Engaging Culture

Has Church Become too Casual?

In our well meaning effort to relate to the culture, I’m getting some interesting comments about contemporary churches today. Pastors are now preaching in T-shirts and torn jeans, and many large, contemporary churches today look more like concert arenas than churches.

I understand the trend and I helped lead the charge. In the search for excellence in all things, us baby boomers want perfect lighting and sound, as well as something different from the dressed up but insincere church experience many of us grew up in.

But some younger people are going the opposite direction. They’re telling me that if church isn’t any different from what they encounter at the local mall or movie theater, then what’s the point in going?

I’ve heard from a number of twenty-something’s who lament the loss of the mysterious and transcendent in church, and long for something that rises above their normal weekly experience.  Are we swinging back? I’ve read a number of studies that indicate more and more people are gravitating toward churches with a liturgical tradition – the “smells and bells” if you will.

That’s something you might consider in your own church. How have you lost the sense of the mysterious? Do worshipers feel the transcendent presence of God when they enter your worship space, or does it feel just like another concert hall or auditorium?

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  1. Different strokes for different folks. 

    I know a family who rejected several churches because the attire of female congregants was immodest.  (I agreed with their assessment.  Some of these gals mammas didn't know what they weren't wearin'.)  On the other hand, the church they settled on doesn't permit women to wear slacks in church.  Their private school even expects their girls to play sports in divided skirts.  I don't play that.  To be blunt, my grannies didn't play that.  They last woman in my family to wear a divided skirt was my great grandmother.   She was running a farm and raising 9 children alone.  She was the last woman in my family to humor sexists, but even her long-suffering attitude had a limit.

    In our Methodist church people dress nicely, but no one scowls at pant suits.  The service is traditional, but we're not caught up in expensive trappings. I'm comfortable there.  When I am on holiday in Canada, I attend a similarly traditional but informal Lutheran church.      

    I've seen people dress to the nines to attend very nontraditional services, and I've seen people flock to the Catholic church for their comforting rituals.  It probably doesn't matter.  Soap washes and churches save, packaging and branding is irrelevant.

    People are going to be attracted to different churches based on dress norms and the degree of ritual that appeals to them.  There's a church for everyone out there.  That's a good thing. 


  2. The question I would like to pose is… who is influencing who? Are we being influenced by the "Y" generation or even the culture in which we live?

    Years ago as a young Christian, I was someone who came out of the world (wearing mini-skirts and low cut blouses) and into the church not quite sure how I was supposed to dress so I would look to those in leadership as an example to follow. I am so thankful that they were not trying to influence me by dressing like me (that would have caused a HUGE stir within the church).:)

    I am now in my mid 40s and would look ridiculous if I dressed as if I were in my 20s. I hate to say it but some of the baby boomers who are trying to be HIP, look a little on the ridiculous side too.

    What happened to the days when women wore dresses to church or even to work. It appears that this culture has become so casual in dress, attitude and even character. What concerns me more and what's most important is, what's going on in the hearts of man? Is the casual exterior a reflection of what's happening on the inside? It's not really the type of music or the clothing that one wears that's most important, it's the heart that matters most.

    Phil, like you… I love the old hymns, even though I didn't grow up with them. I personally still like to dress up for church:-) Oh… no! Is it my age?          

  3. For me it has always been about allowing people to come "as they are." I am not a big proponent of dictating any dress guidelines for several reasons.

    First, I don't see that in the Bible. Jesus always excepted people as they were, warts and all.

    Second, I don't particularly think it is our job to demand that people who come to my church be like me or like how I determine they should be. Isn't that what got us into the masking mess to begin with? Church should be the one place I can be free to be me – the creature God created – not man.

