Now of course, not every church is like this. Some of them are the opposite and it amazing! But I’m not talking about them today. I am talking about the boring ones, so stay with me.
Boring churches are all the same. You park your car, walk in, someone says hello and hands you a bulletin. You sit down. The people around you might say hello in one of those “I shouldn’t be talking” voices or they might not. Then someone gets up to the front and gives a welcome and announcements. Then we sing a hymn or two. Collect offering. Have a kids story. Sing another hymn. Maybe there is a special item (I still have no idea why we call solo performances “special items” so if someone could enlighten me, that would be great). Then the sermon time arrives. The pastor gets up to the front.
“Happy Sabbath!” he says, enthusiastically.
Two or three people respond out of sync. Everyone else stares on like they are in a trance.
The pastor looks out over the crowd and says it with a louder voice “HAPPY Sabbath!”
If he’s lucky, this particular church has been trained to respond super loud the second time and he can move on. But if they aren’t trained, he comes back with an awkward third:
At this point, you get a better response. Most likely because the people don’t want to be there all day. But come back the next week, and the same exact scenario repeats. Then next month and next year too by the way. It never seems to end.
Why is this the experience of so many of our churches? Why does the preacher have to act like an MC getting the crowd hyped before a concert? Why do the saints need to be hyped up to begin with? Some people think the problem is the church’s traditional style. If only they switched to a more contemporary style these problems would go away. But I have been to contemporary churches with the same exact problem. Style has nothing to do with it.
Instead, the answer, I believe, lies in a psychological concept known as “state”.
A state is essentially frame of mind. Think of when you are watching a thriller and you are “on the edge of your seat.” At that moment in the film, as the tension builds, you find yourself in an anxious “state.” Any sudden noise and you practically jump out of your seat. Or think of being at the beach with friends. It’s night time. There’s a bonfire, a guitar and marshmallows. Everyone is sitting back enjoying the care free evening, singing together and laughing. What state are you in? Relaxed. Composed. You feel free. (In fact your state may have changed ever so slightly just by reading and imagining that scene). Or how about a nice dinner with friends? You are eating some good food and having a laugh. Everyone’s state is happy, content. Then suddenly, a person none of you like and who wasn’t invited to the dinner walks up and says hello. All of a sudden previously happy people feel awkward. The state has changed.
There is nothing particularly weird or amazing about this. It’s how we are as humans. Our minds can move in and out of states. You can be depressed and a friend lifts your mood. They take you out of one state into another. This is what Solomon had in mind when he wrote, “Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.” (Proverbs 12:25) In other words, an encouraging word can change a persons mental state. It can pull them up from a gloomy place into a cheerful place.
Now back to our question. Why is your church service so boring? It’s not because you sing Hymns instead of Hillsong. Its not because you are traditional or not entertaining enough. You don’t need more jokes, more high paced videos or a louder band. No. Your church is boring because from the moment you gather you collectively feed a boring state.
In other words, a boring church is boring because of state, not style. Style is not the issue. State is.
Let’s go back to our original scenario but change the state. Imagine getting to church and out in the parking lot are cheerful welcome signs. Maybe even cheerful parking attendant (if necessary). Then you walk in and are greeted by cheerful people who don’t simply hand out bulletins but they ask questions, they comment on your new hair due, your nice tie or ask where you are from and how they can make your guest experience as wonderful as possible (supposing you are a guest). At this moment, without changing anything else, you have already changed everything. Those who arrived are now going into Sabbath School and the church gathering in a cheerful state. Regardless of how they walked in, you have placed them into a mental state capable of spreading cheer to others.
Imagine walking into Sabbath School and you are greeted warmly. Someone even offers you their seat. The conversation is safe, warm and inspiring.
Then you go to the main service. The announcements, song service, tithe and offerings - all of it is done in a spirit of praise. The person who announces the songs smiles. They share a Bible promise from the week that spoke to them. They offer a short word of encouragement.
All of these small, simple changes - smiling, warmth, energy - create a state of mind in people. But have someone get up to the front with a sombre spirit and drag their feet through “we… will… now sing the hymn… number 323… please stand” and the state changes again. And if that’s what people have gotten in the parking lot, in the foyer, in the Sabbath School and all throughout the worship gathering then that’s also what they are going to give.
Your church is not boring because of its style. Its boring because of its state.
And by the time the pastor gets up and says “Happy Sabbath” no body responds because everyone is in a state of boredom. Now some people think this is normal because they are conservative and sombre and they think this is the way its meant to be. But spare me the hoopla. God didn’t invite us to gather together for that. And the reason why the preacher has to force some excitement out of the crowd is because they are BORED. Their minds are in a state of boredom. They are not inspired to be there. They are not excited to be there.
And its got nothing to do with your style. Its got everything to do with your state. Change your state, starting with the parking lot all the way through every aspect of the church gathering, and you will have a room full of people who are inspired to be there every week, month and year.
Now of course, creating a positive state at your church is not something that can be forced - not unless you want to end up with a bunch of phoney people pretending to be all cheery when they cant stand each other. There are other things that need to be addressed for a change of state to be an authentic step and not a gimmick. As a church leader, you need to identify those in your context as they aren’t all the same. But once you do, make sure you include a step in which you address the states that are nurtured at your gatherings and create a change of state from the parking lot all the way to the altar.
Because if your church is insanely boring, chances are its got nothing to do with its style and everything to do with its state. If you change that state, your church gathering will gradually become the most inspiring experience of your week.