Tag Archives: loud music

Quirky Church Service Practices Repel Repeat Visits by Guests

In many years of visiting local churches, I’ve experienced a wide variety of services. A characteristic of churches I do not seek to revisit is represented by those with quirky services. This can be exhibited in many ways, but often as follows.

  • Service time commitment not followed
  • Runaway musical productions
  • Off-the-cuff lengthy sharing moments
  • Lengthy and verbose offering appeals
  • Interminable altar calls

Earlier this year, I attended a Sunday service at a new church.  The music was brief and to the point. The pastor repeatedly elicited responses from all present such as asking people to stand for the reading of scripture; asking people to say “amen” on many occasions; after a prayer he said, “and everyone that agreed with that prayer shouted…” to which a muted shout of “amen” rang out. Disrespectfully, a chorus of cell phones rang during the entire service. During a lengthy testimony time, many gave individual testimonies or asked for prayers of support. This was the first time I’d experienced this in all my church visits here. An emotional time consuming a significant amount of the service, it might have been more effective in a mid-week service. In fact, an entire hour went by before the preaching by a guest speaker started. The service lasted just shy of two hours. I had attended this church one other time and found them similarly unpredictable.  Significantly fewer people were present at this recent service, versus to previous one noted leading me to assume their church growth strategy was not working.

With over 50 churches closing every week across the U.S., there has to come a time when churches need to recognize their ministry is just not being effective.

One local church I’ve attended has offering sermons prior to the offering collection. They last longer than most homilies offered by local pastors. Their services last a couple of hours as well.  Another local church has members bring their offerings up front to staffed offering plates. I fail to see the value of this practice which I consider to be offensive to first-time guests and possibly regulars.

Many churches think that a rich musical entertainment format will attract and hold millennials. However, church consultant Thom Rainer says they’re looking for three things: content, authenticity, and quality.  In a recent article (http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2017/april/the-real-reason-why-millennials-arent-going-to-church-and-its-not-because-they-hate-jesus) Rainer said, “They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths,Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music.” They are looking for rich spiritual truth in the message, and in the lives of the members. They will quickly see through inauthentic congregations. Too many churches still offer half-hour or longer music sessions at earsplitting levels. That’s not what these future church members and potential leaders seek.

Altar calls are a standard in evangelicalism. Many times they last 15 minutes or more. I consider them to be unscriptural, psychological blackmail, and an artifact of the second great awakening in the early 1800’s but honed by evangelicals to produce “decisions” by which effectiveness of ministry is measured.  By and large I do not think God works on the human heart through emotional altar calls. Quite often they are accompanied by pleading songs and instrumental music to shape attendees emotions to a desired response. Studies indicate few people make life-giving changes during altar calls and repeating the sinner’s prayer.  One lengthy altar call I recently witnessed saw the pastor searching the crowd. He finally admitted the person(s) he’d hoped to come forward wasn’t even there that morning.  God works on the heart, asking individuals to “rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Finally, pastors should build expectations in every member/guest regarding service times and stick to them.  Sermons can be overdone and overly long. As a professional presenter, I learned early that to be effective, I had to do three things: say in advance what I was going to cover, then say it, and finish by repeating what I’d said. This practice makes the information memorable and unforgettable.  I love to hear Redeemer Presbyterian’s Tim Keller do exactly that. In no small part it’s why his unfolding of scriptural truth is so compelling. I rarely hear local pastors use the same tried and true technique. Peoples attention spans are very brief these days. Some of the most effective sermons I’ve heard locally were only 10-15 minutes long.

We should strive to give our guests and members unforgettable experiences in worship.

Happy church-going during this beautiful Alaskan summer!




Top recommendations for churches — and church members — in 2016

When I write about churches I visit, I am really visiting congregations or assemblies of people. They may or may not meet in a dedicated building. For Christians, the biblical term for church is taken from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” When people refer to their churches, often they’re referring to a specific building, but my columns tend to focus on churches as a congregation made up of its members, including leaders — and this column is no exception.

