The scene in Acts 20:1–12 is painfully unfamiliar to the modern churchgoer. The Apostle Paul is gathered with the saints in Troas on Sunday in an upper room. The parchments are rolled open and he is preaching. Luke tells us that he spoke “until midnight.” This means that Paul probably began speaking early in the evening, and as midnight approached, he still had not concluded his sermon. Luke is clearly playing up the long duration of Paul’s speaking as he adds: “Paul still talked longer.” In the back corner of the room was a young man, probably between ten and fourteen years old, “sitting at the window,” beginning to sink into a deep sleep.

This scene challenges many things that modern Americans think about coming to church. Many think of Sunday worship as a place to grab a cup of coffee, enjoy great music, and hear a few insights and stories from the pastor in a comfortable atmosphere. Many current books on preaching idealize creating a comfortable atmosphere, with entire chapters on what people are able to handle when they attend worship.

We’re seeing the consequences of idealizing modern expectations for worship. In fact, we live in a day of little appreciation for the necessity of even attending church. Though the statistics vary, some report that less than 20 percent of Americans attend church on Sunday. If the trends continue, over the next decade very few Americans will be attending church. This signals trouble for Christianity in the United States.

The question of what has brought about this exodus from the church is a challenging one to answer. Is it the consumerist, entertainment-driven model that is leaving people empty and with little reason to attend? Is it the abandonment of the Sabbath that has created the sense that nothing about gathering to worship is important or holy? There are certainly a variety of reasons for the decline, but there is no question that one of the greatest contributions is the demise of faithful preaching. Read more»

—Chris Gordon