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Boring sermons?

This article was in our local paper today:

‘Boring’ sermons cited among reasons for decline in church attendance

By The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG — Are you a Christian CEO?

By CEO, I don’t mean the head of a business or corporation. I’m talking about attendance at worship services. Are you a Christian who goes to church on Christmas and Easter Only?

On Easter Sunday, for example, most churches were filled with people who hadn’t been to church for a while — maybe not since Christmas, or longer.

The situation is similar for other religions; synagogues, temples and mosques also expect higher attendance for major holy days like Passover, Diwali, Vesak and Eid.

Those who attend regularly might be tempted to look askance at people who come only two or three times a year. But before you get too smug, consider this: Regular attendance at worship services isn’t what it used to be.

At least, that’s what some local pastors are telling me. It used to be that regular attendance meant going to worship services every week, but that’s apparently not the case anymore. My pastor friends say that many of their members consider themselves to be regular attendees if they go to church twice a month.

One pastor told me that growing numbers of people in his church are absent from May through September, yet still consider themselves to be members in good standing.

Why the change? Maybe it’s the busyness of life. Between work, sports and other activities, there’s so much to do, and so little time. Plus, for many people, Sunday morning has become the only time when family can be together, or just sleep in. That’s why Faithworks, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, meets at 6 p.m. on Saturdays — people can go to church, and still make it to the symphony or hockey game.

Maybe it’s because of the changing role of religion in society. In the 1950s, societal attitudes supported regular attendance. In the 1950s, almost 70 per cent of Canadians said they went to church. Today, only 17 per cent of Canadians regularly go to worship services.

Many people assumed that attendance at worship services would increase during the recession — all those people worried about falling investment portfolios, foreclosed houses and lost jobs would return to church for spiritual comfort. Apparently, it didn’t happen.

Maybe it’s because church services are less than inspiring. Commenting on the precipitous decline in attendance at Church of England services, Paul Handley of England’s Church Times offered the following reasons: "Too many services are boring. Too many sermons are shallow and ill-prepared. Too many liturgical performances are apologetic and scrappy. The provision for children is uninspiring; the music is a bizarre mixture of 19th-century dirges and 1970s easy listening; the sound system is inadequate."

Or maybe it’s because going to worship services just doesn’t fit with these modern times. Why go to a worship service when you can download a podcast at your convenience, or watch it on the web?
© 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited

I saw the title and my immediate reaction was: well, there aren't many boring sermons preached in my church!! "Boring" is not a word that applies to our Rev. Valerie! (Ahem...not that I'm biased or anything, she being my best friend and all!) But in all honesty, I loved her sermons long before we connected on a personal friendship level.

However, I know Valerie's style and sermons are not to everyone's taste. One guy told me he is glad our church now has PAR (pre-authorized remittance) because now he doesn't have to attend regularly just to give his offering. I know much of the reason he doesn't want to attend is that he doesn't connect with Valerie's sermons. His minister at his former church apparently filled her sermons with personal anecdotes to make them relevant, and he thinks Valerie should do far more of the same. Which is interesting since, for me, Valerie strikes a great balance between personal sharing and getting her message across in other ways. Another man said, not long after Valerie came, that "the new minister is...kind of eccentric, isn't she?" as the reason he and his family were drifting away. No argument from me there ;) but I personally love her eccentricities and how those bring life and humour to Sunday mornings. And of course, there's the older woman who said to me that "the minister's place is at the pulpit, not wandering around up there in street clothes" (that still cracks me up!)

Of course, our church has some attendance issues too, like most churches these days, but I can't imagine boring sermons being the reason. I think in our case, it's likely that "going to worship services just doesn’t fit with these modern times", which in my mind includes "the busyness of life". Our modern times are not conducive to pausing for worship; our modern lifestyles do not encourage being still. Our community is filled with professionals and young families who are so busy that when free time does come along, they have so many other things to do. And in many people's minds: who actually prefers church over leisure and social activities, especially when time is so limited? Well on Sunday mornings I do, but apparently I'm in the minority! :) I'd love to see more people in our church, there is a neat energy on Sundays when the pews are full! But a crowd is not necessary...wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am (Matthew 18:20).

I think Valerie believes that people have different worship needs throughout their faith journey, and so does not make weekly attendance at our church a condition for baptisms, weddings, etc. All really are welcome in this place. She never judges people for sporadic attendance. And if people offer negative feedback, she simply looks for ways to make them feel more connected, and accepts that not everyone will feel connected in the first place.

She is also very open to doubt and questioning. I remember her talking of the resurrection one Easter and saying, "Do I know that Jesus rose from the dead? No. But something happened. Something happened, a door was opened, and their lives, and the world, have never been the same". It is welcoming and reassuring to worship in a place that has room for doubt. Because we can have many doubts about the what, when, who and how, but even in the midst of that doubt, we can allow the light and the power of the Spirit to flood our souls and change us.


n1402674806_30125697_9860.jpg
(No clue where this photo was taken, I just *stole* it off her facebook page because it so perfectly captures the face of her Minister self!

I more often mention Valerie in terms of our friendship, but I do feel so blessed to have her as my Minister as well. It is wonderful to feel eager to go to church on Sunday mornings, to look forward to being inspired by the words spoken and sung in worship and praise, to come away from the services feeling rejuvenated and uplifted and full of light. My friend's ministry brings great joy to my heart and soul. When it's not interferring with our play dates, that is! ;)

Enjoy your weekend everyone (an extra long weekend for many of us in Canada - woohooo!)

Comments (6)

It's funny because there was a story on the local TV news here in NC this weekend about declining church attendance and various things churches are doing to try to woo people back. Guess it's happening all over.

Anne:

Annie, that is a neat coincidence!

It's too bad attendance is so low. I don't know about other churches, but the United Church of Canada does some amazing things in the world through its Mission and Service fund. Sad to see such programs suffer from lack of funds.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Anne, interesting read and discussion (a reason why I really enjoy visiting your blog).

Thank you Anne. Have a great day today.

Anne:

Thank you Kathy, I'm so glad to hear that. That is what makes our blog community so wonderful, we all have such different interests, and yet still find each other interesting! :)

sandrac:

This is a really interesting topic, why church attendance just keeps slipping. I'm sure that part of it is the fact that we have so many distractions that it is easy to favour other activities, especially on a Sunday morning.

But I'm also sure that boring, shallow, irrelevant sermons (or homilies, as they're often called in the Catholic church) is a big factor. You're very fortunate to have a minister who it seems really tries to bring life into her sermons and her services!!!!

Anne:

Very true about all the distractions, Sandra. Life sometimes seems to go by in a blur. If I were faced with tedious sermons on Sunday mornings, I certainly can't be sure I wouldn't opt to do something else with my time.

There are also people who live their faith in very meaningful ways, but who simply don't attend formal services. I don't know if the statistics on declining numbers include them or not.

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