What You Can’t Say at Church


ImageYou’re not
allowed to talk about that at church. In fact, you’re not allowed
to talk at all during the typical American church service.

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And that’s a problem for the majority of the population that
does not attend church.

Most people view the typical worship service as a passive time
of one-way communication. They believe church leaders and members
are uninterested in their thoughts, doubts and questions. This
perspective is one of the major reasons people avoid church, as we
report in our new book, Why Nobody Wants to Go to
Church Anymore

People today, especially younger generations, want to be part of
the conversation. They live in an interactive world. They view the
typical church sermon time as an elongated, one-way lecture. Though
they desire the subject matter, the delivery mode is passive and

Children's Ministry Local Training

In the book, we advocate something we call Fearless
Conversation. It’s one of the “four acts of love” that we believe
can make a church irresistible. When it comes to matters of faith,
people crave a real conversation, not just another lecture from a
professional Christian.

Conversation isn’t just preferred. It’s a more effective form of
communication. Seminary professor Norm Wakefield told us, “The act
of verbalizing imprints truth on our mind. It’s important to allow
people of any age to talk it out. That’s how our human minds work.
We work it out by talking it out. That’s another reason lecturing
is so inefficient.”

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It’s also why Jesus allowed for questions and conversation-give
and take-in his teaching.

And Jesus was fearless in his interaction with people. He wasn’t
afraid of their questions, their comments, or the topics they
wanted to bring up.


Fear paralyzes the church today. When we propose including
interactivity and conversation in preaching and teaching, church
leaders say they’re fearful that people may say things that are
doctrinally imperfect, or they may ask questions that might be
difficult to answer, or they may simply wander off-topic. Well,
guess what. These people are already engaging in these scary
behaviors-outside of church. So, why not handle them inside the
church where we have a chance to bring the Truth into the

Some leaders say the conversation takes place-not in the worship
service, but in classes and small groups. That’s good. But most
people do not make it past the worship service. And the main
worship service is prime time to power-up a message with

So, can interactivity and conversation work in a worship
service? A high-profile pastor at a large church told me he knows
that conversation and participation lead to greater growth. “But
that’s impossible when you have more than 150 people,” he said.
He’s mistaken. We regularly do it with thousands. It’s simply a
matter of asking good questions and instructing people to talk with
those near them.

Rather than droning for 30 or 40 minutes, preachers would be
more effective if they’d offer some thoughts for a few minutes,
then pose a good Jesus-style question for people to discuss in
pairs, then offer a few more thoughts, followed by a time for
questions from the congregation.

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Fear also prevents the church from talking about those things
that people really want to talk about. But Fearless Conversation
is, well, fearless. We need to be talking about, and including God
in, topics such as mental illness, racism, homosexuality,
transgenderism, suicide, Islam, Mormonism, hell, and doubt. “Fear
not,” God tells us.

Fearless Conversation offers a few more benefits. It provides
teachers and preachers the opportunity to listen. To be quiet and
listen. Which is enormously useful for any leader who wishes to
understand what people are actually thinking.

In addition, real conversation (not the rudimentary
meet-and-greet moment) promotes relationship and enables people to
connect with others on a meaningful level. And that provides
authentic relevance. That kind of relevance does not come from the
preacher’s hip clothes, facial hair, or eloquent oratory. True
relevance is personal, customized to each individual. Conversation
is personalized, customized to each individual.

And, Fearless Conversation models to the people how to conduct a
conversation about faith. If we never provide the opportunity to
see and participate in faith talk, how do we ever expect our people
to be salt and light in the real world in which they live?

Fear not.

(In coming articles I’ll preview the next two Acts of Love:
Genuine Humility and Divine Anticipation. In the meantime, please
offer your thoughts here. This is a fearless conversation too! When
you comment, you’ll also be entered to win a free copy of our new
book, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore.)

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About Author

Thom Schultz

Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

1 Comment

  1. Children's Ministry Magazine

    Interesting, food for thought for sure. The best comment made in this article speaks to listening. You hit the bullseye there – I'm a staff pastor at a large (200 average attendance) rural church), and it's a constant battle for me to be a listener, a REAL listener, one who listens with my heart. As far as the "Fearless Listening" principle, well to be honest, that will take some processing. Looking forward to reading the whole book.

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