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The Problem with Short Worship Services in the Church

One difference we notice after coming back to America is that Sunday morning worship is much shorter. In my experience most US churches keep their main worship service to somewhere between 60-90 minutes.

In contrast most Ukrainian churches  I’ve been in will run around 120 minutes.

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Maybe Ukraine has influenced me too much or maybe God’s Word has but I’ve come to the conclusion that many American churches have wimped out on worship!

They have caved to cultural pressure and cut short the one time in the week when the entire local church gathers to worship as one!

Social Norms

Some argue that the church must be culturally relevant and in and effort not to break social norms they limit the worship time.

What social norms are they talking about?

Let’s look at the most popular sports in America they must tell us something about what people are willing to sit through. I did a little research and this is what I found for the average length of games.

  • Basketball NBA – 150 minutes
  • Major League Baseball – 170 minutes
  • Football NFL – 180 minutes

Those definitely don’t fit into our nice 60-90 minute church service slot!

What about movies, they’re a lot more like a church service and aren’t most popular moves around 90 minutes?

Once again I did some checking! Below are the top 10 grossing films of all time along with how many minutes they run.

  1. Avatar – 171 minutes
  2. Titanic – 194 minutes
  3. Avengers – 142 minutes
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – 130 minutes
  5. Iron Man 3 – 130 minutes
  6. Transformers – 154 minutes
  7. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – 201 minutes
  8. Skyfall – 143 minutes
  9. The Dark Night Rises – 165 minutes
  10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – 151 minutes

That’s an average running time of 158 minutes! Maybe Americans aren’t as pressed for time as we thought!

Plan well

You can’t just decide to have longer services by simply moving the start time back a few minutes! Adding 30 minutes to your service doesn’t automatically make it more spiritual or more helpful.

A longer service means more planning.

  • What do your people really need?
  • How can you use the time most effectively to foster true worship of the true God?

These question demand that we focus our attention on our core purposes for the weekly worship time. A properly planned time of worship ought to edify the participants and glorify God at the same time.

Add what is lacking

Every church is different so there is no cookie cutter approach. However, here are a few suggestions of what you might want to add to your service.

Longer sermons: 20-30 minutes just doesn’t cut it. Our people need well prepared Bible teaching that does more than skim the surface. Shoot for at least 40 mins of clear and compelling Biblical content.

More sermons: Instead of making the sermon longer you could add a second or third sermon. People will benefit greatly by hearing from more than one preaching voice on Sunday mornings.

More testimonies: Too many churches relegate testimonies to a few times a year. Why not make them a weekly part of your worship?

More prayer: Extended corporate prayer is beautiful and powerful! Consider 10 mins of praying in small groups and also prepared prayers.

More participation from the Children: Involving children in worship helps our kids appreciate worship from an early age, it also blesses the adults! Don’t wait until Christmas or Easter to have the children sing, recite verses or do a skit!

Question: How long is the service at your church? Is it too long or too short? What would you add or subtract?

 

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I am a pastor, missionary, and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ukraine since 2007. God blessed me with a wonderful wife and 5 amazing children! My greatest passion is to teach, encourage, and exhort others to turn to Jesus, who is Savior, Lord, and God!

  • Our services are planned for 90 minutes. I preach 30-35 minutes of that. Our worship (singing) is generally about 15-20 minutes. We offer communion each week so that takes some time. I will sometimes use videos/songs etc to emphasize a point in my message. We may go over from time to time but have found this is best for us.

    • Bill, I’ve never been in a church that does communion every week but I like the idea. I’d be interested in your ideas of how to keep it fresh.

  • Our services are usually about 75 minutes or so. One issue with today’s church is the need for 2-3 services back-to-back. Of course, you could always start the second service a tad later.

    Honestly, I believe what’s missing more than anything is time spent in corporate worship through music. Singing a couple of songs, only to be interrupted by announcements, really detracts from the worship experience. Just as the presence of the God is beginning to show up, we stop the music because the bulletin says it’s time to watch a video. And I’m not talking about repeating choruses over and over, but utilizing songs filled with Biblical truths, both new and old.

    • I agree, multiple services does make it very challenging. I also like music and there have been times when I got up to preach when I told people that I’d actually rather sing for another 30 minutes and felt bad to interrupt that beautiful time of worship with my sermon. Both are important and we shouldn’t sacrifice one for the other as both are commanded in the New Testament.

    • I hear you, it does not really allow for the Spirit of God to work due to the time frame. I do like how more churches are doing evening services because it allows the people who have to work in the am the opportunity to attend.

      • Definitely. I’m from a Baptist background, and what’s interesting is that a lot of Baptist churches are doing away with their traditional Sunday evening services and just holding services on Sunday mornings. Whereas a lot of non-denominational churches are offering different times, such as Saturday or Sunday evenings.

        • That is interesting.

        • A church in our town is now holding services on Monday night. I thought that was interesting. I guess it might be more convenient for some but it seems that for the average person that wouldn’t be the best time to have your main weekly worship service.

