I’ve visited a lot of churches since leaving my staff position. All of them served as inspiration for the documentary and book.
Over the course of the past decade church services have become longer as a rule. It used to be 1 hour long- period. One hour that included music, greeting, announcements, special speaker, offering and a 20 minute sermon no matter what. I’m not sure why so many have extended the length of their services, but I do have a theory.
Saddleback services are longer. Rick Warren speaks for as long as 45 minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, Rick Warren is an Excellent speaker. I imagine that he could speak for twice that long and hold the attention of most any audience. People didn’t mind the longer service and it seemed to catch on with other pastors. Now it’s pretty common for church to go on for an hour and a half.
When I started visiting churches in my area I realized that the service was going to last an hour and a half even if the pastor ran out of gas after speaking for 10 or 15 minutes. It’s excruciating to me to sit still while the speaker re reiterates the point he made in the first 5 minutes simply because he has more time to fill. After all, there are still 3 more fill in the blanks left on the conveniently provided sermon notes stuffed into the bulletin.
One Sunday I sat squirming in my seat fanaticizing about standing up and shouting out “Alright already! You’ve made your point! Can we just call it good and go home now?” Seriously, I just wanted to throw something at him. He droned on for 40 minutes saying something he had already made clear with 2 or 3 supporting anecdotes in about 12 minutes.
What’s wrong with ending a service early? (I’m imagining right now there are sounds of cheering everywhere this is being read.). Where is it written that a church service ought to be designed with a check list similar to a flight plan? 20 minutes of Worship? Check. 10 minutes for Announcements? Check. 5 minutes for the Offering? Check. 45 minutes of saying what could be said in 20? Check…. All across the land church leaders are trying to make their services interesting, compelling and unique…. But they’re doing it by doing it exactly like everyone else! If I had a nickel for every church who touts themselves as “A church for people who don’t like church”, or “A different kind of church” I’d have enough money to start a whole new church!
People, listen to me. It’s not about the length of the service. We all sit through 2 hour long movies and don’t have a problem sitting still for that. Not every message is created equal. Some are far more interesting than others. Some topics take longer to unpack than others. Some are more life changing or intimate or require more explanation. But wouldn’t it make sense if the Pastor timed his message accordingly? Wouldn’t it be nice if once in a while your pastor said, “Well, that’s about all I have to say about that; let’s call it a day. Everyone, grab your kids, hang out with your friends here a while and have a cup of coffee with the extra time.”
Why not change it up a little sometimes? There are times when the message is so inspiring or emotional that one may feel more like singing songs of praise afterward than at the beginning of service. There are times when the message is falling flat and the pastor is aware of all the fidgeting and daydreaming going on in the audience. It happens. It’s okay. They’ll still be back next week – maybe. But
It seems to me that the pastor can and should be free to say he feels the message God is moving him to share is going to take a little longer. Or a little less time. He should be free to say we’re doing worship last this week. Or we’re not doing announcements every single week. He should be free to end the service the moment he senses it’s finished. And if he doesn’t have a great sense of these things his staff should be free to help him out!