Mark it down: the most important thing you will do this week will happen on Sunday morning.
By choosing to be part of a church worship service, you are making a choice to not be in a thousand other places at that moment—not at Trader Joe’s, not at the golf course, not in bed. And that singular choice, to make worship of Jesus Christ the foremost priority in your life, is intended to have a ripple effect on every other part of your life throughout the week.
But showing up in the church parking lot, even early enough that you can get inside and find your preferred seat, is no guarantee that what will happen inside will be of lasting value.
So how can you seek to make the most out of your Sunday? Here are twelve suggestions. None of them are rocket science; most of them, in fact, will probably strike you as downright ordinary or obvious. But by implementing these and other ideas, you may find that Sunday is the most satisfying, joy-filled and joy-provoking, and indeed, worshipful, day of the week.
1. Set your clothes out the night before.
Particularly if you have young children, it can be frustrating to realize that every pair of nice pants are in the hamper, or every pair of shoes is scattered around the floor.
2. Learn as much as you can about the worship service in advance.
One of the things I love about our church is the forward thinking about each week’s worship service. If possible, find out what your pastor is preaching on, and try to read it, and other related texts, several times in advance.
(If your pastor doesn’t advertise in advance what he will be preaching on a given Sunday, consider asking him to make his preaching schedule public. Our church does this on a printed card three months at a time, and that list is also on our website.)
3. Read the song lyrics in advance, and look for biblical themes and allusions.
If you’re in a healthy church, it’s likely that the songs are chosen for primarily one reason—because of what they say. Churches are not designed to entertain; they exist to teach, and to fill our minds with truth. So think on that truth in advance! If a song has weak theology, we’re not going to sing it. If it has robust theology, it deserves meditation. (As on number 2 above: if you don’t know what songs your worship service will include in advance, consider asking your church leaders to post the list online at least by Saturday evening. Some churches create a playlist each week.)
4. Minimize distractions.
This suggestion will have different applications for different people. For starters, I encourage you to bring a printed Bible to the service. I understand it’s convenient to use your phone, but I also know I’m prone to read the texts I get when I’m holding my phone in my hand.
5. Eat breakfast and drink coffee.
Growling stomachs and drooping eyelids are a recipe for hindered worship, for you and for those sitting near you. You may need to get up a little bit earlier or to simplify Sunday morning breakfast, but as with setting your clothes out, a little forward thinking goes a long way in getting everyone out the door on time.
6. Go to bed early Saturday night.
If there’s ever a night to stay up late, Saturday is not it! Get your rest and wake up refreshed.
7. Take notes during the sermon.
Even preachers have a hard time remembering what they said in previous sermons. But even a mediocre sermon has at least a few good ideas to take home with you and think on again later.
8. Resolve conflict before going to church.
This one has biblical precedent. Matthew 5:23–24 describes a scenario of someone going to worship and realizing he has a human relationship that has been hindered by sin. Deal with that sin (with your wife? Your kids? A fellow church member?) then go celebrate grace with other forgiven sinners.
9. Pray for illumination.
Before the service, during it, and all the way through the sermon, be asking God for understanding of the Word. There is no limit on what God can do to change your perspective, your attitude, and your thinking through the preached Word.
10. Make easy meals, or make them in advance.
Why routinely plan a meal that is going to (a) take a long time to get on the table, thus leaving people hungry and cranky right after church, and (b) leave you exhausted and with a pile of dishes to do after fixing it? Get something off the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant, or pull out lunch meat and a loaf of bread. But don’t let plans of a big lunch rob you of focusing on the sermon, or of its long-standing benefit once you walk in the house.
11. Talk over the service at lunch.
Ask your children, “what did you think of the song that said ‘the true and better Adam came to save the hell-bound man’?” Tell your wife how the Holy Spirit convicted you of a blind spot—maybe she’s known about it for a long time and has been patiently praying for you to grow in that area. There are lots of ways to stretch the benefit of Sunday morning through the rest of the day.
12. Take a nap and read.
There are lots of options for the average Sunday afternoon. Few are as wholesome, for most people, as getting some sleep and reading a book. Let God give your soul, and body, rest!
There is no magic formula for a successful, worshipful Sunday. Some Sundays will be better than others, and some way better than others. But there is a lot that you can control, and these twelve steps may help make each Sunday a special day of worship and growth.