Church Used to be FUN!
I don’t know about your church past. I grew up attending church and, for the most part, it was fun. Being forced to attend “big church” with my parents was a drag, but most everything else was pretty great.
When I became an adult and decided to volunteer in our local church, my wife and I jumped into high school ministry. We enjoyed our youth group times, so it seemed like a perfect place to volunteer.
And it was. On many levels.
As a kid, I attended a church experience for kids or students at 9:00 a.m., followed by the boredom of the adult service at 11:00 a.m. When I began volunteering in student ministry, the juxtaposition of these two experiences was much more pronounced. We had a great time in student ministry. It was entertaining and engaging. We explored theology and learned about following Jesus and had fun doing it.
My wife and I would leave that volunteer experience every Sunday for the adult service. It only took half a hymn to suck the enthusiasm out of our souls.
My 22-year-old self pondered this weekly experience. “Perhaps adults don’t like to have fun at church?”
Or maybe pastors have forgotten that fun and church aren’t enemies.
Is your church entertaining?
If you answered yes, I’m guessing you have received your fair share of criticism. Mind you, not from the unchurched, nonbelievers in your community, but from Christians and other churches. For some reason, many Christians and church leaders have bought into the belief that religion must be boring. That church can’t be fun. I guess we’ve associated dull with reverent. Hyper-serious to “spiritual.” Enjoyment has become a line in the religious sand. If you have fun in a religious service, it’s not really religious, and God can’t be pleased, right?
I partially understand. As Christians, we take God seriously. We take His church seriously. Most things we take seriously come with a certain level of seriousness (nobody wrote that down, I’m guessing). It makes sense.
But boring is not biblical. It’s not a matter of truth. It’s just how we’ve positioned ourselves as the church. It’s how we’ve positioned religion.
Here’s my question:
Can a church be entertaining without becoming entertainment?
There is a difference. Entertainment serves one point: Enjoyment. But entertaining is different. Entertaining is enjoyment with purpose. Joy with a strategy.
Let’s Have Some Fun Again!
I hate talking about the pandemic. Enough already! But, just for a second, it does seem the 2020+ experience sucked the fun out of everything and everyone. I think it’s time for us to have fun again. I think it’s time for our churches to be fun again.
When I recently visited Auburn Community Church (ACC), it was full of energy and fun. It was serious. It was a baptism service. But it was FUN! It was refreshing. It was spirit-filled, and it filled my spirit.
That’s what joy can do. Your church can be spirit-filled while filling the spirit of every attendee. And you can be entertaining without becoming entertainment.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Have fun, but have a point.
It is possible to take God seriously and ourselves not so seriously. I loved leading a fun church. Our music was fun. We laugh throughout sermons. We occasionally replicated game shows to begin our services. Having fun is entertaining, but when there is a purpose, it stays clear of becoming entertainment.
What’s the point, you ask? Breaking down barriers. I know God can reach any heart, but the job becomes easier and more successful when a heart is open. When it comes to a person’s heart, fun can open up what might have walked in closed.
Remember, application is the goal because application leads to transformation. An entertaining movie or television program is entertainment. Its purpose isn’t life application or lasting change (except for the movie Top Gun, which birthed a generation of want-to-be F-16 pilots, including me). An entertaining sermon, however, presents truth and application in a more memorable, engaging way. People naturally lean into entertaining, so we should leverage it in church.
I recently preached at Rivertown Community Church and we had a great time in the beginning of the sermon. Then we made a really important point. You can watch it here: Gavin’s Message at RCC.
NOTE: If you’re a preaching pastor, you may enjoy this: Research Shows Half of Pastors Don’t Believe Their Preaching is “Strong”
2. Plan for fun.
As you plan your services, consider how you can incorporate the emotion of joy, humor, laughter, and fun. Be creative. For in-person services, you have the parking lot, walkways, front doors, lobby, hallways, and auditorium as your canvas.
Let me give you an example. One October, I taught a sermon series called “Scared to Death.” I wanted to make this a three-week experience. I wrote the content over a month in advance (that’s another topic for another post. Or grab this course!). I knew my first week introduction was about being scared to death at a summer camp. The counselors took us on a campout and pretended a bear was circling our campsite, trying to decide which camper to eat first. This went on for about 5 hours. And yes, this was 1985, before attorneys and caring parents.
As I told this story, during a dramatic moment, I had a volunteer dress in a bear costume and trot out on the stage! It was hysterical!! The bear was available for selfies in the auditorium for the next two weeks.
Another thing: We turned the auditorium into the woods by projecting on the walls, asking our guest services volunteers to dress up in camping attire, and playing campout noises rather than iTunes during preservice.
It was an experience. It was fun. And most importantly, it helped the content stick in the hearts of our congregation.
3. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
I grew up in a season of the church where the pastor was so serious and untouchable.
That season has come and gone. Today, approachable, genuine, and authentic dominate the honor culture of the past.
You can introduce an element of fun when you preach by not making yourself the hero of your own stories. You can laugh at funny things that happen in your community. You can find the lighter side of any aspect of life and bring a smile to your church.
Emotions break down barriers, and laughter and joy may be the greatest barrier-breakers to initially leverage in your church. This is especially true for skeptics and the unchurched/dechurched people in your community.
4. Make Your Instagram Reels and Stories Fun
I talk a lot about how to best use each social media platform with purpose in the Rethink Your Church Model Masterclass. For now, know that Instagram (especially reels and stories) is where people not in your church go to check out your church. This is especially true for Millennials and Gen Z.
This is the perfect place to showcase some fun and normalcy.
BTW, Jesus Seemed Funny, Too
I believe Jesus has a sense of humor, and if He is the head of the church, then it’s probably okay to have fun and laugh in His church. There are several moments in the Gospels where we are led to believe Jesus had fun, laughed, and even embraced sarcasm (see John 1, the calling of Nathaniel). At one point, he referenced having a “plank in the eye.” That’s funny!
Here is more proof. Just look at people. We are funny (most are even funny looking!). If Jesus was fully man, then he was fully funny. Therefore, I think our churches should reflect Jesus – all aspects of Jesus!
It wouldn’t surprise me to arrive in heaven and see Jesus telling jokes. “Did you hear the one about my Dad, the priest, and the Rabbi?” My point is simply this: I’m not sure why we believe the church must be devoid of humor and fun.
Just because it’s entertaining doesn’t mean it is unbiblical, lacking in truth, or godless. We could even argue removing laughter from the church is a poor strategy AND misrepresents Jesus.
One more thought. When we see the church more as an expression of our relationship with God over a religious experience, our perspective on the church and its services shifts.