Thinking Out Loud

November 13, 2014

When Church Gets Too Informal

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:20 am

What’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?

I had noticed her for many weeks. A very animated conversationalist. Frizzy hair that swung back and forth as she made various points to her conversational companion. I spotted this taking place for several weeks in a row. Talking up a storm. In church. During the service.

I never understood why the ushers didn’t address the problem. This was a very conservative church and there was no missing her hair and head bobbing back and forth. Surely the leadership here would DO something.

Then came the week that we ended up sitting directly behind her. She talked through the call to worship. She talked through the opening prayer. She talked through the first half of the opening scripture reading. Okay, this was scripture, the Word, right? It was then that with a voice that was reined in so it wouldn’t travel too far, but with a voice that was distinct, clear and firm, I said, “W-i-l-l  y-o-u  p-l-e-a-s-e  b-e  q-u-i-e-t.”

She got the message. I hoped she would think about whatever might have motivated me to do that. (Gee, I dunno know; maybe wanting to hear the service? Maybe something about having respect for the reading of the Word of God?) Instead, the service ended, and her son-in-law, who was sitting two seats over, stood up, turned around slowly towards me in all his massive 260 lb. frame, and informed me that if I ever did something like that again he would take care of me out in the parking lot. Or something like that.

We left that church shortly after. Not because of her, or him, but because the ushers, deacons and other leaders were gutless to deal with her. It took me to do it.

text_message_girlFlash forward several years. My youngest son returned home from church — a different church — with the news that a girl whom he named in the youth group who was sitting a row behind him was text messaging throughout the entire sermon. I happen to know this girl’s family and they are infected with the same germ as the woman with the bobbing hair. I’ve seen them conversing in a manner so animated that it was distracting to me on the farthest part of the other side of a very wide auditorium. Texting uses no audio, but in a church service, it’s amazing how the little taps can carry.

Interesting how you can be in a room with 300 other people but it only takes one person to spoil the experience. If the person was making a lot of noise, it would be dealt with, but sometimes these things sit on the borderline between requiring action or determining that confronting the situation might make a greater (and more memorable) distraction.

I like that we can dress casually for church. I like that we sing contemporary songs. I like that we show cuts from popular movies. I like that we laugh and are transparent about our lives. But…

I miss reverence. I miss solemnity. I miss the awe with which should approach that part of our week where we enter into the transcendency of bringing our worship before a holy God. I miss the holy hush I experienced in some meetings I attended in my early twenties.  I miss people treating that part of the week as something special.

If I had been sitting anywhere near this girl, I don’t know exactly what I might have done, but it wouldn’t have been pleasant. I might have gone for “P-u-t  t-h-a-t  t-h-i-n-g  a-w-a-y  n-o-w.” But remember, he was sitting in front of in this case and would have had to turn around to do this.

Then again, I might have simply stepped out of the service for a few minutes.

To make a whip out of cords. 

So… what’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?



  1. I sing with the Choir, so during song service we can all see what anybody is doing. I find looking out during congregational singing and seeing people talking rather than singing is a huge distraction.

    Comment by Wally Fry — November 13, 2014 @ 7:31 am

  2. Reblogged this on Truth in Palmyra.

    Comment by Wally Fry — November 13, 2014 @ 7:40 am

  3. kissing like crazy…

    Comment by angie — November 13, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

    • No way!

      Comment by Wally Fry — November 13, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

      • Yes Way. The pastor did say something.

        Comment by angie — November 13, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

  4. At a particular, unnamed church, we watched in disgust (as did the spouse) a man take a cell-phone call in the service and proceed to explain to the party on the other end that he was busy and yet continued blabbing about a few points of interest before walking up – phone in hand – to the back of the church where he was ‘less’ audible.

    I once got post-service castigation for sitting up near the front with my then girlfriend while she fiddled with my long hair during the entire service. I was quite embarrassed, but they were right to tell me off!

    Holy Hush – let’s start a band with that name. The entire first half of the concert will be making people shut-up before we play.


    Comment by flagrantregard — November 13, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

  5. When I said, ‘The Spouse’, by the way, I meant the blabby guy’s spouse. Just to be clear, sorry!

    Comment by flagrantregard — November 13, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

  6. We have a small church and had a lady who would come in late, always a distraction, and would begin chatting…sometimes loudly, with the person beside her. It was always a distraction….and usually during the worship time!

    Comment by rickda — November 13, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

  7. I was part of a church quartet that occasionally visited other churches. In one church people kept coming and going from the sanctuary, which can be done tactfully, but the door they were using had some spring loaded closure and kept slamming loudly.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — November 13, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

    • Okay, I have to respond to this one, because as I was reading, I could totally hear the door slam in question. I know that fire doors like this serve a safety purpose in public buildings — and unfortunately, motels and hotels — but they are so very disruptive in a church service.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 13, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

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