    Third, if we dictate to others what to do then how do we create an atmosphere for the Holy Spirit to convict each individual to the specific changes they need to make. I'll give you an example. When I first got saved in my late 20's I was a rabid devouter of romance novels. I had several people tell me I shouldn't read those and give their opinions as to why. Then I had another group that thought it was okay. It wasn't until the Holy Spirit convicted me about how romance novels had become an idol in my life because I spent more time in them than with God as well as it created a false imagery in my mind as to how a man should look that I knew I had to stop. Needless to say, I gave them all away and never looked back. That was a permanent change because I was convicted not because I was told, or forced by rules to change but because God had shown me that, for me, this was not something beneficial. The same goes with dress.

    Fourth, what works for you, may not work for me. God created us as unique indiviuals and if you demanded me to look and act like you, I would cease to be the uinique individual God is calling me to be. Even though we are talking about clothes it always seems to lead to other rules and regulations.

    Sometimes, for me, I think those of us in the church of Christ (myself included) start to look more and more like the Pharisees of Jesus' day.

    Again, for me, I would rather create an atmosphere in which the Holy Spirit had free reign to speak one on one. I believe with all me heart that the changes that would result would be profound and long lasting. I also believe it would draw those "outside" in.

    But then I guess that why my blog is titled, An Unlikely Perspective 2, huh?

    Great topic, Phil!!

    I just discovered that on the new Yahoo Beta, I can add your blog as a module, so when I check my emails, there you are! How cool is that?!








  4. I believe that if the main push of a church is to relate to the world by being like them in clothes, music, style, etc., then it is probably based on shallow thinking than biblical thinking.  Many churches do this and they are a dime a dozen.  They focus more on appearance than on Christ.  This has and is to our detriment

    The flip side is the dress up to the t to impress.  This is another extreme.  I know that it bothers people if you don't dress up with suit and tie and nice dress, etc.  This group too focuses on appearance. 

    We look at the outside while God looks at the heart.  We need to be asking ourselves, what is more important, the message or the material?  We have gotten away from simple biblical teachings with these "non-offensive" ways to reach the masses.  Of course, many tend to forget that the gospel is offensive.  It is also refreshing, lie, and liberating.  Isn't that why Jesus came–for us and not our appearance.


    In an attempt to discard pretentiousness, an overtly casual attitude has become pervasive. Yet,we demonstrate respect toward natural dignitaries in our manners and appearance, how much more ought we honor God and His presence?

    I believe what matters is not so much attire as it is attitude. But one's attitude will affect everything else. Recognition and reverence of God is a key element of an authentic spiritual experience. And a spiritual connection is what people deeply crave and perhaps define as mysterious.

    Reverence will draw the presence of God, making even a closet feel like a cathedral. But an irreverent tone will not draw in the presence of God and will leave even a state of the art sanctuary feel no more significant spiritually than the coffee house down the street.

  6. I don't have to share how I feel about this issue, I think you know where I stand from my comment on Phil's last post.

    I just had to throw in an 'amen' to Tova for the great expansion on 'reverence'. This continues to hit the nail on the head for me.

  7. Really significant points you have made Dominique. Ultimately it is to have an environment/atmosphere/place/home where we can let go of being in control and let/allow/completely surrender to the Holy Spirit's leading (He is just so gentle that's why He doesn't do anything unless we allow Him to) – and that is very hard for many of us to do because we have never truly known what it means to be free without sin.

  8. I guess the fact is that many of us have been influenced by someone else’s definition of Who God is and therefore after coming into the Kingdom of God never really went back to know Who the King really is and how He would like to do things in our lives. “Reverence will draw the presence of God, making even a closet feel like a cathedral” hits the bullseye. I think at the crux of it all, churches are like families and each family is different in how they do things a point better stated by Elizabeth Conley “There’s a church for everyone out there. That’s a good thing.” When the children (mature or immature members of the church) grow up they leave and start another one maybe doing things completely different (relevant/innovative/cutting edge) or doing what they saw done in the family they left (traditional) while some retain some old features as well as progressing with the new (a diverse church) which Jesus described “”Therefore,” He [Jesus] said to them, “every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old.” “. I quite like a church that is structured & grounded enough to be able to adapt flexibly to what is out there and beyond without losing itself in the process. Hard, but it can be done and some people are doing it right now.

