A virus infection kept me home last Sunday, and I had to “attend church” via radio. From the several church broadcasts offered by Chicago radio stations I made a good choice, for when the minister began his sermon I became absorbed. He held my attention to the end, and when the organist began playing the closing hymn I had the infrequent feeling that I could have stood more.

As I snapped off the radio the thought occurred to me that I had just listened to the first interesting sermon I had heard in a long time. This is more an observation than an indictment.

Sermons have greatly improved over the years, but in comparison with other prime competitors for people’s attention—radio, television, magazines, and books—they are not keeping pace. They lack preparation, prolonged thought, and inspiration. Mute testimony to this is our declining church attendance and the diminishing influence of the Church. The laity is being droned into slumber by sonorous sermons.

Many people still going to church do so out of long-suffering loyalty, or because they are attracted by what are sometimes referred to as “the cosmetics of religion”—those extras inserted into worship services to woo wayward worshipers into church. An accomplished organist, special anthems and tableaux by children and youth choirs, recognition of special groups attending in a body, jazz ensembles, guest soloists—these are the extra fillings. Even infant baptism is sometimes turned into a kind of baby show, scheduled merely for bringing in relatives by the pew-full.

Some of the revival of ritual is promoted by the desire to have an attendance-builder. Hope of success rests on the concept that people may be vain enough to believe something will prove interesting if they participate. ...

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