Take a pew (if you’ll pardon the pun), – it’s time for some uncomfortable truths about the church in 2010.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that these days I only set foot in the house of God for Christenings, weddings and funerals – or at Christmas time.
I am, I suppose, a lapsed Methodist. That doesn’t mean I don’t pray or even that I don’t believe – I just choose not to worship regularly in the company of others.
For the record, I attended church from the age of five until I was 14.
I sat through years of Sunday school, joined the Boys’ Brigade and paraded the streets of Sneyd Green banging a side drum.
I performed in annual stage shows, was part of the church Queen’s retinue (images of my frilly white shirt still haunt me) and always helped out at the fêtes at Wesley Hall Methodist Church.
I eventually stopped going because I was bored and because, frankly, there were more interesting things to do on a Sunday morning.
On the evidence of last Sunday I did the right thing.
We rolled up at a United Reformed Church to witness our daughter’s first parade as a member of the Rainbows.
For the uninitiated, the Rainbows is basically the junior section of the Brownies or Girl Guides.
Our Lois is five and she and her mate Grace were resplendent in their red Rainbows jogging bottoms, red tracksuit tops and red baseball caps.
They trooped into church along with other Rainbows, Brownies and members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades.
Lois was excited. She was thrilled to wear her new kit, to be with her new pals and to be part of a group activity.
A little later a rather less enthusiastic Lois trudged out of the church doubtless wondering where the last hour of her life had gone.
I knew exactly how she felt because I vividly remember fidgeting my way through countless services where, try as they might, the ministers spectacularly failed to engage with their flock.
The man who led Sunday’s service for Lois was no exception.
He seemed perfectly nice and shook my hand as we entered and left the church.
However, his oratory was exceedingly dull and the moment when he produced two wholemeal baps and two tins of tuna as he told the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 was surreal to say the least.
I’m not saying the service was boring but little ’un (Mina), who is three and a half, fell asleep on her mum’s lap during the sermon.
She snored so loudly that it drew disapproving glances from half a dozen parishioners.
I think they were just annoyed that it was the most interesting thing that had happened during the entire service.
Unless, of course, you include the video presentation by a charity working to relieve the suffering in Haiti. The one where there was no sound and we had to lip-read.
As for the hymns, well, where to start?
I remember a fair few hymns off by heart but only knew the first of four tunes we had to endure.
It was that old favourite – Praise My Soul The King of Heaven – the words to which were written by H F Lyte in the early 19th Century.
This is precisely the period many churches still appear to be stuck in.
Let’s face it, many hymns – unless you include carols or those of the happy-clappy new variety – are dull as dishwater.
Worse than that, they are a crime against music – completely devoid of any proper rhythm.
So much so that you end up extending words beyond all recognition to keep pace with the turgid organ music.
No doubt there are churches out there with vibrant congregations and lucky enough to boast preachers with real presence.
However, I dare say they are in the minority which explains why so few people actually attend church regularly in the UK.
More worryingly, the majority of those are in their twilight years and go to church out of habit, because they are seeking companionship or are hedging their bets on an afterlife.
I dearly wish it wasn’t so. I honestly believe that the church has an important spiritual role to play in today’s fractured society.
Indeed, I’m extremely grateful for the church’s role in my upbringing and I’ll certainly give my children the chance to go to Sunday school – if they enjoy it and feel they are getting something out of it.
However, unless churches adapt and find ways to engage with younger generations, I fear the number of people through their doors will continue to dwindle.