In this year’s top 10 list, I’m offering  recommendations that can strengthen and maintain strong Christian congregations. But they’re not only for church leaders: Individual church members must also take responsibility for their congregations. Leaders alone cannot achieve what their church’s members are not willing to tackle.

Resolve to attend church regularly

Attendance patterns for Alaska churches are some of the lowest in the U.S. Regular church attendance has strong physical, mental and spiritual benefits.

Study the Bible and its origins

Regular, personal Bible study has significant benefit for believers. Don’t depend on what your minister feeds you. I highly recommend studying Bible origins and translations. Several readable scholarly study books might help: Bruce Metzger’s “The Bible in Translation,” Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” and just published, Robert Hutchison’s “Searching for Jesus” will add to your confidence level in scripture.

Measure, discuss and confront loud music at your church

Many smartphone apps provide the ability to measure the loudness of music in your church. Loud music can damage your hearing and your family’s through repeated exposure. In many churches music is played at 100-105 decibels. My highest reading this past year was 117 decibels. A papercovering 43 studies of hearing loss published by McGill Journal of Medicine demonstrates how preventable it is. It’s foolish for churches to promote physical, mental and spiritual health but create hearing damage. Be proactive and communicate with your church leadership. Your church’s sound people and worship team must understand the gravity of this issue.

Be part of the greeting solution

Why support missions halfway around the world and be dismissive of the stranger who is visiting your church? Be friendly. Introduce yourself to strangers and welcome them. You’d do the same in your home, wouldn’t you? Church is your spiritual home. The number-one reason church guests vow to never return to a particular church is that they are made to feel unwelcome. Every church should adopt the 10-foot rule — meaning every member should be encouraged to welcome those within a 10-foot radius.

Learn about and observe the concept of Sabbath

Christians, for the most part, observe a day of worship limited to a few hours on Saturday or Sunday. A quick read of the Bible reveals Sabbath to be a 24-hour cessation of work. Its intent is for a physical, mental and spiritual R&R. Devoting only a few hours to the observance of Sabbath cheats you of the benefits God gave us at creation, and underlined in the 10 commandments. “Sabbath” by Dan Allender, “Mudhouse Sabbath” by Lauren Winner and “Sabbath Keeping” by Lynne Baab are excellent books about the benefits of reserving a day a week to worship, rest and restore.

Support community needs with direct action

Many Christians in our community avoid helping others. Evangelical churches here often ignore helping the poor, sick, needy and downtrodden. Appeals are often made to support world evangelism and missions, but the greatest mission field is here in Alaska. It is hypocritical to think otherwise. Roman Catholic, Orthodox and liturgical churches regularly care for and support community-wide needs. Why this divide exists puzzles me. The Bible says “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Use group study to replace dying Sunday schools

A distinct national trend has developed about Sunday schools — they’re dying. Some churches have replaced them with small groups that meet at various times during the week or sometimes on Sunday. A tendency of many groups is to read and discuss various “flavor-of-the-month” spiritual books rather than to delve into the Bible, digesting it and learning from it. Don’t neglect the Bible for these types of groups. Be courageous and form your own Bible reading and study group instead. Radical church transformations can occur.

Be comfortable inviting someone to worship or study with you

It’s a wonderful thing to sing about the “good news” of Christ, and be effusive over his presence in your life. If this is true, then share it with someone who may not have a connection with Christ or may possibly be unfulfilled in their current church experience. Offer to personally study with them or accompany you to a meaningful service at your place of worship.

Give back financially

Christians believe a key response to the value of the gift they’ve received merits a heart response in giving. Scripture tells us “God loves a cheerful giver.” If you believe your church is spending too much on overhead and not enough on the “good news” of spreading the gospel, get involved. Ask to be included in discussions of church finances.