  9. Who cares what people wear! All that matters is whether or not God turns up. If he does, that is what will attract people. Check out the healings, deliverance, salvation etc taking place at the Todd Bentley meeting in Florida, currently showing on GOD TV. Todd doesn’t have all the bells, whistles and trappings of “relgion”, and young people are there in droves because of God’s power.

  10. Is a $350.00+ dollar pair of jeans casual? Or a$250.00 dollar shirt?
    I don't think so. I don't want to go to a church service and feel like I'm at a funeral.

    If I go to the movies, live theater or a sporting event I expect good sound, lights and presentation. Why should I expect less at church?

    For the love of God can someone please explain to me why it is so hard to turn the microphone on before the person is half way through there first sentence? This isn't something new we just started doing!

  11. I go to a "hip" church …and I have to say that at times it is too causal.  I don't want to look at the pastor's hairy legs and naked toes during the sermon.  It's not a "deal breaker" for me — but it is to others.  And that's the point.

    My generation (I am as old as Phil–really old) did dress for church, not to show off but to show honor to the Lord we come to worship.

    I get it that some folks don't like to dress up, don't have the clothes, want to be comfortable.  That's okay.  But could we at least make an effort?  Spin the shirt in the dryer to knock a few wrinkles out….make sure it's clean and nothing is hanging out that should not be?

    Ok, I am old.

  12. Phil, you brought dress into the issue and I think everybody missed the question at the end. I had to read it twice before I realized what you were asking.

    As to the move to liturgical, it’s been going on for 10 years (sorry Phil, your at the back of this wave) and dress has nothing to do with it. It is about the experience (which dress can be a part of, but the focus is on the entire experience, not what somebody else is wearing). I also think that this move is not as widespread, not as generationally linked as past movements have been.

    We need to acknowledge and celebrate the mysteriousness of God. But only to the extent that we cannot know everything about God or understand Him completely. However, scripture tells us that God’s mysteries have been revealed in Christ. In fact in John 14-16 Jesus tells the disciples that if they know Jesus, they know God.

    Should we acknowledge mystery in the church? Yes. Should mystery determine the makeup of our worship. No, because we can know God through Jesus Christ.

  13. After reading this blog and even responding to it. I had to examine my heart to see why I recently made a comment to my husband about my "church clothes". (I have clothes and I have "church clothes)This past week (before this blog) I was getting ready for church and with great enthusiasm I told my husband that I had my church clothes on again. At the time I didn't think anything of it.

    As I began to realize that "my church clothes" represented a time when I was so in love with going to church and hanging out with our church friends. It was also a time of great fire in my heart for the things of God.  

    After the past years of seeing moral failure in the body and churches putting on performances instead of worship services, me along with several friends, were really disillusioned about the condition of the church, therefore I lost my love for the church. Although I continued to attend, I didn't have the excitement I once had. 

    After even deeper examination I did realize that I lost reverence for the church and didn't even realize it. Wow, what an eye opener this was because I have always loved God, people, have continued in my prayer life and word time so how did I get here?

    I'm not sure why, could it have been a season, is God bringing correction or am I now at a church that I have tremendous respect for the pastor? I don't really know but I do believe there is a correlation to my lact of respect for the church and the clothes that I chose to wear. Is there a mass of people who have lost respect for the church?

    My prayer is that everyone examine their hearts to see if there is anything hidden which might have caused them to lose respect for the church? Afterall, God loves His church!    


  14. i don't mind casual dress or a contempory service as long as the message is not watered down, not biblically based or full of pop psychology.

    sorry guys, but joel osteen and rick warren do nothing for me. i am more in the john mcarthur camp where the message in centered on the bible not on post modern, emerging, not quite sure what the bible means, kind of message. where the "sprit of the age" theology plays a dominant  role in interpreting the scriptures.

    we are to be salt and light in the world!

    it is not important what we wear, but are we growing in the faith and in our christian walk.

    yes different cultures have differing styles, but the message is most  important.

