What is proper church attire?

I received the following email from a Resurrection attender last month. I have included my response below and some additional thoughts. They have each been edited for anonymity.

Email Received:
Has Pastor Adam ever broached the subject with the congregation on appropriate attire when attending church? I imagine that this is a rather sticky subject, to say the least. When I was leaving church yesterday, I noticed two teenage girls walking out in front of me. Even though it was cold outside one of these girls had on extremely – and I mean extremely – short shorts that bordered on vulgar. WHERE ARE THE PARENTS???!!! I hope you don’t think I’m a prude because I try to be open-minded and accepting of other people……as I think about it, though, maybe that’s why teenagers wear clothing that’s inappropriate for the occasion because we’ve all tried to be so accepting. Go figure.

My response:
Thanks for your email. To my knowledge, Adam has not talked publicly about public attire while I have been here at Resurrection. I understand your concern. I agree that some clothing may be less appropriate for public. In this and other issues, I think that there is a balance between accepting people where they are and holding them accountable. My hope is that as a congregation we are holding each other most accountable to their journey of knowing, loving and serving God toward becoming a deeply committed Christian. How this journey applies to clothing style, as you witnessed, is interpreted differently by different persons.

Further Thoughts:
I have found that the question of attire is not limited to teenagers or those for whom parents may still feel responsible. I feel that the question of the interaction between parent and student is another issue.

As I have thought more about what is appropriate to wear to church, I am not too excited about having a dress code for what is allowed and what is not allowed from someone that is a part of the worshipping congregation. I think that one’s standards for dress while worshipping should not be less than standards for dress in any other public space. Whether they should be higher or different in some way is an open question for me.

What do you think?

24 thoughts on “What is proper church attire?

  1. I agree that there should not be a dress code, and I agree that some of the clothes teenagers, in particular, wear is inappropriate in any setting. However, I think, especially with regard to teenagers, we need to be careful about criticising them for wearing what they wear. The truth is they wear what our culture sells them on. For young people who are trying to figure out their identity–looks and clothing is very important to self esteme. I think this needs to be approached in a way that empowers the teenagers and helps them build appropriate self-identity, which is not tied to how short your shorts are. It is a ministry of liberation–”you don’t have to reveal your body like that; you are beautiful, wonderfully made, no matter what you wear.”

  2. I remeber growing up in a Church that had “dress codes” and some of the teens stopped going to Church when the subject was brought to their attention. Those teens did not have parents in Church to guide them, they came with their friends. I can only hope they found a Church home later in life. I too feel some clothes are not “Church” appropriate. I, however, would rather love and welcome the offenders and let them learn and grow at their own pace in a loving Church environment.

    Peace
    Brenda

  3. I don’t think Pastor Adam addressing the congregation with what may be appropriate attire may be that helpful.
    In Sex God, Rob Bell writes this to women:
    When you give yourself away too quickly; when you show too much skin, you’re not being true to yourself. When you dress to show us everything, then in some sense all of us have share in it or at least have been exposed to it. There is a mystery to you, an infinite depth, an endless complexity to you.

    But for the most part, I’ve never seen a girl wear “hootchie mama” clothes to church. For the most part, with teenagers, I think that they wear to church what they normally wear to school. We did have a situation where the girl’s parents didn’t attend church, so she’d wear something on the way to school/church and then change once out of parents’ sight. But when she did that at church, my wife sat her down and spoke to her lovingly that she may be distracting (and maybe not purposefully) the boys from worship and should really consider clothes to wear. It helped.

    But as a male pastor, I find it really hard and uncomfortable to discuss what the girls should (not) wear…

  4. Andrew – This is a tough issue that you have raised. I think the first thing that I would say is that it is not really an issue of what is appropriate to wear to church, but it is a much broader issue about what kinds of clothing Christians should wear in general, especially revealing clothing that may lead someone to stumble. It is definitely a very sensitive subject that has to be dealt with delicately, but I think the ways that women and young girls are encouraged to dress is a spiritual issue for women and for men. I wonder if many young women would not be horrified if they could hear the exact thoughts that men were having as a reaction to them.

