The 40 Most Uncomfortable Things About Church

My new book, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community, argues that the discomfort of church is actually good for us; the stretching outside of comfort is how we grow. When we learn to love the church in spite of its awkwardness and our frustrations, we become less like isolated consumers and more like a covenantal community, committed to one another and to the gospel of Jesus Christ, through thick and thin.

This doesn’t change the fact that there are lots of very uncomfortable things about church. But rather than excuses to leave, perhaps we can see them as (cringeworthy) terms of endearment?

At the book launch party for Uncomfortable, I surveyed attendees as to the things that make them most uncomfortable at church. Here are the top 40 uncomfortable things they listed, ranked from most to least uncomfortable.

  1. When a pastor talks about how great sex is with his wife, who is sitting right there in the front row

  2. When a preacher before an election says that so-and-so is “God’s candidate”

  3. When a church member is passionately talking to you about a political topic and is clearly assuming you agree with them, but you don’t

  4. When people who are praying address God as “daddy,” “Abba,” or “papa”

  5. When someone is praying for you has terrible breath

  6. When someone introduces himself or herself to you for the fifth time and clearly doesn't remember that you've ever met

  7. When people around you take off their shoes, lie face down and/or dance in the aisles during worship

  8. When someone in the church shares a prophetic word for you but it is totally incomprehensible

  9. “Turn to the person next to you and tell them _______.”

  10. That thing where you don’t know whether to hug someone or shake hands, and you try an awkward combination of the two

  11. Prayers that go like: “And Father just… come into our lives and just… we just…”

  12. When the worship band tries to Christianize a secular song (e.g. changing the lyrics to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah")

  13. When a 3-minute song becomes an 8-minute song because the worship leader thinks they achieved a "Hey Jude" moment

  14. When people who have just been baptized are wearing clingy and see-through clothes

  15. When someone’s cell phone rings during the sermon and the person takes too long fumbling for it to turn it off

  16. Really awful worship songs mashed up with really wonderful hymns

  17. When a preacher wears skinny jeans that are far too skinny

  18. When a preacher delivers a moving altar call but no one responds, and he waits and waits and still… crickets

  19. When a worship song has gone on a while and appears to be ending, but then revs back up again for a few more times through the chorus

  20. When someone shares their testimony and goes into far too much detail

  21. When someone starts a prayer with a long, deep intake of breath that is a bit too melodramatic

  22. When the Lord’s Supper is consumed with a common cup

  23. When the over-perfumed elderly lady sits right next to you, and you're faced with the knowledge that your nostrils will be burning for the next hour

  24. When you visit a church that does communion different from what you're used to, and you're not sure when or how to take the elements

  25. When people are laying hands on you in prayer and it is a hot, sweaty mess

  26. When the preacher sweats profusely during a sermon and pit stains are obvious

  27. That moment when the worship band is playing and the congregation is seated, but as the song progresses people start standing up around you, and you feel pressured to stand as well

  28. Being asked to pray out loud

  29. Greeting and making small talk with strangers

  30. When you're sitting next to the loud-and-frequent "Amen!" guy

  31. That moment in a church meeting when you just know you are going to be called on to pray, so you avoid eye contact with the leader, but they call on you anyway

  32. When all the greeters are WAY too friendly

  33. When you go to get prayer for some ailment and the prayer leader's prayer asks for healing but also leaves it open to God's will in case you don't get healed.

  34. When people are asked to hold (sweaty) hands with one another

  35. When people are too weepy during prayer

  36. When a pastor starts wearing plaid and tries to grow a beard

  37. When a hip worship musician is playing a banhu or a hurdy-gurdy

  38. When you or someone near you can’t stay awake and keeps nodding off

  39. When a live person gives the announcements and then a large screen comes down and it's a pre-recorded sermon

  40. When you're the only one not raising your hands during a worship song