  • I grew up in a church where we NEVER got out early, In fact, we always got out 30-60 mins LATE. I remember being so hungry. But I was being spiritually fed. Even when I was old enough to decide what I did on Sundays, I chose church.

    Today, I long for that kind of Spiritual feeding. I know pastors who long to go longer but they cave to pressure from man. It’s sad what our society values.

    • That’s a long time overtime but I think what you’re getting at is the importance of having a heart for worship, that’s where it’s really at!

  • I can’t sit through a sports game even when it’s live unless I was coaching. When I was a kid it was always two hour services and it truly felt like torture to me. To make a point for me doesn’t take long, but then I’m the guy who can stay shut up in my office for hours on end doing Bible studies and writing…. I’m not the norm, but I get where you’re heart is and it’s always in the right place.

    • Floyd, I also have a hard time sitting through those sports games and I can’t tell you when the last time was that I sat through an entire movie! In my experience a good worship service ought to have plenty of interaction with the people and that makes it not seem so long.

      I once sat through an entire 5.5 hour service in Ukraine with my two of my kids. They started asking me if it was almost over after about the first hour! They did so well sitting though the whole thing that I took them out to ice cream afterwards.

  • Our church services at my home church in Kenya lasts 2 and half hours. 🙂 the sermon itself about an hour or so. i miss that long soaking, being in the presence without a hurry. There some things you can’t be imparted when you are looking at a watch.

    • Seems interesting to me that outside of North America many cultures have longer worship services.

  • Good points, Caleb. I’ve been to churches in Thailand, Russia , Jordan, & a few other places & they were all longer. America is fueled by fast & speed: drive tru’s etc

    • You get around Dave! I think drive thru’s do say something about American’s need for speed and service. That’s another problem in churches today. People go to church with the expectation that they should be served rather than looking for ways to serve others.

      • Ha! Yea, we used to. Haven’t traveled since my son was born on 2010. But it’s definetly opened our eyes. Good point about people looking to be served rather than serving. It just shows you how much we’ve been effected by consumerism.

  • DS

    Wow – I haven’t really considered the length of our service as needing to be longer/shorter. As a family we struggle with maintaining our children for the length of our service now. But we also have an hour long Bible study prior to our corporate service. Thanks for giving me something to think about. I may write you later about this but outside of the comments section (because of length!).

    • I know what you mean about the kids David! We have 5 and right now it’s a bit difficult for our 3 yr old. It’s nice when we have children’s church. Our church does that every Sunday except the first Sunday. I will generally put something fun into the sermons for the kids when I know there is no children’s church.

      Here’s an example of what I did for the kids during my sermon last month. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I8R2a0O4Os&feature=share&t=35m42s

      • DS

        Thanks for the link – I’ll have to check it out. We have an element of a children’s church, but it’s typically on Sunday evenings only. We find a lot of value in having the kids in Sunday morning service, even though it can present some difficulties, especially with parents of young children. I can only imagine having to manage all 5!

        • I agree there is a lot of value in having children in the main worship service at times. I’m really big on making the sermon interesting and applicable to all who are listening, so if there’s kids listening I’m probably going to do some sort of object lesson or ask the kids to participate somehow. In reality the adults love that stuff just as much as the kids!

  • A very convicting and well stated message Caleb. We too add an hour of Bible Study to our morning time of worship . . . but I like your ideas of more than one preacher and individual testimonies. Did you see the Church Rescue show on the National Geographic channel this week?

    • I didn’t catch that program Deb, what were they doing in the church rescue?

      • It’s three pastors who are going to churches and helping them make changes to better reach their communities. They are not mainstream churches by any means, but some of their points can be applied by any group of believers. It’s on Monday night.

  • The small church I attend is about 90 minutes and often runs longer. The Pastor does not allow a time constraint to the Spirit of God. When God is working or want’s something said that means the service time will be longer. I enjoy that fact about the church I attend.

    Great thoughts, Caleb!

    • I always appreciated it when there is at least some flexibility in the planning of services. In Ukraine I’ve been in a number of churches where the service was supposed to start at 10am and the leadership of the church would meet at 9:50am to plan the service!

  • Services at our church are 55 minutes long – by intention.

    I’m not interested in starting a debate, but I think your post and questions could lead to a great discussion on the topic. I would ask a couple of other questions:

    (1) What are Sunday church services for?
    (2) What is the church really about?

    I, for one, think the church has multiple dimensions, purposes, and responsibilities. First, I think we are to bring glory to God. If we’re not pursuing this aim then what are we doing? Second, the church is the main tool that Christ setup for fulfilling the Great Commission. The Great Commission is all about taking people far from God and helping them to become fully devoted followers of Christ. Do longer Sunday church services alone achieve this objective? I don’t think so.

    I agree that our culture is most often off base in their focus of time and energy on things that just don’t matter in the big scheme of things, but I’m not convinced that a longer church service will fix this. Worship should be a constant in our lives if we’re truly following Christ. If we’re depending on the Sunday service to be the main avenue for our worship then we should be talking about church services lasting 168 hours a week. If worship is meant to be lived out through our everyday experiences then maybe our church services are already too long. Just some thoughts.