  15. After reading thru the comments, I remembered that the first church that dressed casually was probably Calvary Chapel in Southern California. As Chuck Smith reached out to the "surfing culture" kids came to church to find God. Bible studies in the 70's drew thousands of flipflop-wearing 20-something's, in blue jeans and t-shirts, reading along with Pastor Chuck as he preached. They were baby boomers who became known back as "Jesus People" [and listened to Larry Norman]. Since they, Calvary Chapel has grown into one of the largest churches in North America. Maybe it was because they encouraged people "come as they were"? 

  16. No…..

    Its not about what makes us comfortable…its about what makes the people who are not attending yet comfortable…and about suprising them when they get there that we are not a bunch of stuffy old pharisees.

     I wear fresh clean casual clothes….but stay away from Hawain shirts 🙂

  17. I'm older than Phil and Mary but not older than Hillary and McCain…so I guess I'm safe. 🙂

    Smith Wigglesworth  came from poverty, where the preachers were paid in chickens and pennies.  Wigglesworth also always caught flak about the way he dressed….coat and tie.  He believed one should dress in a manner that brought honor and respect to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  He didn't claim to be rich but believed as a minister, he should look his best in representing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Growing up in a denomination, we always had our Sunday best clothes.  Dad was in a coat and tie and Mother wore her best dress and a hat.  The sixties changed all that with the Charismatic movement.  This is when the true Jesus people came into the picture.  However, most denominational churches still stayed true to formal/semiformal dress.  Our more liberal A/G church in the 70's began to loosen up and you saw more jeans and T-shirts but the older generation still wore Sunday best.  I still remember wearing shirt, jeans and boots to church in the early 70's. 

    It has not been until this past decade that the denominational churches have lightened up overall in dress.  The nondenominational, WOF and Charismatic churches have been in "dress decline" for many years.  Only until recently did my pastor (A/G), stop wearing a tie on Sunday mornings.  This was influenced by his younger son (age 33) who came on staff as an associate and donned pants/or jeans and untucked shirt for a Sunday morning message.  >75% of the congregation has followed suit.  Though I have a closet full of coats, ties and suits, I have changed my dress habits, as well.   On occasion, I still "have to" throw on a coat and tie just for old times sake. 🙂

    Does it matter much…probably not.  Our church is doing better than ever…tithes and offerings are at an all time high and we are reaching more people in our community than ever with the Gospel, with growth on all sides.  As several have said, it is the heart that is at the crux of this change.  I still believe in an element of respect for the house of God…where we unite, to gather and worship.  I don't believe we have to be starched and stuffy but rather, real, genuine and full of His love.  It appears dress doesn't have a lot to do with it.   Clean…Yes, that would be nice! 

  18. I would say no the church isn't too casual in the sense that we should create worship spaces that serve the community and that relate to where we live the rest of the week.  I think the problem is that people want the comfort of a place that doesn't change, hence liturgical style of service.  I am not saying that liturgical forms aren't legitimate expressions of worship for some but for many they are odd.  I grew up in church and I saw all the tradition, dressed up people, and a mix of genuine and fake people.  I think it boils down to whether you create a place that is culturally relevant and truly loves the community.  Church is more than Sunday morning if it is truly the church.  If you think dressing up is a way to show honor to God then do that, if it is to look good in front of others, don't.  I believe the scriptural reference that applies here is, "I desire the heart above ritual."  

  19. At our church we often say <blockquote>We will do anything short of sin to reach those who don't know Christ</blockquote> 

    If that means casual dress… so be it! 

  20. Our church has slowly gone the way of the casual church. I have taken some issues with that….for ME I am convicted about my dress for church. You won't find me in anything except a dress for a Sunday service. I am going to God's house with the intention of spending time in worship of Him, why would I not present myself in anything but my personal best. I would dress to the nines if I were going to meet the President so why would I do less for my God?

    As for the casual type services, I feel we are watering down the gospel as to not offend anyone, make everyone feel good to start their week. Was Christ afraid to offend? Why should we water down what Christ did for us, make it less 'in your face' I think that would make it less powerful. Not that I want a pulpit pounding service, but churches today are not feeding their own flocks as they look to be sinner/seeker friendly. Christians today are missing out.

