In Appreciation of Sunday Morning Church Services — A Few Thoughts on Carey Nieuwhof’s Interview with John Mark Comer

Peter Englert
5 min readJan 30, 2024
Photo by John Price on Unsplash

I met with a team on Sunday to discuss digital ministry. Amid the conversation, Leanna turned to me and asked, “Did you listen to Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast with John Mark Comer?”

Typically, pastors listen to a set of podcasts on ministry that seems like inside baseball. To have a volunteer who does not collect a salary from the church speaks volumes of a thought-provoking episode. When a volunteer mentions a podcast like this one, I take note.

Our conversation revolved around a few of Carey and John Mark’s topics. They have a remarkable dialogue about the stages of spiritual growth and aspects of relational formation, but most of all, we focused on the discussion about Sunday morning church services.

You can see it below if you haven’t listened to or watched the podcast. The opening has a clip of the discussion on Sunday morning church services.

There are two quotes to highlight from the interview:

My lament is not so much that we have these larger Sunday-centric preaching-based churches or preaching and singing-based churches. It’s that that is the dominant model and so many people are all trying to do the same model of church and I think every model has pros and cons and I think where people get and where pastors get into trouble is they’re just not honest about the shadow side of their model.

The second quote:

I think part of my underwhelm was Sunday services is just that I’m, you know, not that far down the spiritual path, but I’m not 25 anymore, and sitting through a sermon series on whatever is not as life-changing for me at this point in my journey as it was at that point in my journey. I’m a little bit less emotion-driven now, at this point. The problems I’m facing in my, you know, sin that’s in my body are much deeper and are not solved by information and inspiration for the most part. I’m way too messed up for that, and it’s a much deeper stuff that it’s working that Jesus is working on me now.

First, I have a deep respect for John Mark Comer. His books, including The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, God Has a Name, and Garden City, have shaped my thinking, and I have recommended them to others.

Secondly, as a podcaster, there’s a problematic tension of trying to cover all the topics in a discussion and going deep on a topic that will resonate with listeners. Part of my thoughts is the desire for Carey and John Mark to have a deeper, more extended conversation on Sunday morning church services.

Returning to Leanna’s question about the Sunday morning services, I shared essentially what I agreed about in the interview. Simply put, churches can grow in articulating the value of attending Sunday morning services, let alone in-person gatherings. You can listen to the other episodes in Carey’s series on church trends, including with Ryan Burge. From the data and our context, I don’t think it’s super challenging to inspire a vision of community and relationships in a world full of loneliness. Yet, the church has to be willing to do the hard work of relationship building.

Before I share my thoughts on the value of Sunday morning services, I want to acknowledge that I work for a church as a pastor. What makes Carey and John Mark’s conversation compelling is that they have reflected on the church in a different role than mine.

Here’s how I responded to Leanna. I wish people could see what I see on Sunday morning in church:

  • A woman who lost her husband unexpectedly a month ago raising her hands in worship.
  • High school students serving the elementary kids in small and large groups.
  • A veteran recently came back from a tour of duty participating in worship.

These are snapshots of a larger picture. This past Sunday, I had the honor to pray with people at the end of service. In some ways, we’ve missed inspiring the vision of deep relationships on Sunday mornings. We gather because we dare to believe that the power of God is present in a church in ways that we cannot explain.

I agree we need to be more honest about church models and acknowledge that there may be stages of spiritual formation where Sunday morning no longer has the same luster. But at some point, committing to a church is not about you. Sunday becomes a place to love the people of God through embodied presence and serving others overflowing from our spiritual gifts. This habit frames the week. As a father of two daughters, I’m also trying to model the rhythms of faith in Jesus to them. Yes, we attend church on Sundays, even when we are away.

As a pastor, I have had to remind myself that — Sunday morning is both less important and more critical than ever before. If you listen to the podcast, I think you can pick up the glimpses of this paradox. To oversimplify — Sunday morning is less important in the consumer elements of the service, but more important in participation in spiritual practices and connecting in deeper relationships.

Lastly, Leanna’s question came in a meeting on digital ministry. One of the critiques of Sunday services is the percentage of energy they require from the church. Digital ministry in many senses reminds us that churches are not Sunday only movements, but we are called to help people grow in their faith Monday-Saturday. Churches need to realize how digital and in-person work together in their context.

Many of you might read this post and think I’m arguing only for in-person Sunday services. Yet, as an online pastor, there are a variety of legitimate reasons people engage a livestream service. Newsflash — it’s not just because they want to drink their coffee and sleep in. Various reasons include — checking out a new church for the first time, individuals with physical limitations, individuals traveling on Sundays, etc. These reasons do not even speak to individuals who engage church on-demand during the week because they work on Sunday.

Discipleship in 2024 means pairing digital and in-person in winesome ways where people can experience the Good News of the Gospel in community.

The Sunday morning service conversation highlights the larger reflection we need to have in Christianity and the church. I do have far more questions than answers about the future. In appreciation of Sunday morning services, I do think we need to have the discussion with open-handedness. We have to be willing to humbly acknowledge our biases and valued traditions. What if God is moving in new ways in his unchanging message? Are we willing to listen and see Him?

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Peter Englert

Adult Ministries Director @Browncroft . Host on @WGWPodcast. Married to @RobynEnglert | Subscribe to my blog ➡️ http://eepurl.com