The Sickness of Busyness

“The reason our churches are shrinking is because church has become just one option among a sea of options on Sunday mornings.”

“It used to be that everything was closed on Sundays. People didn’t have all these distractions keeping them from coming to church.”

“If we want to bring in young families, we need to have programs that meet their needs.”

“What programs can we create to meet the needs of the people in our community?”

“Why can’t we get more people to come to Sunday School? Or our mid-week studies?”

Questions. Anxieties. Worries. Fears.

At a denominational meeting in my region yesterday, I listened as our Classis president told us with concern that on a majority of annual reports, numbers of baptisms were down, as well as membership trends in general. In many churches and in many areas of the United States, worship attendance is at an all-time low, and the anxiety and pain that accompanies that reality is deeply felt in many churches.

And when there’s pain and difficulty and the realization that things are not how they are supposed to be, it can make us feel like we need to do something, like we need to do more, accomplish more, offer more things to people. We want to read more books, bring in more big name speakers, plan more activities, all so that we can boast to our communities, “We have just the thing you are looking for!”

We want to make what we have attractive enough that people will choose to come to church more regularly rather than go to a sports game, sleep in, or catch up on whatever TV shows are on the DVR.

But, what if the problem really isn’t our lack of programs for all age groups, or the competing opportunities in the community (like sports, school programs, etc)?

What if the problem isn’t that we have too few programs? What if adding more things, more activities, more things to keep us busy is the opposite of what we need to be doing.

What if what we’ve done is make the church a place to stay busy, rather than a place to be transformed?

My kids are reaching the age where more and more activities are offered to them. They are old enough to play sports, which means they could try soccer, baseball/softball, dance, karate, golf, 4-H, Girl/Cub Scouts, art classes, music lessons, cheerleading clinics, and community theater. We’ve tried to help them select just a few things to try so that they can have the experience of playing a team sport, or learning something new, but we’ve also been intentional to avoid overloading ourselves.

And even still, we’re exhausted. It seems that we’re always on the go, always busy. We’re always looking for a way we can cut back on what we’re doing because we know that the packed schedule, the never eating at the dinner table, the “oh no! I forgot I was supposed to ______!” is not good for anyone’s health or well-being.

I look around at the faces of tired friends, and I hear so many people say, “I wish we weren’t so busy.” And I’ve noticed a trend of people becoming more selective on what they agree to do out of a need to get back to healthier sleeping and eating schedules.

What if church was a place to go and lay our burdens down? What if church was a community of people who sat next to each other in the midst of our tough stuff and said, “Me, too,” in solidarity? What if church was a collection of strange and unlikely people who would otherwise have no reason to be together apart from the transforming work of God?

What if church didn’t feel like one more thing we had to do, but was the community we joined hands with as we rejoiced, and the people who cried with us in lament?

What if church wasn’t the building where all our busyness was housed, but was the place – the community – where we went to be healed from our busyness sickness?

What would our churches be like if all of our programs, studies, and smoke machines disappeared? What kind of people would be left? What would our worship look like?

What kind of people would be sent out into the world?

Who am I as I am sent out into the world?

Too often my prayer is, “Lord, help me to get my endless to-do list done.”

Jesus calls us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”



16 thoughts on “The Sickness of Busyness

  1. I love this so much.Thanks for sharing, April.
    You asked: “What if what we’ve done is make the church a place to stay busy, rather than a place to be transformed?” I think you’re right. In a lot of ways- we’ve made the church into a business- we want to see results and we want to see them now- especially when it comes to attendance, membership, baptisms, etc. I know in my own denomination- the Free Methodist Church, it seems like every year we are hearing the same thing- attendance is down, membership is on the decline, etc.
    But I think you’re also right when you ask: “What if church wasn’t the building where all our busyness was housed, but was the place – the community – where we went to be healed from our busyness sickness?”
    We need to get back to being relationship focused rather than task-oriented.
    Don’t get me wrong- being task-oriented isn’t bad (I hope, cause that’s what I am…) but I think it does mean that those who think in those terms have to try harder to make relationships a priority.
    And we all need to remember that the ethos, the heart, the very DNA of the Church absolutely needs to be transformation.

    1. Yes! I love how you put it: “We need to get back to being relationship focused rather than task-oriented.” And it’s so hard, especially for people who default to task-orientation. I certainly like to hide behind my to-do list 🙂 Come, Lord Jesus!

      1. I’m just glad that there is grace for us task-oriented, to-do list making people like you and I.

      2. Hmm.. I’d guess that being relationship-oriented would just open up a different set of tasks.. but they would maybe be more meaningful

      3. I agree! I don’t think we can ever get away from tasks. But, I think the motivation for our tasks will be different if our primary goal is relationship rather than “we need more people in the seats!” 🙂

  2. If i’m being completely honest, the reason I rarely go to a Sunday service anymore is because I can participate in more meaningful Christian community in other contexts. And I have the hardest time staying awake in the morning for an hour long sermon! However, I do miss the larger corporate singing (I still often sing worship songs with others but not in a group that large) and communion and baptisms (but my church does those so rarely anyway). I wish more people in my church would embrace hybrid virtual/tangible friendships as I often get more of the daily one-anthers from my twitter friends than I do from my small group. The world is changing in the way that people relate to each other and I think the church is slow to adapt. We really should be at the frontier of these changes but like usual we’re resisting them.

    1. Oh my goodness! An hour long sermon? I’d fall asleep too! 🙂

      I wonder what it would look like for the church to embrace these hybrid relationships. I absolutely agree that the way people connect and relate to each other has changed rapidly (and continues to change) and that these virtual relationships are real, and profound, and meaningful. I find myself receiving encouragement, comfort, solidarity, etc. in my small Twitter group, too. In my opinion, that’s part of church for me, too, right along with what happens on Sunday morning. Church can happen anywhere.

      1. Mine are usually right around 12-15 minutes. 🙂 If a sermon is really engaging, I can listen for maybe 20-25, but then I start losing focus.

  3. I resonate with the angst here. But the issue isn’t in the theoretical “what ifs”, but in the practicality. I’m a church planter and here’s the issues I face. The typical church in my experience has three weekly commitments (often more): weekend service, some form of small group, some form of serving capacity. We’ve tried to cut this to two. The majority of service is individual and when we do corporately serve, we serve as small groups, in place of that meeting. This method has helped but when we cut a degree of programming, it tends to not create margin for people…they simply fill it with other things. And then they are busy with things that aren’t connected to our community, pulling them further away, which is the opposite of what we hope to see. Any thoughts?

    1. Thanks so much for bringing this down to the practical level. In my church, I’ve seen a lot of what you’re describing, too. When we try to pare down and make space, many people choose to fill that space with something else rather than becoming less busy and frenetic in their lives. I find myself doing that sometimes, too, and I think it is indicative of our obsession (even addiction?) to being busy. I’m not sure what the practical answer for that is. Until we allow ourselves to have that space, a lot of times we may not even know how much we need it.

      In my church (and in others in our area), I’ve noticed that often mid-week programs are viewed as a substitute for worship. If you go to Wednesday night Bible study, you’ve “done church” and don’t need to go again on Sunday. I’m not sure what the answer is. I think we need to find a way (as it sounds like your church plant is really wrestling with the best way to do this) to pare down enough that we don’t encourage over-busyness without losing so much of who we are that worship just becomes something to choose from – on the same level as any other community activity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s