The Value of Corporate Church Time
The overwhelming majority of those who attend church only go to the Sunday morning service. You couldn’t get them to the church any other time if you were passing out free money. Therefore, the Sunday morning service for most constituents represents the totality of corporate spiritual life.
This reality makes this time of utmost importance to the spiritual wellbeing of these typical evangelical church goers. Therefore, how that time is spent should constitute a critical issue for church leadership.
The Evangelical Cultural Pattern
How is this time spent? Though there may be some holdouts, the contemporary evangelical church has for the most part adopted a pattern for the Sunday worship service. You can visit almost any of the mid-to-large sized evangelical churches of almost any stripe (perhaps excluding Presbyterians) and you can write the script before you go through the door.
Stand up for a 30 minute worship time led by a worship leader heading a praise band and others on the worship team, followed by a few minutes of greeting those around you, followed by the announcement video, a brief prayer, the offering, the 30 minute sermon, and a closing song, totaling about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Who Wrote the Script?
The regularity of this standard pattern makes one wonder who wrote the script? A template so widely used to regulate prime time for the vast majority of evangelical churches in America possesses tremendous significance. In light of its importance I am left to wonder who determined that this was the very best approach to ministering to all those people who only make it to church for the Sunday worship service, and also for all the others.
I don’t have the answer, but if I were to guess my best shot would be that no one thought it through and made the decision. Rather, it just sort of grew up by itself like a stray cat. But not being tuned into the inner workings of the contemporary church, I may be all wrong. Perhaps sometime about 10 or 15 years ago there was a meeting of worship gurus who devised this scheme. If anyone knows the source of this template, I would love to hear from you.
Why the De-emphasis on Prayer?
Probably most expositors believe that the opening section of 1Timothy 2 deals with corporate prayer in the church. That section begins with these words: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men.” This and other passages indicate that prayer was a major aspect of early church worship. Yet the template above leaves a minimal room for prayer, and in most of the services I have attended the prayer time is very short and very sterile.
Why is that? I don’t know the answer. We tend to talk about and believe our commitment to Scripture, and yet this neglect of corporate prayer seems to represent a serious departure from Scripture. Even pastors who are otherwise very committed to prayer, preach about prayer and promote the prayer service, tend to minimize prayer in the one service where the community of believers is gathered. Whatever these pastors may say, their actions tell their congregation that prayer is not important. It is curious that in the standard pattern, prayer is practically nonexistent, and at that point hardly any churches, none in my experience, depart from that contemporary cultural mandate.
Questions on Worship
Since the worship time and sermon represent the two major blocks in the service, I wonder what benefit is being derived by churchgoers from this major commitment of weekly time in the corporate gathering.
The designation “worship” indicates the intent, but I wonder if that objective is being reached.
From time to time I tend to look around the congregation to get a sense of the participation. It seems that about 20% are really into it, 20% are enduring it, and the other 60% are somewhat engaged. I get the sense that women tend to be more involved than men.
My observations suggest a trend of lessening participation across the previous 10 years. Worship time is becoming more of a spectator event with less people singing. This is especially the case when new songs are introduced.
The Ultimate Question
All of the above makes me wonder what the impact would be if we took 15 of the 30 minutes of worship time and devoted it to prayer, giving us a total of maybe 20 minutes of corporate prayer. What difference would it make if we spent that time praying about our national moral decline, babies that might be aborted the next week, the advance of the homosexual agenda, the moral decline in the church, families being torn apart by divorce, persecuted Christians around the world, the safety of our military people in combat, unsaved friends and neighbors who need the Lord, etc.?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I would love to see whoever designed our Sunday morning church template give it a try. I believe the evangelical church in America would benefit tremendously from the change.