Sunday is a time for spectator sports. At the stadium. In the arena. On the field. And in the church.

File in. Sit in rows. Watch the professionals perform. File out. That’s the job of the spectator.

Over the years, the church has drifted away from participation, toward passive spectatorship. The trend affects the worship hour, as well as children’s and youth ministry programming.

The trend struck me a couple of years ago as I entered a large West Coast church service. Professional musicians and singers performed as song lyrics blinked on giant screens. The quality sound system pumped the professionals’ music into the room, easily overwhelming any voices from the congregation.

Most of the spectators seemed to enjoy the concert-quality presentation. But only about one in ten sang along. The vast majority merely watched the professional Christians worship. Then the congregation settled in to watch the preacher. He too performed with polished quality.

When I suggested a few weeks ago that we turn down the volume of church praise bands, some readers balked. They argued they didn’t want to hear off-key congregants.

As a church, we must ask, has our quest for presentation quality trumped everything else?

The goal of professional sports is to fill venues with paying customers who sit and watch others perform. Has the church tacitly followed the same protocol? Or…do we have a real interest in encouraging participation, encouraging everyone to come down onto the field and actually play?

We like to describe our faith as a relationship with Jesus Christ. Relationships require full participation. They’re interactive. No relationship grows when one person simply sits in the stands and observes.

It would be easy to blame the pew-sitters for being couch potatoes. But, in many ways, we’ve created a game that encourages their passivity. They’re simply being good spectators.