Note: Like my mom saying “You need to find a church” in order to find a good Christian wife, or my Mormon grandma suggesting that I go to the single’s ward, I’m here because A-10 pilot extraordinaire Dale Stark suggested men go to church to find a good woman. I’ll get around to that in a bit. THIS IS NOT BAD ADVICE.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m incredibly serious about my Christian beliefs and take the Bible literally. Yes, I know that I could go to a bunch of churches and find what I’d like. Thank you for your suggestions now. This is my list of reasons for why I don't go, which may or may not apply to you.
Praise and worship sucks
Church shouldn’t be a rock concert; one megachurch near me advertised a laser show. That might do it for some people but not me. I’ll defer
We know that half of the church just stands there during praise and worship anyway, maybe moving their lips. A lot of people can’t sing and I think a lot of the modern church music is too biased towards worship teams and not the congregation. Hence, I like old fashioned hymns. Everyone can at least drone them out if only by “singing” in a slightly more melodious speaking voice.
Worship teams should lead worship, not monopolize it for their own worship. What I’m talking about is best explained by listening to someone who can sing well, stretch out the same refrain like a famous singer showing off while singing the National Anthem at a ballgame. In church it’s less showy, but it annoys me to see worship conducted the same way a concert might go.
Yeah, I want to hear my favorite singer repeat the chorus to their most popular song three times in a row or for their awesome lead vocalist to really hit the notes, but not in church. Worship needs to be participatory. Worship leaders should not be zoning out to their own music.
Pardon the language, but listening the worship leader get lost in the music while having a “spiritual orgasm” having his or her private moment of rapture isn’t cool. It’s the equivalent of listening to a way-too-long drum or guitar solo that just goes on and on because the guitarist/drummer thinks it sounds cool.
Worship isn’t singing or participating. It’s about a moment of profound personal spiritual connection to God; in the church I grew up in this could include people waving flags or banners around while dancing (Pentecostal-lite). For me, these moments come listening to hymns, other songs, and even classical music that remind me of the majesty or grace of God or whatever. I do have these moments when I’m all alone and listening to particularly classical music and it’s every bit as profound to me as the people with their eyes closed, hands in the air, and swaying back and forth.
Some dude talks
After praise and worship comes the announcements and offerings. My Mormon relatives have a time for giving testimonies. Then somebody gets up front and talks for half an hour to an hour.
Personally, I can find a better sermon that I can listen to at my convenience online. I frequently read the equivalent all the time and watch edifying videos all the time. Listening to what amounts to “some guy” who’s qualification is that the church likes him talk doesn’t do much for me. I know this will sound incredibly harsh to some pastors but honestly not everyone is as engaging as we’d like them to be.
Sermons do have their place. I realize that not everyone is like me and reads or listens on their own. That hour on Sunday might be the only time average people hear anything about Jesus, God, and the Bible. This and Sunday school is their only religious education, so I will give sermons a pass. However, in my case, they don’t do a lot for me.
Sermons, homilies, and the reading of scripture are somewhat of a historical carryover from the days before mass media. When Bibles were expensive and people illiterate, church was important for learning because it all had to be done orally. So yeah, I get it. Again, we’re talking about me here.
Where is the fellowship?
The typical American church service goes like this: shuffle in, warm greeting from the door usher you don’t know, sit down, hope no one talks to you, endure praise and worship, toss money in the bucket or basket, listen to Front of the Room Talking Guy, and then leave quickly because sportsball is on.
People do hang around and talk, but it’s like an afterthought. Just pleasantries and all that or friends talking to friends. The “fellowship” is mostly killing time before the service and being marginally sociable after. This is a human failing in large part because we like “our” friend and family groups versus those of strangers, plus we’ve been programmed that after the service, you go home. Besides, the church might need to cram in another service or three.
The fellowship events tend to be ancillary to church. Just like in The Simpsons, too many of us scurry home once the weekly ritual is complete. I vehemently disagree with LDS doctrine, but the structure of their services that include after the Sacrament meeting (“church” to everybody else) that include Sunday School and the priesthood, etc. meetings are more sociable than what you might find in a Protestant church. Of course when you’re a kid all you want to do is go home after the first hour anyway, but…
Fellowship in the form of human companionship is what many lonely people, romantic or otherwise, seek from church. I didn’t join my fraternal order because I like the work parties or think the business portions of the meeting are fun. No, we get together in groups because we want to talk, to joke, and have shared experiences with familiar faces.
The best times I had in a Christian context were Bible studies and prayer groups. Real conversations, face to face. Individual prayers. People who cared about you from week to week. There was time for questions and discussions. You also got to chat and do all the normal human personal interaction stuff too. Woulda been a great way to meet a nice young lady but I guess there wasn’t enough Instagram (if it existed then) or whatever for them.
Churches do have a lot of ancillary programs like men’s groups and Bible studies but that’s all extracurricular. They are also segmented into different interests and demographics so it isn’t an all congregation type thing. Showing up for the Sunday service is mandatory, but then everybody tends to go home as much as possible. There’s not much chance to interact with other people or the fairer sex.
It doesn’t meet my needs
None of this makes me, an introvert, to want to church hopping much less hang around a church hoping I meet new people there. I also feel that the formulaic approach fails to meet the needs of individual people who need Jesus and other Christians so they stay home.
So if I find church annoying and unable to fulfill what I'm looking for, why should I go? Will Jesus love me less because I stay home on Sunday? We're told to gather together for our own spiritual edification, which I find lacking.
Bottom line, church as it is structured today does not meet my needs which is primarily a desire to interact with other Christians. I don’t want a sermon, I don’t want praise and worship. I want to sit around with fellow Christians and just be people with them. Sure, we can study the Bible and pray but I really want to be with others who share my worldview even if that means just talking.
What’s the solution? It’s at the individual level. We need to replace secular stuff in our lives with more spiritual ones. That means it’s up to us to organize these things. If we want masculine, Christian fellowship we need to create those groups instead.
Second, church needs to migrate its focus away from a performance type thing to a more social gathering. Our whole formula of worship-prayer-sermon turns the gathering together into an attendance checkmark and let’s go home. When I went to youth services in college, there was much socializing before and after. People didn’t just leave because it was over; each other was as much of the attraction as was the service.
To conclude, I realize that a lot of this is about my tastes and preferences, but I do believe there are many that share some of these opinions as well. American church has fallen into a pattern that doesn’t fit our times or our needs and has left many of us wanting. I don’t have any good answers or solutions but I’d ask that we consider some of these points.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.