12 Distractions during Worship Services

Worship is frequently a controversial topic, and it’s not my goal to add to those debates. Based on my work as a church consultant, reports from our consultation “secret shoppers,” interviews with church members, and my own experiences, though, here are 12 far-too-common distractions during worship services:

  1. Starting late. Our secret shoppers know to be present in the worship center prior to the publicized starting time and to record what time the service actually begins. A late start may be unavoidable, but too often the tardiness is seemingly due to disorganization and apathy.
  2. Bad preaching. This conclusion is subjective, but nonetheless truthful: worship is challenging when the preaching is boring or disorganized. It’s even more taxing when the sermon covers everything but the Bible.
  3. Bad singing. Again, this conclusion is subjective. However, really bad singing seldom facilitates worship. Even if the singer is sincere and faithful, it may be tough to focus on God when bad vocals are jarring.
  4. Poor sound and/or video quality. Occasionally this problem unexpectedly happens when the system malfunctions. At other times, it seems clear that either rehearsal never occurred to detect and correct any problems, or leaders chose to ignore problems. Either one is unacceptable.
  5. Excessively loud music. I suspect my age is apparent here, but even some of our young secret shoppers have commented negatively on this issue. Increased volume may be appropriate in some settings, but it does not automatically strengthen worship.
  6. Incomprehensible choir or praise team words. The lyrics are probably great, but we cannot tell. The sound system may be poor, the singers may not enunciate well, or the music may drown out the words – but we miss the message while straining to understand the words. Simply including the lyrics on a Powerpoint would help.
  7. Grammatical and/or spelling errors on the screen. Granted, this error should perhaps not be a distraction. On the other hand, God – and worshipers who are often well educated – deserve our best in presentation.
  8. Poor synchronization of presentation slides. The causes may be many (and even unavoidable at times), but it’s difficult to worship in song when the lyrics on the screen are measures behind the worship leader.
  9. Unclear directions. Even our best secret shoppers sometimes wonder about such questions as: Who is the person speaking (no one introduced him)? Am I permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper (no one explained it)? If the church doesn’t take an offering, how do I give (again, no one guided us)?
  10. Poor lighting. The problem may simply be weak lighting or delayed maintenance, but either can make it difficult to see one’s Bible. In some cases, an intentionally darkened room is designed to create worship ambience – but also reflects a wrong assumption that all worshipers will be reading the Bible only on the screen.
  11. Crowd movement. To be fair, I admit that worship should so focus on God that crowd movement is not distracting. Nevertheless, folks coming and going from the worship center – especially during times of prayer, reflection, preaching, and response – can be disruptive.
  12. Extended announcements. “Extended” might be any announcements if they’re done poorly, but even well-presented announcements can be distracting when they’re numerous or awkwardly inserted into an order of worship.

What other worship distractions have you noticed?

 

13 Comments

  • Judy Jenkins says:

    People sharing pictures and/or text on their cell phone and laughing especially during preaching! Also adults working crossword puzzles during the worship!!

  • Jacob Friesen says:

    ‘Worship’ Team attire!! ‘Short-short shorts and/or skirts, exposed navels; anything distracting and bare footed members!

  • jigleach says:

    Late starts are sometimes cultural. If your congregation is fostering diversity, it is better to be patient. We had a pastor who once huffed: “We start at 10 am. I don’t care who is here.” It didn’t change a thing. He started every week with 10 people and ten minutes later the congregation arrived. I remember helping to set up for an event. The children of this new cultural group were very nervous. They were getting acclimated to the western love of schedules. The parents went about their work. “They will come.” And they did—an hour or so later than start time. It was a good strengthening event. If you want people to think like you, stick to the schedule. If you want to be welcoming to other cultures. Relax. All things in time.

    Also, secret shoppers tend to find the trouble they are looking for. They’d have to secret shop for a couple of months before they understood the culture of the congregation they are visiting. But those findings will go into reports that live forever!

    • Tobias says:

      In reply to Gi Gleach, I understand her point regarding cultural differences to schedules and times; I teach at a Bible Institute outside the US where the students aren’t all that concerned with being on time. However, in my class they are instructed that being on time is late and being 10 minutes early is being on time. This teaches self discipline as well as respect for the Word being taught and the other students that show up to hear it.

      Furthermore, and I hope this doesn’t sound too impolite, but they (culturally late) are in this culture now and it is they who need to adjust, not the other way around. Most people show up on time ready to worship, it would be incredibly insensitive and disrespectful to constantly distract their worship and give little respect for their time in order to be culturally relevant to another’s culture. They need to be exhorted to exercise a little self discipline and denial and get to church on time. To fail to do so reveals a lack of respect to the assembly of God’s people and to the Lord Himself.

  • Sharon D. Smith says:

    Do not feel smoke and strobe lights are necessary in a worship service. Just saying. My book, “The Black Pentecostal Church: My View from the Pew”. Sharon D. Smith

  • Tim Carr says:

    People getting up during invitation and leaving. Some seem to can’t get out of service fast enough. While some the Holy Spirit is dealing with. I wish people would be more considerate during this part of service

  • Katharine says:

    Bad attitude in worship leaders inserting self degradation, “croaking” on various members, sighing, etc.; room temp too hot or cold; failure of parents to correct children (I realize kids will be kids, but thinking it’s cute when children are running up and down the length of the room is probably a bit TOO distracting); and pianist using accompaniment that is arranged differently from the hymnal, so it is impossible to find the harmonies.

    • CL White says:

      ” pianist using accompaniment that is arranged differently from the hymnal, so it is impossible to find the harmonies.” What??? So, basically you want someone in a field that’s inherently creative to be … bland and not exercise any creativity???

  • david@christianinvestors.org says:

    Congregants visiting with each other, and not always in a whisper.
    Crying/noisy babies/children.

  • Fred says:

    Texting.

    Phones ringing, especially with senior adults who can’t hear their own phones.

    Hearing aids that beep or make other noises.

    Gum smackers. A “deacon” in our church came into the church smacking gum. A family with 5 children sat behind them. Their children wanted gum because “deacon …….” chewed gum (more correctly smacked it with his mouth open) during church.

    Candy and cracker eaters. We had a “deacon’s wife” who brought a bag of crackers and cookies to give her grandchildren to eat during church. They offered people around them some cookies and crackers.

    Talking during the sermon.

    Pointing out “errors” to others made by the preacher when he is preaching.

    Picking at clothing.

    Children who are unruly, and parents who laugh at them.

    The list goes on. It is a “miracle” the Holy Spirit can even work at all in some churches.

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