that in mind. For example a 6 week Winter Bible School could offer a solid 9 - 12 hours of Bible teaching that can help people grow in their knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. Have you thought of a discipleship boot camp? What about a combined churches Bible conference? There are lots of variations available on this theme.

And just one more thought before I head out for a walk. Please don’t berate adults for irregular attendance. Rather provide services that are worth coming to better still that people can’t wait to attend. It is possible.


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