Do long church services add value to the worship experience? Pastors weigh in

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Drum speaks to leaders from different church denominations to find out if they want to go back to their old way of worshipping or whether the new status quo of smaller physically distanced services that are livestreamed each week works better.
Drum speaks to leaders from different church denominations to find out if they want to go back to their old way of worshipping or whether the new status quo of smaller physically distanced services that are livestreamed each week works better.
Danita Delimont

The current pandemic has reminded us not to take the small things for granted – a handshake, a hug, gathering with loved ones to share a meal or other people who share the same religious beliefs as us to worship, and even freedom of movement.

As some believers return to long worship services that start in the morning and end late in the afternoon, others are questioning whether churches shouldn't re-visit their formats. "Church was becoming a business for some," says Reverend Mzukisi Faleni of the Presbyterian Church of Africa.

"That is why it was pastors who were at the fore front of wanting churches to open again, not because we were advocating for the church, but because the business had collapsed. There are pastors who were milking money from the church.”

From attending the funeral service or nuptials of loved ones to working from home and online church services, screens have replaced contact. Events being virtual is now a normal thing, and some feel the deep sense of loss of community that they got from being physically there for things, whether it be gym or church.

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Pastor Sydwell Mtwana of Unity Church of Prayer, a charismatic church, says they would like nothing more than to return to their old way of doing things.

“Lockdown really showed us the value of allowing God to move among us unrestricted, something we sometimes took for granted. We are led by the holy spirit and there is nothing like going to God, humbling yourself at the alter and allowing God to move without any restrictions.

“After the hard lockdown was eased, we were allowed to gather again. But there were conditions attached to how we could do things,” he says.

"It did not feel normal. Yes, it was great to gather again, but it felt like it was just a means to an end because we were restricted.”

Pastor Mtwana says they do not mind being at church from 10am to the late afternoon on Sundays. “We are not in a hurry,” he says.

“This is our lifestyle. There is nowhere else we would rather be. Sundays are reserved for church. We want to have a full package or experience of worship. Not a watered down version because we have to watch the clock.”

He adds that when congregants are fed “good spiritual food” they do not worry about the time. “When you are in the spirit and enjoying being in the presence of the Lord, that four or five hours feels like an hour,” he concludes.

Reverend Faleni could not disagree more. He says, Covid-19 has helped the church to return to its default settings.

“Everything in life has to be adjusted. Covid-19 has helped the church to just that. It has helped us realign with what is really important. It has taken us back to the basics we were taught in Sunday School that God is with us wherever we are.

"We do not need to be in a church building to serve God and we do not need to spend 20 hours there in order to please him."

“Pleasing God has nothing to do with the amount of time we spend in the church building nor does being there for long hours earn us more favour with him. Covid-19 has reminded us of what is important and that is God exists outside the confines of the buildings. We, as the brethren, are the church not the buildings.

"What Covid-19 has also done is show us that all the things we attached so much value to as the church are not as important. Oo Siyakudumisa and oo Ndiyakholwa (traditional hymns) which are viewed as so important did not have as much value during hard lockdown, which tells you that they are not as important then because we could connect to God without them,” Reverend Faleni says, adding that as painful as the pandemic has been, it has also had some upsides.

“Things like the wearing of masks should not be done away with, I will be keeping mine. Or even the shaking of hands. Many people did not realize the number of germs we were spreading by shaking hands and Covid-19 has opened our eyes to that. I do not want to shake anyone’s hand anymore," he says.

“Back to the church, Covid-19 has brought us back to the true values of Christianity. You must also remember the point of over emphasizing the church building was to commercialize the church."

He adds that people can spend 20 hours in a church building without a connection to God.

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“There is nothing in scripture that says you need to spend long hours in church. I would even go as far as saying if you spend four or five hours at church, you do so because you have nothing else to do with your time. We should go to church to say to God ‘thank you so very much for the time, opportunity, strength, energy, mind and wisdom that you have given us. We only came to say thank you.’

"And when they are done, they should pack their things and go. That’s it. Because worshiping God has nothing to do with being loud in a church building,” he concludes.

Pastor Bonginkosi Njingolo of the Seventh-Day Adventist church says given the opportunity to choose, they would go back to the old ways in a heartbeat.

“We understood that churches could be potential super-spreaders and we did away with some things or some parts of our services because we wanted to ensure the safety of the brethren.

"But truly, in our hearts, we would love to go back to our old way. Summarizing our services got the job done, but we were left unsatisfied and wanting more."

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