Pray more, complain less

Prayer is one of the healthiest things you can do. A recent Psychology Today article listed five benefits of prayer. National polling data indicates that more than half of us pray every day, and more than 75 percent believe prayer is important to our daily lives. Prayer is not posture. One can pray anywhere and everywhere. Very few pastors talk about prayer in their sermons. It should be stressed.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Abbott Loop: Incredibly Loud Music – Great Sermon

Third Visit to ALCC
I made a return visit to Abbott Loop Community Church on February 16. My previous visits are posted HERE and HERE. (These hyperlinks currently unavailable) In many respects this visit was very similar to my first visit with respect to having loud music but presenting a great sermon.

ALCC has two Sunday services: 9 and 11 a.m. I attended the 11 a.m. service.

It’s been nearly 2 years since their ceiling collapsed, but the rebuild turned out well. Church was meeting in the gym this time. I was greeted with “Good Morning!” by the gentleman who opened the outside door. A bulletin was handed to me but no one else greeted or spoke to me until former Pastor Rick Benjamin came over to greet me. I’ve since come to know Rick better and have an intense respect for him and his service in the community.

No Service Information in Bulletin
A bulletin/worship guide had been handed to me as I entered. Perusing it I was astounded it was chock full of coming events and information about small groups, but not a word about the service that day. Church guests like to know what is happening and in what order. Typical with many charismatic services, when church started, there were still many empty seats which slowly filled until the preaching started.

Punishingly Loud Music
ALCC’s praise band of seven started promptly at 11 and pummeled our eardrums with up to 117 decibel music for almost half an hour. Their lyrics were generally theologically sound but the music was rock turned up to 11. I love rock music, but I now know how problematic it can be in church services. Glancing around me, I noticed that few people were singing. When the music is too loud, people figure it doesn’t matter if they sing or not, and because the auditorium was blacked out, the praise band appeared as “stars” presenting what essentially amounted to entertainment. I was shocked to glance across the aisle and saw mother holding a newborn whose delicate ears, statistically, were being damaged as this music played.

Many of the songs they played and sang were unfamiliar to me, but elicited charismatic responses from those in attendance. Music lyrics were shown on a screen behind the stage. I liked the endless numbers of individuals portrayed holding signs with sayings such as “Finding joy in Christ”, “Giving God Control”, “What if I Don’t go to Heaven?”, etc. The real gotcha for churches is that it’s been proven that an overly loud music service, affects worshipers ability to focus on the sermon and retain that information.

Meet ‘n Greet – Why?
A meet ‘n greet was announced after the half hour of music. It was very long and many people around me seemed to be embarrassed with greeting others. For the most part, those who greeted me did so only with their names, and nothing else. I’m guessing many people did not know each other.

Worthwhile Sermon
The sermon that day was delivered by Mark Drake, who everyone seemed to know but was not really introduced to those present. From the internet I gained he got started in the Jesus Movement, but found no information about where he currently lives. He appears to head a ministry preaching God’s plan of salvation, plus printing and delivering related books and literature in the U.S. and various countries around the world. South Africa, Zimbabwe, and SE Asia were given as examples.

Mark’s sermon was well delivered, lasting close to an hour. You can listen to it by clicking HERE. ALCC took over 1 ½ weeks to post this sermon. Last time I went to ALCC, I also heard a fantastic sermon, but it took several months to post it. When I queried ALCC when it would be posted, I was told that work was done by a volunteer and that they had no control over the process. Many Anchorage churches post sermon recordings the same day or in one or two days. If not posted immediately, people lose the urge to listen to a sermon again or share it with friends. Maybe this practice is deeply ingrained in ALCC’s corporate DNA.

ALCC Website Not Helpful to Guests
When I went to ALCC’s website to view their service times, I couldn’t find this information easily. I finally scrolled down to the bottom of the page and found it there. That’s a sign of poor website design. Potential guests visit a church’s website for two things: church location and service times. What a shame this information is not more prominently displayed on every church website. I believe ALCC’s sermons can be top notch. Personally, I recommend skipping the music, to save your hearing, and showing up at 11:30 for the preaching.