Christians often declare that they have the answer, the "gospel", the insights that the world is longing to hear. Yet if you travel to any location on the planet you'll find most churches are following an almost identical format or template.
We have mastered the ability to hold meetings with an introduction, a couple of songs, a few notices, maybe an interactive item and a few more songs - before usually one person stands up the front to deliver some teaching. Cue possible alter calls or lines for communion.
Clearly I know that this is not what every single church does, but by and large most churches follow a format that isn't too dissimilar from this. Even if the format varies from church to church, it will very rarely change from week to week.
Does this hold the answer that the world is waiting to hear?
I have travelled to a multitude of churches in many different countries, yet even if I don't understand the language spoken I have a vague idea of what is going on. Why do we sit inside every week, facing the front like it's school without anyone taking notes?
I know that routines provide stability, comfort and trust, but are they also able to stifle creativity and come up short in catering to the diversity we see in life?
Where is God?
With all the change occurring in the world and shifting of the status quo, predominantly having one voice still giving us the teaching from the front feels archaic—like it's the middle ages when the clergy were the primary ones who knew how to read.
We know that God speaks to all of us, and we know that the way that people think and learn is through a myriad of different ways—from visually, to abstract, to kinesthetically. So why do we rely on merely a couple of voices from the pulpit?
I mean, is the answer that the world is looking for found in being talked to by one person every week? Doesn't God live inside all of us? Isn't He at work each and every day in all the lives of the congregation?
Of course this isn't just to have a go at pastors, ministers or teachers—but is an easy scapegoat for a far bigger problem. As Michael Frost said, "Pastors and teachers are great, and they are gifts to our church, but why do they get all the say? Let's get some prophets and apostles and evangelists up here... Let's get some people who kind of crack open the center and push us out beyond the place where we find ourselves."
If a friend of mine became a Christian my biggest fear isn't that they would be lured into something that might not be real—or that it'd be embarrassing—but that I'd be subjecting them to a lifelong service of boring church services and morning tea rosters.
Sometimes we'll tinker with the space - adding lights and music, or changing the seating arrangements. Even more occasionally we'll do something different like go outside and have a picnic.
Yet when I read the gospels I see little of this. I see a wild, compassionately-confronting Jesus, not afraid to stick it to the authorities—whether religious or political—to ensure that people received Good News. I see a group of ragtag ordinary folk empowered with the Holy Spirit to do things with courage and passion. I see an emerging movement of people sharing, hosting and relentlessly expanding.
I sense energy, purpose and focus—yet when I hear people's reflections on church the dialogue is tinged with boredom and stagnation.
It needs to be said with extra emphasis and underlining, that I am not having a go at any one denomination or church. After my last comment on church I received a lot of messages from people who were supportive of change and trying something new. But I also received quite strong criticism, mostly from people who work for the church who took the subject to heart. That never was—nor will be—my intention.
The thing is, it feels like church is staying within a comfort zone. I wouldn't have a problem with this if it was energising, life-giving and encouraging for faith-seekers, but nearly everyone I talk to doesn't invite their friends—perhaps out of fear or laziness.
Nor would I have a problem if church leaders didn't get offended with these conversations, but it feels like you're walking on egg shells to talk about the church striving to reach higher potential.
The reality is that I think we need to keep discussing this topic, and a way forward might lie in Brian McLaren's words: "Responses, please remember, are not answers: the latter seek to end conversation while the former seek to stimulate more of it."
So first of all can we please try to not say that we have the answer? Because if 'the answer' for all of humanity lies in the current church template then I'm not surprised that people keep searching for meaning elsewhere.
But can we also keep having discussions about what church could look like, without being offended or defensive? The hope is that it stirs us all into a better place, for the sake of the kingdom and all of us involved.
Call me controversial, but I don't know that God invented boredom.
Matt Browning is a long-time Christian and short-time ranter. He makes things like websites, iPhone apps, and food caravans for youth unemployment - and wants Christianity to be represented by more than talking vegetables and right-wing Republicans. If you want a bit more to digest from this article he suggests this website for more.
Matt Browning's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/matt-browning.html