    Music….hmmmm….I love the traditional hymns and work hard at teaching them and the stories behind them to our sons. Our church walks a fine line between worship and entertainment, as I am sure most do. Why have we left the old hymns and hymnals? To become trendy and keep attention of the young people. We are forgetting to tell them that we are called to stand apart from the trends and current culture of the world. We now just blend in with everyone else…..


  21. I tend to shy away from big, contemporary churches mostly because I work in media and instead of worshipping, I get distracted by the ‘stage management’ of the service. I can see the preacher slowly beginning to wind down their sermon as the large digital display at the back of the auditorium changes to red. I can see the ‘cue’ in the speaker’s words for the band to come back to the stage….all the careful management of the service. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that, but I prefer a more organic expression of church. I feel that for me, the knowledge that the big, contemporary church had two early services before I got there (both identical) removes the mystical, the awe. I want to be in a church which is, at times, a bit chaotic, a bit unstructured, and where there’s definitely room in the service for the unusual to break out.

  22. I believe that church dress should modest and appropriate. Being in God’s presence is a special occasion and special times call for appropriate dress.
    I grew up in the Black church. We dressed up because, at one time, it was one of the few places where we had a sense of dignity. In our everyday existence we were minimized, stereotyped, called boy, nigger, etc.
    The church is where we were respected and dignified. If we would not dress casually if we were to have an audience with the President, why not dress-up(your definition) to be in God’s presence. Who is greater?

    1. Great context Joseph and a good reminder of the cultural perspective as well. Thanks for posting!

  23. You couldn’t be more wrong about the Holy Spirit (or ANY member of the Trinity) not doing anything unless we allow Him to. That would make US the sovereign beings and the Trinity just mere spectators unable to intervene in the lives of men unless we give them permission. Have you ever prayed for someone’s salvation? You realise, don’t you, that when you do that you are, in EVERY way, asking God to OVERRIDE that person’s will and to SAVE him/her. And that’s precisely what He does. Even if you were to say, “No, I’m asking God to open their eyes so that they see their need for Him…that they are lost, so that they will ‘make a decision for Christ’ (which by the way is nowhere found in Scripture), you are STILL asking God to intervene…to CAUSE them to do something, to see or understand something, that they wouldn’t otherwise. So any way you slice it or dice it, GOD is the one Who acts. We REact. Anyone who loves Christ ought to love that this is true because ONLY in this scenario does GOD get ALL the glory, as He should!
    I trust this was stated clearly and read with only the love with which it was intended.

  24. I’m not sure if you were replying to me or someone else on this thread, but I didn’t address this issue in my post…

  25. LOL -. Droves went to Woodstock – but that didn’t mean God was in it. No graduate from law school who wants to land the job of a life time, then reasons within oneself: “It doesn’t matter what I wear to the interview.” Remember, when Moses was on the Mount receiving the 10 commandments, He wanted to destroy them because of their wicked ways as they reverted back to the Egyptian lifestyle. Being appropriate and balanced should never be confused with Spiritual and Worldly Compromise. We who Trust Christ as our Lord and Savior, redeemer of our sinful nature, are the the Lord’s Temple, His Holy Spirit lives within us as the Promised Comforter. We should never defile that in deed, worship or dress. He tells us to let all things be done decent and in order.

  26. The pastor to a church my cousin goes to, Wednesday night was in basketball shorts and t shirt and that turned me away from that church quickly.

  27. I can’t believe how some pastors dress now a days, the one at my cousins church she goes to wares basketball shorts t shirt and he also dresses like he just came from a milk barn. I think we should dress if we have a roll in the church in modest and godly clothing. If you want young people to see how we should dress in godly cloths and be an example then ware your Sunday best, no one has an excuse to ware rags when there’s so many places to get free or cheap clothes, I love Goodwill, I buy all my church cloths there.

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