What matters (and what doesn’t) about church services

What matters (and what doesn’t) about church services

While I was on annual leave, my wife and I decided to visit a few different churches in a few different church traditions. Having been part of the Presbyterian tradition now for a long time, we thought it would be good to see a broader spectrum of the churches in Perth.  We also thought it would be good for our children to see that not all churches are like ours, giving us good things to talk about.

We visited a large Pentecostal church and a Baptist church, but I am not going to name them. Of course, every church is different, and one service being a certain way doesn’t mean every service is like that. With those caveats out the way, let me share with you some of the conclusions I drew from these visits.

  1. The welcome you receive from a church as a first-time visitor leaves a strong impression

One of the churches we went to had welcomers at every entrance with smiles and directions. They had ushers who were clearly identifiable and information about the church on every seat. The congregation members came up to introduce themselves and we had quite a number of conversations, despite leaving soon after the service ended. Whatever else happened in the service, I appreciated all of this and felt welcomed. This was a church that was looking out for visitors and had a plan, and that warmth left a good impression.

The other church had information on a table, but no-one except the pastor spoke to us. Many walked past us without greeting us. It felt far less friendly; we would have to work hard to start conversations. That alone was enough to make us reconsider coming again.

  1. Different Bible-believing churches are on the same team as one another

This is really important. Too often, people in one church tradition spend time criticising those in other traditions. I do pray this blog post is not giving you that impression! The churches we visited were our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not enemies because we come from different traditions and differ on secondary issues. We can always learn something useful from other traditions from the one we are used to. We came expecting to worship the same God as our brothers and sisters, and we were encouraged by aspects of every church we went to.

  1. The style of music played doesn’t matter very much

Music is the obvious thing to differentiate types of churches, and yes we experienced a wide range of musical styles. In the end, however, the amount of singers or instruments or musical style doesn’t really matter. It comes down to personal taste.

What does matter is the lyrics. Some of the songs we sang were all about what we were going to do for God and how much we love God. That might be true, but there was little assurance of what God had already done. I know that I cannot do it all, therefore I need Jesus. So often, a catchy song can end up focussing on our commitment and not God’s salvation, placing a burden on me I cannot bear.

  1. We lose a lot when we remove talk of confession and sin

Neither church we visited had a time of confession, and neither of them mentioned our personal sin during the leading or the sermon. That is a serious problem. If we don’t speak about sin and spend time confessing our sin, we end up thinking too highly of ourselves. We also end up in strange theological places. The preacher at one of the churches emphasised the work of the devil in taking things from us but made no mention at all of our own sinful rejection of God. Everything that happens then becomes unfair and external to us, and no application was given that involved repentance and working on godliness. It would be easy to leave such a sermon feeling like a victim rather than being convicted to be more like Jesus.

  1. Jesus needs to be at the centre, or at best we end up with good advice

While some of the songs mentioned Jesus, He was strangely absent from the two sermons we heard. One sermon mentioned Jesus in passing while the other made no mention of Jesus at all. This, to me, is the most important point. I am more than happy to see differences in service structure, in song style and type, in sermon presentation, in almost everything else, but I need to hear about Jesus. I don’t come to church to hear a motivational talk, however good it is. I come to hear of the wonderful news of Jesus who died for me. Please tell me the old, old story of Jesus and his love! Both of these churches state that they trust that Jesus is the only way to be saved in their doctrinal statements, but neither spoke much about Him when they met for public worship.

If we remove Jesus, we end up with moralism. We end up with good advice and encouragement to do things. We end up missing the thankfulness we should have and focus on our own strength. Jesus needs to be the centre of a church service.


Churches are different from one another, and that is a good thing. I left with some good ideas about welcoming, some new songs to consider, and some useful ideas about communication in preaching. I was encouraged that so many people were in church on Sunday mornings to worship our mutual God and Father. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ I rarely see, and I am grateful to God for them and their efforts in their churches. I came to visit not to be critical, and I was genuinely encouraged by aspects of what I saw. We run a big risk, however, when we stop talking about Jesus and when we fail to see sin as that important. A diet of only inspirational instruction is not enough to build up the body of Christ.