when church becomes stale

Have you ever bought a bag of potato chips that you just did not enjoy, but felt obligated to eat them? So you munch on small portions of the chips for weeks with a bad attitude until they become stale enough you do not feel guilt for throwing them away. Has your attitude towards your church become like a bag of stale potato chips?

I mingle weekly with church goers who have become stale with church. For whatever reason they have become distracted by a bad attitude, mumblings of other attenders, or become stale of hearing towards the good news of the Word of God. Is there hope for staleness without throwing the church out?

First, it is important to discover if I am stale towards church or hearing the Word? Here are some common complaints said from those who exhibit seeds of staleness:

  • “Church has become so boring and I totally know what to expect.”
  • “The pastor never ends on time. We have things to do. Besides my kids can’t sit through that long of a service.”
  • “The sermons are not relevant or interesting. Rather they make me feel guilty and discouraged.”
  • “No body notices me anymore. Not even the pastors. They treat me like an outsider or stranger.”
  • “We are a busy family and Sunday is our only time to rest and relax.”

If you have recently stated one or more of these to yourself or another person you could be harboring a stale attitude towards church or hearing the Word. Again, is there hope for staleness without throwing out your church?

I want to share portions of  a great article by Colin Marshall. This article deals with how you serve and minister to one another on Sundays and prevent yourself from staleness…

Once we make the attitude shift from being passive pew sitters and receivers to active workers and givers, there is no end to the difference we can make to others. All of the suggestions below are of the informal type—things we can do at our own initiative. They are the types of involvement that every congregation member can have. The key is to observe what happens around you and respond to people’s needs. Think through Sunday mornings chronologically. What can we do before, during and after the service?

Before Worship

Preparation. One of our great contributions is our preparation. The preacher should not be the only one preparing for church. We prepare by praying for the preacher, the musicians, the service leader, the Bible readers and the newcomers. We prepare by studying the Bible passages so that we maximize this learning opportunity by being sensitized to the issues and questions in the passages being taught. Such preparation also has other benefits. We are better equipped to enter into discussion with others if we have looked at the passage beforehand. It is also a great encouragement to the preacher to know that the congregation is eager to understand the Bible and willing to put in some effort. Preaching is hard work, both for the preacher and the listeners. An intelligent question, comment or observation upon the sermon is an enormous motivating factor for the preacher who, week by week, has to try and engage the congregation’s minds and hearts in the word of God. Those who sit in the pew can make a great contribution to those teaching from the pulpit.

Meeting visitors and newcomers. We enjoy meeting our friends at church, but we need to develop a nose for new people. We need to sit with them and help them feel comfortable in this strange place by introducing ourselves and explaining what is going on. We should greet the non-Christian friends of other members and introduce our friends to others. It’s all about genuine hospitality. The way we welcome and look after people when they visit our homes should be a model for the household of God. And genuine, relaxed hospitality will slowly evaporate some of the prejudices held by outsiders.

Arriving early. All of this requires that we arrive not on time or late, but early. That may be the greatest miracle of all.

During Worship

Active listening. People in the pews have an enormous impact on those who are teaching and leading. Communication is always a two way process. Energetic listening through taking notes, making eye contact with the preacher, sitting at the front, laughing at jokes (even old ones), will spur on the preacher. It is very hard to preach enthusiastically to a sleepy, distracted, fidgety group. Our active listening will also infect others with enthusiasm for learning, just as our fidgeting will discourage them. Unbelievers will also pick up that these ideas are worth listening to if they see rows of regulars eagerly soaking up the Bible.

Singing. Similarly, those in the pew can be a great help to the singing and leading of music. It is everyone’s responsibility to share in the corporate singing of the congregation. The music may be well chosen and played but if it is poorly sung it is disheartening. Our enthusiasm and gusto in singing the great anthems of the faith is of great help to those around us and those leading the music, even if we can barely hold a tune.

Newcomers. Keep attending to newcomers’ needs. If they can’t find their way around the Bible or the service outline, or they don’t have a Bible, or they need to find the nursery, help them yourself. t’s all about being observant and outward-looking.

After Worship

Discuss God’s Word. We have just heard the word of God and we spend all of Sunday lunch talking about the movie we saw the night before. It isn’t right and we know it, but many of us are just uncomfortable starting up ‘spiritual’ conversations. If you get the ball rolling, others will pick it up. During your preparation and the sermon, think up some comments or issues to raise with others. Asking “What did you think of the sermon?” will usually put your neighbor into a coma, but making a specific comment like “I didn’t know Abel was a prophet. What makes someone a prophet?” may generate a fruitful conversation. Even if the conversations don’t always get off the ground, your enthusiasm for learning the Bible will be contagious and non-Christians will see that church is not dull and boring but fascinating and life shattering.

Pray with others. Use the time right after worship to meet others and find out their concerns and pray quietly with them. This will look a bit weird to newcomers with pairs of bowed heads all around the building, but they will know that we love each other and trust God’s providence.

Newcomers. Newcomers tend to leave fairly quickly so we have to move fast by identifying the visitor in our pew and offering them conversation immediately the service ends. It’s all very purposeful: make sure they are welcomed properly by you and your friends, maybe introduce them to the minister and help them see how they can fit in to the congregation. You may have to postpone catching your friends until after the newcomers have been cared for.

Stay late. Once you catch this vision of church, you are always the last to leave because the opportunities to minister don’t end until the last person leaves. Gone are the days of fitting church in between breakfast and brunch. Ministry of the pew takes time. Church requires a lot of effort, if we are to build the body of Christ.

Check out these stale hearing preventions:

“For those of us who have been Christians for a while, it becomes easy to think that we’ve pretty much exhausted the possibilities of the Christian life. We can settle into a routine of activities at church and in our small groups and Bible studies, with little expectation of anything new. The familiar becomes the predictable, and everything from here on out will be more of the same. We dip our teaspoon into the vast ocean of the living God. Holding that teaspoon in our hand, we say, ‘This is God.’ we pour it out into our lives, and we say, ‘This is the Christian experience.’

God calls us to dive into the ocean. He call us into ever new regions of his fullness, his immensity, his all-sufficiency. There is more for us in Christ than we have yet apprehended. Let’s never think that we have him figured out or that we’ve seen all he can do. The Bible is not a guidebook to a theological museum. It is a road map showing us the way into neglected or even forgotten glories of the living God.” 
- Ray Ortlund, When God Comes to Church