Communication Evangelization Leadership Making Church Matter

Boring Churches

January 24, 2010

Most of my experience of church growing up was boring. I realize that some of that was due to my spiritual immaturity, but the experiences were still boring: not aggressively bad, but hardly good, hardly ever well done, rarely joyous or challenging, just boring. Unfortunately, my experience is in no way exceptional.

Church should not be boring.

The Bible isn’t boring; God’s Word is the most relevant and exciting word ever written.

Jesus wasn’t boring; he was the most interesting, dynamic person who ever lived.
Jesus’ death and resurrection, which we represent in the Eucharist, wasn’t boring, it is the profound mystery of our salvation, the most interesting thing that ever happened. 
The early Christian Church, as described in the Book of Acts, wasn’t boring, it was exploding with energy and excitement.

Here’s what I think makes church boring:

1. Apathetic Leadership
Maybe the main reason why so many churches are boring is leadership. The thing is, people will never complain about boring. They may leave, they may fall away from their faith, their kids may grow up to be atheists, but they’ll never complain. Pastors, ministers, denominational leaders don’t like complaint, they can even become obsessed with not rocking the boat. If nothing ever changes, no one is ever challenged, there will be no complaints.

2. Lack of Commitment
In boring churches nothing is ever asked of anyone. Ever. People come and go as they please, when they please. They take the whole thing on their own terms. Boring churches are filled with consumers who don’t want to hear about giving or serving, or growing or changing. Boring churches are filled with people who basically consider their contribution to be just showing up; after that, the church owes them. In Catholic Churches the lack of commitment can be seen in people sitting (or standing) in the back, refusing to sing and leaving early.

3. Lack of Evangelical Effort
New birth brings excitement to a church, which is not what people comfortable with boredom desire. Lack of an evangelical outreach gets played out in a lack of focus on the Gospel, preaching that is an academic exercise focused on history and Scriptural exegesis and things that are of no interest to most people but make the comfortable church people feel smart. It gets played out in an insider kind of culture that pervades the church and keeps people far from God and away from church (or makes them uncomfortable when they do come to church).
I’ve been to churches where the announcements and even the homily were filled with reminders that I didn’t belong to that community.

4 . Predictability
Boring churches are always predictable, they never change anything. Nothing ever changes. Nobody would dare.

5. Self-Congratulatory
Boring churches are always taking time to say what a great job they’re doing, no matter the evidence to the contrary. I remembering being in a church where the choir was just dreadful, beyond belief bad. At the end of the service the Pastor got up and declared that the choir was “great” and then proceeded to lead a long ovation for them. Churches with this kind of culture usually don’t address the obvious issues that are right under their nose. And, they will not shy away from criticizing other churches and pastors (as a way of shifting attention from their own dysfunction).

6. Irrelevant
Boring churches are completely tone deaf when it comes to the culture around them. People’s lives Monday through Friday are completely separate from Sunday and any message they’ll receive at church.
There is no indication that Scripture speaks to people’s lived situation.

7. Pretentious
Boring churches are filled with people who pretend that they’ve got it all together and they’ve got no problems. When they get to church they put on their church face and pretend to be perfect or have the perfect family. They are certainly not coming to church to work on their issues (and the church probably couldn’t help them with their issues anyway).

8. Focused on the Wrong Things
Boring churches are inevitably focused on stuff that doesn’t matter and willfully ignorant of what’s important. They make the way people dress an issue and the way people live a non-issue. They make their own made up rules and customs the issue and the commands of Christ a non-issue. In some Catholic Churches I’ve been a part of it becomes all about the “liturgy” and the “liturgical laws,” and nothing about people connecting to Christ.

9. Internally Focused
Boring churches are all about themselves and uninterested in the larger community in which they find themselves. The litmus test is the famous question: “Would anyone in your community notice or care if your church wasn’t there tomorrow?”

10. Everything to Everyone
Boring churches are all over the place in terms of programs and plans.  This actually doesn’t sound boring but it is after awhile. Its about being everything to everyone (who belongs to the club) so the church ends up being about nothing.
We are working hard to try and make sure Church of the Nativity is not boring. Good music and a relevant message are a big part of it, lots of people involved in ministry and service on the weekends is part of it, an outward focus, especially on those in our community who don’t have a church, is part of it too.  But we know we have work to do. That is part of the reason we are going to Crowne Plaza starting next month.  And we’re going to work hard to make sure the experience at Crowne Plaza is not boring.

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