  5. I worked with teenagers for six years and after spending a significant portion of time with them what I know is that whenever a teenager enters your church, it should be seen as a high honor and a responsibility.

    As much as any other group in the church, teenagers are in need of words of grace, support and encouragement. When a kid makes a commitment to faith I think it’s a whole new ball game and it’s very appropriate to begin to encourage them to see themselves and one another differently…

  6. I have personally held this belief for many years: If what I wear during the week is good enough during the week, then it should be good enough on Sunday. To dress up in clothes that I would not normally wear (for me, it would be dresses and shoes that will never fit my feet), is to me, being something I’m not. I am most comfortable in jeans and tshirts. I do try to look a little nicer if I can, but with 6 kids, nice is as nice as it gets if I’m still in one piece trying to get them out the door. But, even before I had children, I always felt off when I would dress up for church. It seemed false, because it wasn’t something I would do normally.

    That said, hopefully coherently, I think it is good to strive towards modest clothing in general. Our society has gotten towards selling clothing that even some whores wouldn’t wear. However, to make it an issue, focuses only on the clothing, and not on the person. Jesus was rather specific about that sort of thing. When we become so caught up in the law, we forget that there is a person involved who may need help and guidance, instead of a law and punishment.

  7. To the person who wrote the original email ( if you are even reading this)… I am just curious, but how exactly would you like me to bring my unchurched friend to church? Should I hand them a brochure explaining proper worship attire? Or maybe, I can give them some pictures to explain what to do based on the plethora of examples in the NT where Jesus asks people to “clean themselves up” before coming to him. Clearly I am being over the top satirical, but there are few things that irritate me more than this. Although I am a modest woman in how I dress, the fact that someone took the time to write Pastor about that, rather than to ask.. How can I serve? how can I love? How can we best reach the hearts of women such that modesty is a natural outgrowth of love for Jesus? Instead, we create rules, it is just sad.

  8. Having come, as a child, from a Northern Ireland Methodist background, I was taught to dress ‘appropriately’. Moving eventually, as a 60+, to St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, in Glasgow, I find a groupof people who come in a completely-eclectic set of clothes. Some very traditional, whist we have students from the University who are in jeans…..we even have tramps who attend our service.

    We believe we are a ‘non-judgemental and all-encompassing Church and do not judge the person by station, background, colour, or even their attire.

    We are not here to pass judgement, we are here to allow all to have the opportunity to worship God in a sanctuary, with self-professed Christians, or those who have come to see what our faith and worship have to offer.

    Let’s get on with doing that!

  9. As usual, I resonate with Kevin’s post, but also with those who say “come as you are”. However, where I’ve found this difficult is with those who sing in our choir or otherwise lead worship. Our choir usually wears robes, but sometimes they don’t, and there’s one person who’s attire looks more like something they’d wear to the gym, complete with their favorite sports teams plastered across the front, and it’s also distracting. I asked the person to consider that they were helping to lead worship when they chose their attire for church. Is that wrong? I don’t think so, because though they’re part of the choir, they’re still a leader in that role. Different from someone sitting in the congregation.

  10. I think if you’re an active member of the church, that can be construed as slightly different. As a body you want to project the proper image in some ways, in a way that is not too foreboding for the newcomer.

  11. In junior high, I remember wearing a couple of dresses to church that can only be best described as upside down mushrooms. It was the 80′s. I’m not sure why we wore anything we did then.

    At any rate, the ruffly bottom went right below my bum, and nobody said a thing. I think I would have felt humiliated had they.

    I grew up, my dresses got longer (and then turned into jeans) and all is okay.

    The only time I’ve heard it approached well, is when a lady (whom should probably be a stand-up comedian) talked to a group of girls at youth group. It was light and fun, but the message got across.

