I have been traveling quite a bit this summer and have had the chance to participate in worship times in several churches, two camps, and a family Bible conference. For the most part I have enjoyed these times, whether I was a member of the band or a member of the congregation. But I have noticed a trend among younger worships lately which disturbs me. No, this is not a rant about worship styles (I am pretty to open any style). Nor do I want to comment on the content of popular praise songs (some newer songs are quite scriptural and moving). What has really come to bother me is the short attention span of people allegedly participating in worship.
Since I was going to be speaking in the service, I happened to be standing in the back of the chapel, allowing me to observe people as they sing. What strikes me is the large percentage of people who get up and walk out of the worship time to get a drink, use the bathroom, stretch, look out the window, stretch, then wander back into the service. In most cases they had been in the chapel for maybe 10 minutes when the need hit them, and they all usually look like they have just endured a mighty struggle and now quite exhausted as they shuffle like the undead in and out of the crowd of engaged worshipers. (One particular young man left three times in a single service, making me think that he should see his doctor if he needs to go that often!) Usually these zombies sit in the middle of a row so that they cause maximum disruption to those around them.
If this were an isolated incident, I might have just dismissed it as someone who was not really all that engaged in the whole “camp” thing, or maybe they were genuinely ill, or had “tiny tanks” and needed frequent, medically-approved bathroom breaks. But in every one of the places I have been this summer, there is a constant migration of people in and out of the service, distracting me and everyone else from their time with God.
I got to thinking about the most recent movie I have seen, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2). With the previews, I estimate I was in the theater at least three hours. I did not see a single person get up and leave the room to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. Most people sat there with their attention glued on the screen, many were emotionally moved by the death of the characters the loved. They applauded the movie when it was over. Many stayed through the credits. My guess is that this was not the first time some of these people had seen the movie, yet they stayed glued to their seats, enjoying the film, fully engaged.
Why is it that an American can sit through a three hour movie without so much as a twitch, but cannot spend a half hour worshiping God without need a bathroom break? Why is it that we cannot sit still for a half hour sermon form the word of God without fiddling with our phones? People tell me that Americans (especially that darn younger generation) have short attention spans, so we need to make things shorter and more entertaining.
It seems to me our attention-spans are long enough for the things we really care about. Genuine worship and Bible Study do not seem to be among the things we deeply value.