Would You Go to Church if Services Were Shorter?

Attention spans are shorter today

One church leader says worship services today are too time consuming, speaking out during an era when discussions about long church services seem to be a touchy subject for many Christians.

The Rev. Jonathan Gledhill, the Bishop of Lichfield, told a group of clergy in a speech in his London diocese this week that church services have become too long, recommending “clergy should aim to keep the time of worship to no more than 50 minutes.”

The bishop continued to say that worship has become “too complicated, leaving people who are not regular churchgoers feeling confused and excluded.”

"One of the reasons for our recent decline in churchgoing is we are not making the occasional worshipper feel welcome," he said.

"You have got to be quite tough to come to some of our services if you are not a regular attender. We're praying for longer and we're singing for longer."

Most religious leaders say Sunday morning church services already have to compete with shopping, lying in bed, or taking the day off, and the idea of spending two hours dedicated to worship is not very appealing in today’s society.

One blog reported that people who are in favor of longer church services frequently use the argument that “we need to give God the time that he deserves. If we can make time for everything else, we can make time for God.”

“In my opinion, being in service for 3 hours on Sunday is not a badge of honor. It means that there are a lot of people in your church that waste a lot of time during service,” said Clifton Holmes, a Christian writer for the Gospel Blog.

“There is no point in any of us bashing people for how much or how little time they spend in church on Sunday. If you really want to score points and find favor with God, then focus on how much time you spend with him outside of the walls of your cathedral, worship center or sanctuary.”

Research conducted over the last year by anonymous worshippers for the church website Ship of Fools found some Anglican clergy are preaching for as long as 42 minutes. Throw in songs of praise, fellowship and prayer and the worshipping public spends about two hours in church.

Bishop Gledhill said there had been a tendency to devise "more and more intricate and beautiful services for our own use, forgetting those who might come if we made things simpler for them to start with."

He said that clergy need to make sure that their sermons are not too long, arguing that people's "attention spans aren't what they used to be."

Attention spans remain a major area of investigation within research for psychology and neuroscience. Medical professionals generally believe that there is an"epidemic-level shortness in the attention spans of American citizens,” according to a federally-funded study on improving attention spans of Americans.

Kirk Johnson, a behavioral psychologist at the University of Minnesota who took part in the attention span study, said one explanation for the plummet in American attention spans may be, in part, an increasingly intrusive overabundance of often irrelevant and distracting information.

“From reality television to advertising on mobile phones to giant screaming headline broadsheets on every street corner contributes to the problem,” he said.

In another recent poll conducted by City Data, nearly 20 percent of those surveyed said their church services were timed just right.

Others surveyed for the poll, reveal 50 percent saying they spend about 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes in church.

Recent research shows only 26 percent of the world attend church services.

Last year, the Vatican told Catholic clergy to keep their sermons under eight minutes to cater for people who found it hard to concentrate for long periods.

According to Christian Research, there is no doubt that the long term downward trend in Church attendance continues as does the increase in average age of Churchgoers.

So far, research shows nothing the Church leaders have done seems to have brought about any change in the decline in church attendance that started in the 50's.