So what does make church compelling? I actually don’t think there is one single answer to this question. Clearly different people find different things compelling.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that, ‘compellingness’ is not the only criteria by which to judge a church service. It’s first and foremost an opportunity to meet as God’s people to meet with him and to encourage each other. As such, prayer, Bible reading, Bible teaching, praise and mutual encouragement are non-negotiable, however compelling or otherwise they might be.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on being compelling.
1. Relational warmth is a big key to compelling church. Love is supposed to be the defining characteristic of God’s people. And I think a warm and loving community that shows that love to visitors will cover over a multitude of other less compelling features of church. I was talking to a guy on Saturday who goes to a church where I was a student minister in 2002. And he came up to me and said ‘You were the first person who said hello to me when I arrived at church. I can remember we came in and sat down. And you came straight up and introduced yourself, and we thought this is pretty good, and we’ve been here ever since.’
You can’t manufacture relational warmth, but you can help your services reflect relationship warmth with good welcomers, warm and smiling service leading and having morning tea afterwards.
2. A length of service that matches the gifts of those leading. If you have music lead by professional musicians, An internationally renowned speaker and a full time pastor in charge of running your church service who spends his whole week putting together the program, you can probably run a very compelling 2hr church service. The average suburban church however, that has a pretty standard program every week and a normal faithful preacher should probably keep to 1hr.
I can’t see any Biblical reasons why longer is better. The Lords prayer indicates that prayers should be clear and to the point. And everything I can see about preaching suggests that simple to the point preaching is to be preferred to long involved sermons.
From a purely pragmatic point of view, I find nothing less compelling than a drawn out church service. There are certain settings and certain preachers where I am happy to listen to 35min plus sermons. But on the whole I think it’s un-necessary and un-compelling.
On the topic of timing I also think it is compelling to have consistent timing. If people know that they are coming for a 1.5 hr service every week, then that’s fine. But if it’s 1hr one week and 1.5 the next week, then it is not at all compelling.
3. Congregational Involvement. I think it’s compelling to have people from the congregation involved. It’s relational, and it communicates that this is a community/family, not just a minister. Some care of course needs to be taken to get the congregation involved in a way that uses their gifts appropriately.
4. Good Music. This is just a pragmatic thing. Good music is more compelling than poor music. I’d also argue that unless you’re going to focus in on a particular demographic, contemporary music is the most compelling for the most people.
I can’t see that the amount of music in the service is a Biblical issue. If the songs have rich biblical lyrics I can’t see a theological downside to people singing more. There is however the pragmatic rule that I established above about length and gifting.
These thoughts are a bit random, and I would actually be very interested in seeing more research about what people do find more and less compelling about Church, rather than just relying on anecdotal evidence.