Observing Churches for a Summer

July 29, 2013

For thirteen years, my wife and I have essentially attended the same church (Gateway Fellowship of Sacramento). This makes sense, since we were part of the team that started the church. On vacation, over the years, we have occasionally attended other churches; but on the whole, Gateway is our only experience.

Until this summer.

We’ve been on sabbatical for 11 weeks now, and have attended 7 different churches during that time in both Canada and the United States. I have to say I am extremely disappointed by what I’ve found. Almost every Sunday (with one exception) we came away from the time of worship and a sermon looking disappointingly at each other. Now, I have had seasons in my life when I’ve been hypercritical, but I don’t think I’m in one of them now. Kathy is not that way, and we have been pretty consistent in what we’ve seen. Let me share some random thoughts from my 11 week experience.

1. In only one of the 11 weeks did the preacher present the Bible expositorily. Expository preaching means the teacher uses the Bible verses as the basis for what they present. Only one person did this. Many of them made passing references to the Bible. Two of the speakers told their story the whole time and barely even acknowledged the Bible at all.

2. A lot of money is being spent on lighting and sound systems. If you want to know how I feel about these, look at this blog entry from a couple of years ago. I am not impressed.

3. The churches we visited were either extremely friendly or extremely unfriendly – there was nothing in between. In two of the churches, we went out of our way to meet people no one else was talking to. In both cases, the people were also visitors to those churches. One lady was really upset that we were not from that church: She was hoping there were at least two friendly people there. I am worried for the church if newcomers are treated this way.

4. The “Big Show” approach is not as interesting as most churches think it is. The $200,000 sound system and the drummer who looks like he was recently with a heavy metal band gets old after about 30 seconds. So does the entire service devoted to dramatic readings from a great-grandmother’s pioneer journal (Yes, we actually sat through an hour of readings from the diary of an old Norwegian Minnesotan, done by her great-grandson pastor. It would have been more enjoyable sticking a pencil in my eye).

5. Most churches are stuck in one era of music. One church sings all songs from the 80s. Another is a 90s church. Another is a Millennial church and another the 1800s. Blend it up people. There is good music in every era.

6. No pauses. There is no time given in the services to reflect and to talk to God. It is one fast-paced show until the closing bell. In one church, I had to leave to get some business done and then come back in.

7. God was in all those places. There is no doubt I felt God’s presence everywhere I worshiped. Most of the time, it was despite the fact they did everything to ignore God. Sigh.

One last thing. I am wondering why there was so little Expository preaching this summer. I have four theories…see which one you think it is.

a. They have been mentored to preach in other ways. Since less and less people use the Bible in teaching, there are less mentors to show others how to do this.

b. Preachers think people want more gimmicks. They actually believe we’re tired of studying the Bible. They’re wrong.

c. They are trying to be relevant…this is not as wise an approach as one thinks. The Bible is always relevant if one knows how to glean the Universal truths from it and apply them to everyday life. It’s not that hard. But you have to start with the Bible, not the culture. That’s the backwards way of doing it.

d. They think it makes them sound old-fashioned. I don’t think it does. It makes them sound irrelevant to the real issues of the heart. And most pastors now want everyone to “Like” them (see Facebook et al) and don’t want to rant. They don’t want to sound like this guy for instance.

Have you had similar experiences lately?


  1. The lack of expository preaching is attributable, at least in some measure, to the popularity of therapeutic deism masquerading as Christianity in many sectors of the church. Many Christians aren’t as interested in what the Bible teaches as they are in what God (and by extension, the Bible) can do for them to make their life more pleasant.

    Alongside this, the speed of the internet age has taught people to demand quick and easy answers. I don’t have time to have my thinking, feelings, and behaviors shaped by years of systematically preached, doctrinally sound Bible exposition. I need three ways to be a great parent, or five steps to financial prosperity, or the top four habits of a happy person. Just preach something that sounds useful and makes me feel good on a Sunday morning, and leave that deeper stuff to old people and stuffy scholars.

    • I completely agree Gary. The big tragedy is that preachers bought into this and are promulgating it instead of deep, rich teaching.

  2. You forgot how LOUD everything is… my husband and I actually have to wear earplugs at church each week. We’re not deaf, but we soon would be if we didn’t protect our eardrums! Sadly, I agree with what you are saying – we travel about 6 months out of the year and I just dread going to church anymore. I can’t comment on why pastors don’t let the Bible speak for itself, but I imagine it would be a mixture of all your theories.

    • Yes, Michele…some of the groups were very loud. We actually tried to avoid the churches we thought would be deafening. We did find a few that had lower volumes. The Mega thing is not my thing and everyone in the Flathead kept asking if we had attended the only one here and we kept telling them we weren’t interested.

  3. We love you here.

    • Thanks Pegi.

  4. […] dry and boring. And it shows in preaching programs of many churches today. I know of a pastor who visited 11 churches during a recent sabbatical. He […]

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