As Christians, attending the Sunday service with our church family is one of the greatest privileges we have in life. But if we’re not careful, especially with the routine nature of the weekly meeting, we can slide into auto-pilot. This comes with costly results. Without intentionality, we may fail to steward this gift. And as a result, we may underappreciate and even miss the primary way God blesses his people.
As a pastor, I’m burdened for Christians to get more out of church. But I’m not approaching this from the angle of a consumer. Instead, I desire to see believers, within the context of their church family, emphasize the value of the Lord’s Day and how they can be shaped by God’s grace. With this in mind, here are a few ways to get more out of church.
This seems pretty obvious, but sometimes the more obvious, the more elusive. You should pray if you want to grow spiritually and get more out of the Sunday church service. Often we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:2). Jesus is the one who tells us to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7). Do you want to grow to be more like Jesus? Then pray and ask God to us the church service to this end. This is his plan (Romans 8:29). And he uses the church to do it (Ephesians 4: 11–16). Pray that God will help you grow in Christlikeness through the ministry of your church.
(2) Read and Reflect upon the Sermon Text
In our church, we provide the Scriptures for the sermon and other readings during the week leading up to Sunday. This enables those coming to begin gaining familiarity with the text and working through the preacher’s argument and outline. Like a rake breaking up the soil, these initial reads don’t do all of the work in the garden, but it does begin turning the soil of our mind over, making it more receptive to receive the Word preached. If your church provides the sermon text, read and reflect upon the passage before Sunday. Meditation on the Word has long been the practice of the godly (Psalm 119: 15, 27, 97).
(3) Prioritize Encouragement
Much of what I’m recommending here deals with your reception of the Word. But these next two encourage intentional acts of service.
If you aren’t intentional, you’ll likely do whatever’s comfortable. This may mean avoiding conversation altogether, talking about whatever you might be excited about at the moment, or talking about whatever someone else is passionate about. But I wonder how our conversations might change if we intentionally tried to encourage others to know and follow Jesus? How might our conversations change if we were trying to explain the gospel to an unbeliever, comfort a doubting church member, or admonish one steeped in pride?
On Sundays, I try to talk to at least three types of people and encourage them. I want to speak to a visitor, an attendee but non-member, and a church member. In each case, as I talk to them and listen, I think and pray, “How can I encourage them in the Lord?”
For some, this may mean prioritizing who to talk to before the service. It may require some thought on what to say too. But if we don’t do this, we’ll likely talk to our friends or family and neglect many other people who worship with us. And by doing this, we neglect the opportunity to encourage those around us. Imagine how your church might change if everyone put this into practice? I’d guess you and others would begin getting more out of church.
We will likely get more out of church when we put a little more into it.
This one is shorter: if there are needs in the church, try to meet them—volunteer to serve. Jesus demonstrates and declares that blessings come to those who humbly serve like him (John 13:1–17). One of the reasons why we might think we’re not getting enough out of church is that we’re not putting enough in. The path of blessing is worn down by service. Don’t overlook the gift of putting on the apron of humility and serving others (1 Peter 5:5).
(5) Deal with Your Heart
Historically people speak of wearing their “Sunday Best” to church, referring to dressing nicely on Sundays. The Bible doesn’t speak as much to external clothes but refers to spiritual clothing. In a striking metaphor, James urges believers to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and received with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21) The image is of removing the filthy clothes to receive the good Word. An application here certainly applies to Sunday mornings. Sin deceives us (Jeremiah 17:9) and clouds our understanding (Romans 1:21–22), we must actively put sin to death and put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:5–17). If you want to get more out of church, then deal with (mortify) the remaining sin in your heart before coming to church (Romans 8:13).
(6) Be on Time
If it’s important, we’re on time for it. Church is important. Be on time. It’s this simple. This requires the type of intentionality consistent with the rest of the post.
(7) Engage with the Service
When we come to gather with the saints on the Lord’s Day, we must remember that God is shaping us through the Word. But it’s not something entirely passive. We have a responsibility. Here are some ways to engage during the service.
- Disengaging: Consider leaving your phone at home or putting it on do not disturb. At the least, stay off the distracting, time-draining apps.
- Reading: As the Bible is read, engage your mind and heart to read along with it.
- Focusing: Unlike breathing, this is something that requires effort. It’s active. We don’t have to work not to focus, but we do have to in order to focus. So while gathering at church, pray for and pursue focus. Just imagine God is talking to you–because, in the Word, he is.
- Praying: Like reading, it may be tempting to zone out here. But we mustn’t. Follow the prayer in your mind, and make it your own also. This is one of the reasons why we conclude our prayer with “Amen.” Join in with this affirmation of what’s been prayed by verbally saying “amen.”
- Singing: Like me, you may not be a natural singer. But as a Christian, you have a song to sing. And a responsibility to sing “to one another” (Ephesians 5:19–20). Even if you can’t sing, belt it out. It may just remind the person next to you that God is real and that he is mighty to save.
- Listening: What I mean is more like hearing. It’s one thing to listen to words and another to hear them. Especially when under the preached word, labor to listen to the Word. Let it get in and convict you. Allow it to encourage you. May it lift your chin to smile at the greatness of God.
(8) Gather up the Crumbs and Sing the Doxology
At the end of the day, you might be tempted to turn the page on the calendar to Monday. But not so fast. Since God aims to nourish and shape you through the corporate gathering, resist the urge to move on too quickly. Instead, like the disciples, after the feeding the five thousand, gather up some of the crumbs from the day and store them away in a journal or your heart. Remember how God has blessed you in the Word, song, prayer, the Supper, the sermon, or fellowship. Revisit the beautiful terrain of the gospel. Has God been pleased to raise your affections for Christ? Has he increased your hatred for sin? Has he graciously enabled you to refasten your grip of faith? Has he reminded you again that he loves you? Reflect on these things and praise him for them. While you’re at it, sing the doxology!
While the routine of going to church can become familiar, it’s spiritually unhealthy for us to shift into auto-pilot. Instead, we need to be intentional. As we do, we’ll realize that we often get more out of church when we intentionally put a little more into it.