An Exhortation to Church Service Etiquette
Several years ago I attended a sports/activities awards banquet at a high school which featured the women’s volleyball coach at a nearby university as guest speaker. Soon after he began his speaking presentation I became both disgusted and incensed. No, not about what he was saying, but because of the terrible lack of respect and common decency afforded him by many of those in the crowd of about 200 people.
As the poor guy tried to give his speech you could barely hear him over the conversations being conducted at the same time by both students and many adults. This in addition to people constantly coming and going, rattling snack wrappers, cutting up, and other rude and disrespectful behaviors. After about 10 minutes or so of it, much to the horror and embarrassment of my then teenage daughter sitting next to me, I told the people within our vicinity to be quiet and listen.
Such terrible and disrespectful manners amongst those at speaking events, concerts, plays and other public occasions are commonplace today. Of course, this lack of respect demonstrated towards others through bad etiquette has reached into local churches to varying degrees. One of the most sad aspects of the past many decades is that the world has changed the church more than the church has changed the world.
People used to dress in their “Sunday Best” for church out of respect for God, but in a society where it’s acceptable to wear shorts, sweats, t-shirts and tank tops most anywhere that’s quickly falling by the wayside. Also, folks used to exhibit behavior in church services which demonstrated respect for the speakers, singers, congregation, facilities and, most of all, for the Lord. However, in many churches even if the truth is preached those who desire to hear it are too distracted by the rude and irreverent conduct of others to get much out of it.
In many churches today it’s hard to get much out of it through the people coming and going, conversations going on, rattling wrappers, slurping drinks and smacking food. That’s not to mention the rowdy kids who aren’t made to sit up and shut up, the watch alarms, cell phone ring tones, and the invitation-killing sound of dozens of Bible covers being zipped up at the conclusion of sermons.
What’s being allowed to go on in many churches is a travesty. Bad manners in church are a reproach to God, His Word, preachers, and the churches themselves.
I. PROPER CHURCH ETIQUETTE GIVES GOD WHAT HE DESERVES
We’re to respect and glorify God at all times, but most especially in His house. Leviticus 19:30 reads, “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.” Here the Bible directs to “reverence” God’s sanctuary. Certainly the application can be made to church services which feature ministry and worship to the Lord as did the Hebrew Tabernacle and Temple.
Psalm 29:2 exhorts us to “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name” and to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” When people are walking in and out of a church auditorium when it’s time to worship God in song, prayer, teaching and preaching is that giving the Lord the glory due Him? When conversation is going on at such times is God given the glory due Him? When people choose to wear exercise clothes and such to church rather than their “Sunday Best” is the Lord given the glory due Him? When folks are still somewhere in the building drinking coffee and fellowshipping after services have already started is our Savior given the glory due Him?
Yes, the overwhelmingly popular trend in churches is to gratify people’s carnality by making dress ultra-casual, ensuring that plenty of coffee and pastries are available, providing never-ending entertainment for all ages, allowing people to converse and move around as they please, and so on, but any honest reader of the Bible must surely conclude that this new tradition is contrary to the worship of God recorded and instructed in His Holy Word. More and more so the worship of the Lord in churches is being replaced by the traditions of man which revolve around worshipping self.
The “perfect” church of 21st Century America would include “mini” Starbucks and McDonalds in the foyer; the latest Nintendo machines in every Sunday School class; couches and recliners for everyone in the auditorium; vendor-ushers to bring hotdogs, peanuts and ice cold soft drinks throughout services; and a Christian rock group which sounds just like “Black Sabbath” or the “Grateful Dead” except with “spiritual” lyrics.
Such a church would sure to be wildly popular. Indeed, there are already thousands of them which have almost reached the standards of this “perfect church.” However, contrary to popular opinion, the Bible doesn’t teach that churches are to mesh and conform with society. (Romans 12:1,2; I Cor. 6:15-18)
Obviously the Bible directs that we’re not to be conformed to the world, we’re to be transformed from it. People should see a difference from the world when they come to church. They should see a people who are giving the Lord the glory due unto His name. They should see Spirit-filled saints who are honoring and reverencing God rather than a carnal-led congregation devoted to gratifying the flesh and glorifying self.
II. PROPER CHURCH ETIQUETTE GIVES EVERYONE ELSE WHAT THEY DESERVE
Truly, the worst thing about bad church etiquette is that it disrespects God; yet next to this is that it hinders those with spiritual needs. Those who contribute disruptions to church services should well repent and heed the words of Paul who wrote, “…but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13b)
How terribly hurtful and sad when people with whom the Holy Spirit is dealing are distracted due to the bad church etiquette of others. There’s the person who needs to be saved whose focus on the preaching is impaired by people continually conversing and going in and out. There’s the visitor looking for a church who can’t wait to leave because of the continual horseplay of the kids allowed to go on in front of her. There’s the church member who needs the message badly but misses so much through the crackling mint and cough drop wrappers, cell phone noises, beeping watches and other assorted disruptions. And, there’s the person under conviction who believes it must be time to leave when the invitation is preempted by Bible covers being vigorously zipped shut. (Why in the world don’t people have the common sense to wait until services are over before conducting their ceremonial Bible zipping?!)
Can there be any doubt that bad church etiquette is frequently used by the devil’s demons in their attempts to stifle the work of the Holy Spirit during services? How dare God’s people allow themselves to be such willing accomplices of the devil!
Not only does improper church etiquette show disrespect to God, it demonstrates it towards everyone in the congregation.
How disrespectful it is when someone is praying and there are those who are talking, cutting up, crackling wrappers, putting on coats, and the like. How disrespectful it is when someone is singing a special and there’s conversation and moving around. How disrespectful it is to the preacher when there are frequent distractions which rob him of having free course in preaching the Word.
Jesus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” With that in mind, we need to conduct ourselves in church as we would desire if doing the praying, singing, teaching or preaching. Can you imagine how upset and frustrated that you’d be if you were in front of an audience trying to tell them something of great importance and there was all kinds of coming and going, conversation, horseplay, drinking, eating, beepers, wrappers and so on while you were trying to speak?!
Well, it’s even worse in church services because the speaker is trying to tell people the most important message of all, how to be saved from an eternal hell.
III. PROPER CHURCH ETIQUETTE ACCOMPLISHES WONDERFUL THINGS
Wonderful things come forth through practicing proper church etiquette. The Lord will be reverenced and honored, receiving the glory due unto His name. The Word of God will have free course. The congregation will have the opportunity to experience the unhindered ministry of the Spirit. Visitors will be drawn to the church. The entire ministry of the church will become more effective for the cause of Christ.
What more motivation does one need in order to repent of bad manners in services and to begin practicing proper church etiquette?!
CONCLUSION: “Twelve Steps Towards Proper Church Etiquette”
- Similar to the common sense move on longer car trips, use the restroom just before services.
- In order to avoid walking into services late, leave home earlier.
- Don’t be somewhere else in the building drinking coffee, fellowshipping, etc. when you should be in church services.
- Write notes to yourself so that you can tell all of the enlightening things you have to say after church services rather than during them.
- Don’t bring food or drinks into church services.
- Turn off watch alarms and cell phones during services.
- Don’t expect someone else to make kids whose parents aren’t at church to behave. At least give it a try yourself.
- Consider how the way you dress relates to respect or disrespect for God.
- Wait until services are dismissed before zipping up your Bible cover.
- Don’t walk out of services during the invitation.
- If you must have a certain cough drop or candy enclosed in a crackling wrapper, unwrap as many as needed for church and put them in a noise-free container.
- Never, ever, be so utterly disrespectful that you clip your fingernails during services!!!