When you have the same conversation with a few different people you start to take a bit of notice. Recently I’ve had a few Groundhog Day style discussions about boredom. Friends: brilliant, faithful, trying-to-follow-Jesus people, thinking of opting out of aspects of church life because… well frankly because they are dull (apologies if you think I’m talking about you, I probably am but not just about you).
What do we do with boredom? I find myself drawn immediately to 2 conflicting directions.
Tendancy 1: Get over it! There is a disturbing grouchy-old-man part of my character that wants to say “Your bored? Tough! Everyone is bored in church sometimes. The rest of the world is frying your brain with sensation and communication so the effort you need to put in to connect with God in church is good for you. Learn to deal with being bored and maybe you’ll turn out to be a better person for it. ” While I recognise some truth in this, it probably isn’t a very helpful response.
Tendancy 2: Let me entertain you! Initially more attractive, but probably just as damaging is the desire to cure boredom with pizazz! Perhaps if we find the right combination better songs, a funnier joke, some more relevant references, a livelier delivery, then at least people won’t be bored in our church. We can just keep the tricks coming and keep the audience engaged.
Ultimately neither approach works, because neither treat boredom as an opportunity for discipleship. If that just sounds like a slightly repackaged version of tendancy 1 then remember the opportunity goes both ways. If your bored in the church I’m part of then you and I probably both need to to learn and grow.
The approach to discipleship I find most helpful is about getting the right calibration of invitation and challenge. Boredom is a symptom of low invitation and low challenge (this is an idea unpacked more in the book “Building a Discipleship Culture.“) Approaching the issue with that in mind reframes the tendencies I see in my response. The desire to entertain, has within it kernals of an impulse to extend invitation – to make things as attractive and welcoming as possible. The desire to say “get over it” is challenge.
A discipleship approach to boredom extends invitation and challenge, but if it just flits between “get over it” and “let me entertain you” then it doesn’t really deal with the issue. Both approaches assume that I am in charge and you are at the receiving end of what I do… you are the audience I’m trying to entertain or the target of my efforts to teach and train.
So to a better response to boredom: Participate! Move from being a either a consumer or pupil towards belonging and contributing. This approach requires aspects of invitation (to feel welcomed and like space has been made for you) and challenge (to get involved and make things better, to stay engaged even in the bits that aren’t designed with you as the target demographic, to commit to a group for the long term).
To be honest, probably just like you, I get bored in church. It can be dull in so many different ways, (it can also be amazing). Learning to approach this as a discipleship issue will help churches, and people, become more effective.
Do you lead a church/small group/missional community leader. How do you spot bored people and use invitation and challenge to help them become participants?
Are you bored in church? What are the opportunities around you to increase your participation?
The image with this post is by Adam Jones and was found on wikipedia.