  12. These are the kids we are trying to reach!!

    By the way, if you haven’t been on a school campus recently, welcome to the “club”. I am serious, it’s like a night out on the town, and this is the norm for students today.

    Looking back 2 1/2 years…….
    I moved to Resurrection to serve in ministry to students and found it incredible at how dressed they were. In comparison to Florida, they are all wearing neck to ankle dresses. I was really surprised and have even shared with my colleagues at how conservative the dress is among teenagers here in the midwest.

    I guess perspective is everything. Coming in the next few weeks in youth group we have a “girl/guy night”, wherein we divide up the genders and address appropriate issues. This one is always addressed.

  13. Sorry, don’t buy any of this “it’s ok to dress that way at COR…at least we’re coming.” I doubt if anyone would go to their prom looking like many dress at COR (especially for the 5pm Sat service) or would dress similarly if they were invited to the White House – why do it in God’s house? Where is the respect? I blame all the parents since they’d rather be “buddies” to the kids rather than instill in them a degree of respect. It’s reflected in the work force as well – it’s hip to dress cool (in jeans) while working in Fortune 500 companies. I blame Adam and all the other pastors for not trying to teach respect which should be shown in church. After all, the Sr Pastor shows up in jeans for service, I guess to be cool and connect with the young crowd. I know, I know…”if we make the congregants mad, they won’t come anymore and attendance will drop.”
    Interestingly, going to the 8 am service on Sunday you see the flip side – of course, the average age is probably 55+ who know the definition of respect…but then we’re a dying breed! Imagine what the crowd will look like in 20 or so years, especially after the children of the “children” grow!

  14. Would this be OK at COR? Guess it isn’t OK at prom…

    http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2008/05/12/edwards.skimpy.prom.dress.khou

    Appropriate dress is a matter of cultural preference. I would simply disagree with John in his comments above. Holiness and reverence isn’t a factor of dress, and Adam isn’t wearing jeans to avoid being offensive and keep attendance up. Statements intimating as much are a low blow.

    1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

    Matthew 23:27-28 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

    It isn’t just what is on the outside that counts, but just in case I’ll throw on my derby when I head to the office on Monday. ;-)

  15. He that winneth souls must be wise. He that represents holiness should also be wise. What is modest apparel? Do not be a stumbling block unto your brother. When others look upon you are they being drawn to the God in you or the flesh upon you? When we leave our homes after viewing ourselves in the mirror what do we really see and what is our last thought? Is Christ being glorified or are we being glorified? I believe that their is an appropriate attire for Church services that shows our integrity of holiness. In every house there will be vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor. Come as you are to the sinner. But be ye holy unto the saint. Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. If you are truly born of the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost will guide you into all truths. We serve a God of standards, virtue and character.
    God bless

  16. I believe when a person steps into the church on the Sabbath Day, they should be wearing clothing that is appropriate for the occasion.

    What is appropriate for being in the presence of God? Of course, if a homeless tramp suddenly awakens under the highway overpass one Sabbath morning, and he feels an urgent call within himself to find a church to attend and get his life straightened out, that God would welcome him with ‘open arms.’ even if he were half naked.

    Now, imagine that the Pope, or the President of the United states were to, out of the blue, invite you to the Vatican or White-house, for an important reason, that is not revealed.

    Who, in their right mind would go half dressed, as is seen on every stree, on every day, in every city, nearly everywhere on our earth today?

    Even the very poor would do their very best to find something appropiate for the Honorable occasion, something modest.

    Shouldn’t every church goer if at all possible, at least, dress for Church on the Sabbath Day appropriate for the ‘ROYAL’ occasion of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT?

  17. oops.. i didn’t mean to say “real” question. that sounds .. haughty and arrogant.

    “A” question I would like to ask Jim is, who cares and puts more emphasis on attire, his church members, or God?

    (i wish i could edit comments)

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