Bored at Church

Jennifer Taylor has confessed her sin publicly: she’s bored at church. But unlike many people, she’s not interested in a more whizz-bang service with hipper music or preaching. “I’m not looking for a slicker sermon series or a faux-hawked worship leader or designer coffee in the back lobby.” And she’s not about to leave her church to find a different mountain to climb:

“I also believe you make a commitment to one local church and invest in community with those believers long-term, I’m not going to start shopping for a new church. Besides, all those churches would also have long sermons and rambling prayers and worship leaders in skinny jeans. That’s the problem.”

So what is she bored with? What is she looking for? Taylor cites an article by Brett McCracken in The Wall Street Journal. McCracken, author of the new book Hipster Christianity, addresses why 70 percent of adults 18-22 leave the church. He writes:

“As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real…. If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing and what he says rings true.”

The comments to Jennifer Taylor’s post also contain some surprising confessions. One commenter says:

“I have been in the church all of my seventy year life and I have been bored for most of it. The trouble is that even though we are looking for a relationship with God, most church leaders/preachers interpret that to mean a relationship with a church.”

Another named Diane says:

“The routine isn’t what bothers me. What I want is depth to the routine. I want our attention to rivet on God at the start-a true call to worship, not necessarily a song. I want prayer…I want Scripture read, a lot of Scripture…I want time for confession and for assurance of forgiveness…. I want to be reminded, every week, of who God is and who I am in Christ.”

There is also the confession of a pastor:

“I’m the senior- minister-preacher-worship-minister for our congregation. I’m the guy who is in charge of making it all happen each week. And much of the time, I MYSELF am bored senseless with what we do. I have a masters degree in worship ministry, from a program full of very hip California-types, who are all about “engaging worship” and such. And yet I experienced the same boredom in so many places where I’ve visited, from coast to coast.”

Taken together these confessions are a sample of things I’ve been hearing for a while. And it’s not just from young people-people in my parents’ generation and even pastors are confessing their frustrations. I hear it at my church as well, from folks in the class I’ve taught, and from the college students I meet with regularly. And, yes, I too share the feeling expressed by Jennifer Taylor and many others. At the end of her post, Taylor says, “I’m sincerely unsure of the solution.” Again, I really applaud her honesty. Well, I don’t have a solution for you, Jennifer. But I think there are a few things we all would be wise to remember.

  1. Don’t expect from a worship gathering what can only be found in communion with Christ. I wrote a post about this earlier, but many of us exchange an internal communion with God through the Spirit with an external communion via increasingly elaborate worship experiences.
  1. Brett McCracken is right-we’re longing for what’s real not what’s entertaining. I’d put it another way: we longing for the transcendent. This is likely what’s behind, in part, the movement of many evangelicals toward high-church traditions and liturgy. They’re hungry from something beyond culturally-familiar or Christianized versions of pop trends. I don’t think this hunger for transcendence can only be satisfied with high liturgy. Others discover it in nature, in art, in contemplative prayer, and in the reflective reading of Scripture.
  1. Our boredom isn’t with Christ or even his Church, but with the institutional trappings of the 501c3 organizations we call “the church.” When serving full-time on the pastoral staff of my church, I often failed to distinguish between these two things. The organization (programs, structures, budgets, staff) and the church (the community of disciples seeking Christ) were synonymous in my mind. When this happens we begin to believe that what is good for the organization is also good for the church and God’s mission. And a vision of life with God is slowly overshadowed by a life for the organization. When this seeps into our worship gatherings, and a vision for the church rather than Christ is what fuels the time, we shouldn’t be surprised when people become “bored.”

What do you think? Are you bored with church? And what’s at the heart of it. I’m not interested in debating worship styles or preaching themes. And I’m not eager to talk about how the proverbial church-down-the-street is doing it. Let’s dig deeper. Thank you, Jennifer, for your honest confession and for jump starting this conversation.  And I also appreciate you’re ability to discuss your feelings without falling into consumerist language about the church. We need more voices like yours.

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