Church services vary in length. The average timeframe seems to be from one to two hours while there are worship services as short as thirty minutes. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Scripture gives no explicit instruction on how long or short a Christ-centered worship service should be. What I will not do is give an explicit span of time over which I think the service should be conducted. That would not benefit you or me or anyone who wonders how much time should be invested on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening or any other time during the week they might gather with the congregation of God- their eternal family.
Secondly, we want to avoid thinking about this in strictly programmatic terms. I think part of the downfall of the modern organized church is that it has become so concerned with programming that it has forgotten about the church being a family. While we want a level of organization, we must recognize that this organization can quickly and easily become an idol to us. The basic truth when thinking about the length of a church service is this: what we invest into a Christ-centered and Scripture focussed church body, we profit in our personal lives, families, and in every arena of our existence.
The way that we treat church reveals how worthy we believe God to be of our praise. Here, we will exegete at a very basic level Romans 12:1-2:
“Therefore (because all things are from God and through God and to God, Romans 11:36) I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The theological truth upon which the act of our worship is defined and applied is that God created all things, sustains all things, and is glorified in all things. When we think about this in terms of our investment and how worthy God is of our time and energy, He is the one by whom, through whom, and to whom all of creation expresses praise. He alone is worthy of our time and He alone is worthy of our praise and He alone is worthy to be heard. It is why we believe that He alone, in the person of Christ, is our teacher (Matthew 23:8). We will not condemn anyone for missing a church meeting for any reason. We simply don’t have that kind of authority. Here, we simply want to encourage some self-examination. If God alone is worthy as creator, sustainer, and the very subject and object of real glory, what is the testimony of our lives when we consider anything else to be more worthy of our time and energy?
This is a theological issue and not merely a programmatic one. When we are overly concerned with the length of a church service, we show how worthy we believe God to be of our praise. We can usually tell how in love people are with Christ by how much of their lives they invest in the healthy church body. You don’t believe me, do you? You can worship God without investing in the body of Christ as a member of the body of Christ?
In Romans 12:1, worship is defined as our presenting our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God. This is what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. To sacrifice is to die to self and to be a living sacrifice is to live in Christ as we die to self because He alone is worthy. We cannot live in Christ outside the context of the body of Christ. This is not an individual pursuit and the things in our lives we consider to be worthy of our time always fail when substituted for the gathering of the body of Christ. We can’t keep people who really love Jesus away from the gathering of believers as a Christ-centered and word focussed local church.
At our local church, The Church at Sunsites, I am so proud of our congregation. The people love God and are hungry for the word of God. Though we have our preferences, we are more concerned with God having His way. The burden is light and the yoke easy. The people are generous and they are not in a hurry to leave the gathering. Even after the service is over, the people linger and talk about everything, especially about biblical truth. You ask them how long a church service should be and they reply, “What a silly question. Preach the word and it takes as long as it takes. We are hungry for the words of God.” God is worthy. Our lives and everything we convince ourselves needs be done are not so worthy. We invest our lives in those things that are truly beneficial.
Romans 12:2 continues this instruction. Worship means that we are no longer conformed to the world but are transformed by the renewing of our minds. When we invest our time in what is worthy (i.e. God), the result is the transformation of our minds. The instruction of the Lord is the central part of the gathering and we sit together under Christ’s teaching alone. Through this worship, we are made complete creatures. Those people who genuinely yearn for the instruction of Christ are always hungry for more when the sermon time is finished because the word is doing a real, transformative work in the lives of God’s people. The personal result is “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Our proper investment in the things that are worthy of our time (God) produces wisdom, discernment, and the ability to prove what the will of God is. Without our committed and joyful and regular participation in the body of Christ, we are ill-prepared for this life.
So, you ask how long a church service should be. Biblically, my answer can only be as long as possible considering the glory of God and the good of God’s people. Where there is hardness of heart, we seek to meet people where they are for the good of God’s elect. If people leave because services are too long, check to be sure you are actually interested in their good and not your own glory as a preacher, then know that it is only those who believe God is not really worthy who would make such a point one of contention. Don’t try to argue people into submission. Make the word the central focus. Teach people to love the glory of God as Scripture teaches. When people love the glory of God, they will choose Him over everything else because He alone is worthy. Until then, love the people as Christ loves His church. God will grant understanding of His own worthiness and of love for His glory to His elect according to His will and good pleasure in His good timing.
To those who love Christ and are not committed members of a local church, I invite you to investigate us and become involved in our local congregation for God’s glory. If there is not a biblical church in your area, I invite you to start one with us.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.