    • Good points John. Yes, you’re right, longer services are not a panacea! I highly recommend churches to take a close look at their purposes and goals as a church when planning anything but especially when planning the main weekly gathering!

      The point is not just to do whatever you’re doing for longer or shorter than you are currently doing it but rather to strategically plan and add the vital things that that are lacking.

      While the main weekly gathering shouldn’t be the only time you worship I do believe it should be the focal point for corporate worship in the life of the church. Certainly worship on and individual level should be constant.

  • Haha, love your comparison to sporting events. that’s convicting! Our services are between 75 minutes and 90 minutes. I love your ideas of how to use the extra time if they were longer. Plus we go to Sunday school before hand. My pet peeve is that in Sunday school, we often visit for 35-45 minutes and then have 15 minutes of study. This has happened in two classes – not sure if it’s a trend at other churches.

    • Barb, I know what you’re talking about with Sunday School. I guess I could go either way with that. Fellowship is important too, but if it’s going to be more of a fellowship time then maybe it should be renamed as “fellowship” time instead.

      • That would be better, although less of an opportunity for “character development” as I could always use more patience. 🙂

  • Caleb,

    This was a great podcast. You were right on!

    Our service here in Raleigh, NC is typically about 80 minutes. Our time-frame is driven primarily by the fact that we have 2 services–one at 9am and one at 11am.

    We do have a set schedule, but always allow time for the Holy Spirit to work.

    Keep up the great work. I always love hearing the cultural church differences between the U.S. and the Ukraine. Lots of different church styles, but still ONE AWESOME GOD!

    • Larry, I think that most churches that do 2 morning worship services tend to have a little shorter service time. When we were still here in the the US and had two services our first service started at 8:30am. You’d think that would be a little too early for people but the early service was always the most popular service.

  • Caleb, our service is 75 minutes, but we have a 50-minute Bible study before it. For us, having more people in Bible classes would be fantastic.

    • Melanie, what percentage of the people attend the Bible study?

      • 10-15%. Not great I know! I have discussed the unique approach of having small group time *within* the service–something that has been done in other unique services. I think that could make a longer service work for our contemporary service. Maybe. lol

  • We meet for about an hour in small group and then go to service for anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. It gets a little tougher at our church since we have multiple services (in order to accommodate a growing body with our current space). The services can’t be too terribly long or the three services would have awkward start times.
    I’m reminded about church services in some third world countries. It takes people long enough to walk to church – they don’t mind hearing teaching for three or four hours.

    • Yes, multiple services does complicate the matter. It’s kind of strange because I don’t know of any churches in Ukraine that do multiple services. It seems like they have a hard time understanding that concept or maybe culturally it just doesn’t work.

  • Really interesting reading. The services at our church are 120 minutes officially, though there’s time for socialising before and after the meeting. We’re fortunate in that we meet in a venue with a nice open lobby area with plenty of chairs and tables so people can mill around before and after. It’s both challenging and inspiring though to hear of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world (especially India and South Korea) where meetings continue for hours more. I can’t help but feel that in places where there aren’t so many conveniences that there’s a greater appetite for God in worship. One we need to learn to cultivate where we are. Great post, Caleb.

    • Micah, it seems to me that 120 minutes is a bit longer than most US churches. I think you’re right about the appetite for God’s Word being greater when there are less conveniences.

  • Carl Roberts

    Why don’t we all just have sixteen-hour services?

  • So true! Thanks for sharing Bishop Martin!

  • twsktxok

    Our church just went from having 3 Sunday morning services to 4. Our music/worship time has allowed for typically 4 songs, but limited to 18 min — sometimes getting away with 20, but then even 20 min can infringe upon the pastor’s time – which has been a bit unpredictable…20 something minutes to close to 40 at times, averaging around 30 – now he’s got to be very strict (officially 28 min sermon, 5 min? “altar call”). So with the new 4 services, to keep the morning from too late, we’ve changed from a 60 min to a 55 min service. I am now leading worship for only three songs, 15 minutes – and done. We have between 1000 people combined (low end) to around 1200-1400+ average in all services coming to worship and hear a message. I just find it …odd that as the church, we say Sunday is so important, and yet we don’t want to infringe on anyones time too much (including ours and we get PAID to do this) – so we strip back our time to worship God in song as a corporate people to squeeze in another service to allow for our growth to have space – we’ve had so much attendance growth, we needed to add the 4th service to make room. I’d like to hear thoughts on this from others. ~ thank you.

    • You bring up some good points. Certainly there is not simple formula here. On the one hand it’s great that more people are attending your church, on the other hand it’s not so great have only 55 mins of corporate worship once a week. Sometimes I do feel that churches become so taken up with making things “convenient” that makes Christianity feel more like a fast food restaurant than a family made up of orphaned children who were bought with a great price and want nothing more than to spend time with their father and their new siblings.

      Personally, I think most Western churches need to strive for more substantial worship quality and quantity! I mean most Americans watch more more than 55 mins of TV on a daily basis so how hard can it be to set apart more than 55 mins on a weekly basis for corporate worship?