Church, the abridged version, isn’t a new idea. Churches have tried all kinds of adaptations to get bodies in the pews. Perhaps most famously, Mike Huckabee’s church tried a 30-minute service in 2008, “designed with you in mind.”
Sounds great… kind of.
Only kind of because church, mostly, should be designed with God in mind.
Is that being old-fashioned?
As I understand it, a church service should include a time of worship, prayer, and preaching. It should also regularly baptize and serve the Lord’s Supper. And then, less essential, but still worthwhile are a greeting time, an offering, church announcements, and a benediction.
If a church can do all those things – or at least the essential four: worship, prayer, preaching, and sacraments – in a half hour, then go for it.
But if it can’t, or if it rushes them or does them half-heartedly, there’s a problem.
And, frankly, if we can’t take 60 or 90 minutes out of your week to spend in worship in the fellowship of believers, something is the matter. After all, God calls us not to an hour or two hours on Sunday; he calls us to set aside a whole day just for him:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.
Of course we shouldn’t be rabid legalists. Our sabbath doesn’t have to be Sunday, and it doesn’t even mean we can’t do good work on that day. What it means is that the God of the universe tells us straight-up to set aside time to rest and refocus on him. And, really, our time resting and focusing on God should pervade our whole lives, not any one day here or there.
My issue with condensing a church service isn’t about the actual length of time – God never said a service had to be 60 minutes on Sunday mornings. Rather, I’m concerned with potential underlying motives and their outcomes.
Church shouldn’t be something you squeeze in. We shouldn’t be just dropping by.
Participating in the Body of Christ is a privilege, but it’s also a commitment. It’s not just for fellowship with strangers; it’s a family.
We need to step back and check ourselves when church is made to accommodate our flustered lives rather than our flustered lives accommodating church.
I don’t have any problem with a diversity of worship styles, times, and traditions, as long as Jesus is glorified and people are loved and transformed. But if church gets McDonald-ized, turned into a drive-thru window for ordering one prayer, one Hillsong number, and a sugary sermon, extra small, then it’s become about our convenience instead of God’s gospel. Like the Christian life, church isn’t stamped with God’s “CONVENIENT” guarantee. He never said it would be.
And regarding the 30-minute schedule, I guess that’s fair to leave up to Christians and their clergy. The worship itinerary isn’t for me to decide. Honestly, 60 or 90 minutes seems just as arbitrary. I know some folks who go to church four or five hours, or make it a whole day affair.
What I will say is the time commitment isn’t as important as the heart commitment.
If spending an hour once a week is too much to fit in, you might need to rearrange your priorities. If you simply can’t pay attention for that long, you either need to check your heart or check the church. You shouldn’t get bored! If you can’t handle worshiping God for 60 minutes now, how will you handle eternity in heaven?
Ultimately, I don’t believe the length of church services has much to do with the truth of the message or the health of the Church. If the promise of an in-and-out service gets people through the doors to hear the gospel, I’m okay with it. But I don’t think it will solve the problem for dying churches.
People aren’t leaving the Church because the pastor can’t wrap it up in 30 minutes. They aren’t leaving because they don’t have the time – people make time for things that matter to them. They’re leaving because they’re coming to believe the opposite: that the Church doesn’t matter.
That’s the key. It has to matter.
And making it matter doesn’t require more gimmicks – lights and amps, mochas and best-selling megapastors aren’t the things that matter in the end. To make it matter churches need to pray, teach the truth, invite the Spirit to be present, and be a truly God-honoring, neighbor-loving community.