I had a bit of fun with a similarly themed post a while back. You can find it here. It’s about how to ruin your small group. I thought I’d take the concept and run with it. I got Ed Drew to look at it. In familiar fashion he called me a ‘monkey’. And then he said that though he liked it, he thought that in one or two places I sounded bitter. I’m not. Honestly. I’m in really good heart at the moment; we’ve got loads to be thankful for at CCB. But it’s fair to say that these patterns of behaviour are somewhat trying for a church leader.
Anyway, to the matter in hand; how to kill your congregational meeting!
1. Start ‘weekending’: Go away lots at the weekend. Get out of London. You need a break. You’ve earned it. Don’t worry about getting back in time for church. Sure, it’ll mean you’re rarely around for two weeks in a row. You’ll lose consistency and coherence in the preaching programme. But there’ll be unexpected benefits. You won’t make any friendships that you don’t want to. And no one will be able to rely on you to do anything so you won’t need to appear on one of those tiresome rotas. Spiritually it won’t help you to be so infrequent and irregular at church but physically you’re bound to feel refreshed!
2. Pitch up late: Don’t worry about being on time. That’s so legalistic. The Bible doesn’t say punctuality is one of the fruit of the spirit. It’s a Sunday after all; everyone else is lazing around the house reading the Sunday papers or drifting in from watching the afternoon match at the pub. It’s a day or rest; not rush. So aim to arrive sometime during the first song. You won’t have missed anything important; just the general welcome and an opening prayer. The newcomers who pitch up early anxious that they’ll be late can fend for themselves! They didn’t really come to meet anyone anyway. They’ll pick up from our relaxed approach to life that this is a church strong on grace rather than works. And there’s the benefit of being able to scan the congregation and choose very carefully where to sit.
3. Sit on your own: Don’t sit near anyone else. They might engage you in conversation at the end of the meeting. And worse, you might feel obliged to do the same to them. Sit somewhere where you can avoid eye contact with others in the congregation. You’ve come to church to be anonymous. It’s about you and God, not about you and anyone else. You’re not there to make friends and encourage others. You’re there to focus on your relationship with God, aren’t you?
4. Let your mind wander. Don’t bother engaging with the sermon. It’s probably not worth using up valuable mental energy. If the guy doesn’t hold your attention the way that ‘The Wire’ does then you can’t be expected to listen attentively. You could take notes but you wouldn’t want to seem keen. There’s no need to think about what’s being said; you’ve come for private contemplation. The sermon is the chance to let your mind wander and to lose yourself in thought. I wouldn’t worry about encouraging the preacher with active listening that’ll inspire him to keep explaining and applying the Bible. He’s a professional. He’s been at it a while. He’s very aware of his own limitations and so he knows the score!
5. Switch off in the singing: Don’t look like you’re putting anything into it. Just look passive and disengaged. It’s music and if it doesn’t sound anything like your favourite band then there’s no compulsion on you to do anything other than to stand up and mouth the words so that you blend in with the crowd. Don’t worry about setting an example by pouring your heart and soul into the song. It’d be a trifle zealous to express your profound thankfulness to God for the Christian life, wouldn’t it? The enthusiasts can do that. You have another spiritual gift. The gift of lukewarmness! The musicians will be fine. They’re not really expecting anything. They have their expectations under control. To be honest they don’t mind putting in hours of preparation, turning up early to set up and practice, barely being able to concentrate on anything else during the meeting because they’re so anxious about getting things wrong and spoiling it for others and then packing it all away again at the end of the meeting.
6. Avoid spiritual reflection: As soon as the last words have been spoken and the musicians have filled that awkward silence with Christian ‘musak’, get up from where you’re sat and make a beeline for the door. The last thing you want to do is sit where you are, look over your sermon notes and then reflectively pray through what you’ve learnt.
7. Let newcomers fend for themselves: At the end of the formal meeting, don’t bother approaching those who look unfamiliar. They may not be. And how would you know; you’re never there and you wouldn’t want to make an excruciatingly embarrassing mistake. You don’t need to talk to them anyway. They can always look at the bookstall indefinitely! That’s why it’s there, isn’t it?
8. Keep it superficial. In the unfortunate event that you unavoidably found yourself in a conversation, keep it brief and light. Humorous pleasantries work well. All the time look over their shoulder for someone more interesting to talk to. You’ll appear popular, and fun, without ever having to be honest about your own life. In addition, you’ll not find out anything further about them, which is great because it’s always hard to remember tiresome details about other, less interesting people!
9. Make a quick exit. Don’t hang around just in case someone grabs you at the end. If it’s Sunday morning then the roast is in the oven. You’ve got friends coming over. If it’s Sunday evening you need to get back to iron your shirts. You’ve got work the following morning.
10. Shift from the sacred to the secular. As soon as you’ve left church, just get on with real life. I wouldn’t worry about bringing what you learned into your day to day existence. That could make things complicated in the workplace, or in your social life. There’s no need to worry about praying for your church family. Remember church is simply a ninety minute commitment once a week. That is, if you haven’t had a better offer!