“Houston, we have a problem”

This iconic line was one of the great understatements of human history. It was spoken by Jack Swigert on the Apollo 13 moon mission. It was spoken just after a sharp bang and strong vibration. Of course, they didn’t just have a problem, they had a huge problem. One huge section of the side of the ship had been blown off. Two of the three fuel cells which provided energy for the craft were lost. Except for the incredible ingenuity of Houston engineers, the mission and the lives of the three men on board would have been lost.

Houston, we have a problem.

The same could be said for the church in America at the dawn of the third millennium. I will spare you the delineation of the details as most of you are aware. Here is the one sentence summary: the church in American at the dawn of the third millennium is in decline.

Many solutions have been suggested, including:

  • (Has it come to that?)
  • A return to tried and true methods.
  • The embracing of new methods.
  • The embracing of new technology.
  • Seeker-sensitive service.
  • A return to gospel preaching.
  • Home groups.
  • The list goes on.

All of these may have some merit. Who would argue that a return to greater fervency in prayer is not needed? But all of these miss problem which, if not addressed and solved, will keep the church from reaching our world for Christ.

Houston, we have a problem.

Sunday School is boing

There is a dirty little secret in Sunday School. We hardly ever talk about it, but it is a big problem. It may be it is so big that only you, pastor can fix it. In many cases, Sunday School is boring. I recently asked about this on Facebook. Here are some of the responses:


Whatever your plan for making disciples of all nations, it surely can’t be done if these numbers are anywhere close to right.

Bruce Wilkinson says he hears it 80% of the time: Sunday School is boring. My research is more positive. My research indicates that only about a third of our groups are boing. Question: if one out of three meals you ate at a local restaurant were terrible, how many times would you go back?

One humorist quip could apply to many Sunday School teachers: “She’s so boring, she can’t even entertain a doubt.”[1]

It is a problem for many reasons. One was articulated by Howard Hendricks. I stole the name of this book from him: It is a sin to bore people with the gospel.

Perry Noble says it is a problem because…

  • The Bible is NOT boring–the teachings of God’s Word are more relevant and exciting that anything on the planet.
  • Jesus was NOT boring – to see His life lived out in the Scriptures AND to see WHO HE IS should inspire AWE, not apathy!
  • Our message is NOT boring – Jesus was DEAD, came BACK TO LIFE and offers us the same opportunity, to cross over from death to life and be reconciled to God.
  • The Book of Acts is NOT boring – there is NOWHERE in the book of Acts that ritual replaced relationship!
  • If the tomb is empty, Jesus is alive and HOPE is possible then HIS church should reflect that.[2]

One more. This one from Haddon Robinson:

Boredom is like anthrax. It can kill. More people have been bored out of the Christian faith than have been reasoned out of it. Dull, insipid sermons not only cause drooping eyes and nodding heads, they destroy life and hope. What greater damage can we do to people’s faith than to make them feel like God and Jesus Christ and the Bible are as boring as the want ads in the Sunday paper? Boredom can dull the life of the listener in the pew, but in this case it had infected the preacher.[3]

Some may respond that the answer is home groups. I am a fan of home groups and personally participate in one. But, let us think soberly about what we are saying here. If you take a boring Sunday School class and move it to a home on Tuesday night, it is still boring. You have a bigger problem than when and where. We have a content problem. We have a delivery problem. We have a leadership problem. We have a boring problem. We will never win our world with groups that are boring.

People don’t put up with boring any more. (I am not sure that they ever did.) Today they have choices. Today, people are constantly stimulated with interesting stimuli. Young people will not put up with boring. Youth will not put up with boring. Children will not attend boring unless they are made to do so by their parents. Very few parents will fight their kids to make them attend boring.

And, what if they did? What if we successfully got people to attend boring classes?

The perception of boring is Sunday School is boing persists inside, as well as outside the church. Ask the average person sitting next to you on a plane whether he would rather attend a Sunday School class or baseball game and you will see what I mean. Even people who don’t like baseball, and find it boring would rather attend a baseball game. Here is how Gabe describes the problem:

It really bothers me that Christians are perceived as boring. Other perceptions may pass, but the idea that Christianity is boring will not, unless we work hard to recover the true robust nature of the gospel. We have succeeded in making Christianity tepid. We are lukewarm, and God says that he will spit us out. Current forms of Christian practice have become a poor substitute for the real thing. That is why this perception exists.[4]

Jesus was never boring. Never. People never wondered how long they had been sitting there or how much longer this would go on. The words used to describe Jesus’ teaching were like an entry out of a thesaurus on the word “interesting”: amazed, astonished, intrigued. What we never read is that some people were just bored with Jesus teaching and wandered off. (For more on this, see my book, Teach Like Jesus.)


[1] Lowell D. Streiker, Nelson’s Big Book of Laughter: Thousands of Smiles from A to Z, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 40.

[2] http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-to-make-sure-your-church-is-boring-48321/

[3] Haddon W. Robinson and Torrey W. Robinson, It’s All in How You Tell It: Preaching First-Person Expository Messages (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 10.

[4] Chuck Colson, “Rediscovering the Kingdom,” in UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 144.

[5] John F. MacArthur Jr., Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes like the World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 185–186.