Am I Going to Church Today?

January 1st, 2019
This article is featured in the The Future of Worship (Feb/Mar/Apr 2019) issue of Circuit Rider

Since birth, either my parents took me to church as a child, or I was employed as a church musician, or engaged as a key volunteer. But last year I found myself looking for a new church home. For the first time, I had no responsibilities; I was free to attend or not. I was astounded I had difficulty answering the question each Sunday, “Am I going to church today?”

This led me to wonder if all those who plan and lead worship need to ask, “Would I go to my church today?” Is there anything about our services today that will not only praise and worship God but will also create deeper relationships with God and neighbor?

Too often, the question is, “What’s the large church across town doing?” or “Why don’t we change our style of worship to attract new people?” But I contend that five key actions will create meaningful and transformative worship in your congregation, without regard to style, context, or church size. And that’s the worship that will create desire in all to say, “Yes! I’m going to church today!”

Pray

The profound and awe-ful privilege of planning and leading God’s people in worship, helping them become “lost in wonder, love, and praise,” cannot be taken lightly. All worship preparation should begin with worship and prayer. Too often, we start by consulting the lectionary, brainstorming the new sermon series, or opening the hymnal and hymn list, and many times that’s on Saturday night! Take a few moments to breathe, rest, and pray, whether by yourself or with a team of church staff or leaders. Then “speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts;…” (Eph 5:19 CEB)

Plan

Planning is one of the most difficult actions for many churches. Preparation for the preacher tends to occur closer to the service, but musicians need more time for practice, particularly if a choir or band are involved. This basic difference in timing frequently creates a planning shutdown or limits the possibilities for creative and engaging worship.

Musicians frequently ache to coordinate their work with pastors who don’t choose scriptures until the bulletin deadline. Pastors are frustrated with musicians who don’t want to take the time or have the experience to be able to coordinate.

Imagine a film festival showing all the “Best Picture” nominees from last year. But instead of choosing one film, we walk from theater to theater. We know we’re watching good films, and we may even greatly enjoy some of the excerpts. But would this help us make our choice for “Best Picture”? So it is when each party fills in the slots, creating services that have no connecting themes or images.

If it’s not already your practice, start with one Sunday each quarter to work together to plan for worship. Focus on one element for some creative thought. When you exercise your planning muscles, you’ll be doing “heavy lifting” and more frequent planning before long.

Welcome

In my recent search for a new church home, I was on “the other side,” and I was surprised at what I found. At the first church, I came in two different entrances, one week at 20 minutes before worship, and the other week 5 minutes before. On neither week did anyone greet me. I assumed the church used a printed worship guide, and I had to hunt for one.

The next week I attended another church, and there I found a church member outside with a bulletin in hand. I was greeted then introduced to a couple inside who welcomed me, encouraged me to sign a visitor card and to create a name tag. After worship, the couple found me at my seat and encouraged me to return.

Which church do you think is my new church home?

I thought good welcome practices were commonplace, but my experience proved otherwise. Ask a “secret shopper” to visit your church and be honest about the welcome that they find. Be sure they observe their experience all the way from parking, to entering the church, through worship, and returning home. There is little that a worship service can do to overcome inhospitality.

Engage

No matter the style, we all know of churches where there may be great things happening on the platform, but nothing in the pews. There, worship has taken a turn more toward performance than participation.

Many times it’s not WHAT we do, but HOW we do it. Can you intersperse a well-known congregational refrain from a praise song into a call to worship or bidding prayer? Can a longer scripture text be presented as “readers' theater”? Can a talented youth or child provide the musical introduction to a hymn or song? One element in each service that inspires a deeper congregational engagement can go a long way to making every service special.

I’ve found that teams who attend music and worship events together come away with great ideas for their contexts. Some recommended events are listed below. The teams find they have a shared experience base to draw on, and suddenly, they speak a new common language of creativity.

Send

We are learning that if the church is not doing its job of making the world a better place, then younger people are not interested. It is vitally important that worship not only engages us during the service but also challenges us to go out and serve the world.

The Basic Pattern of Worship* ends with the “Sending Forth” and the simple description, “The people are sent into ministry with the Lord’s blessing.” “Into ministry” is crucial here. It’s easy to bless. But worship must compel us to commit to the next six days of living and sharing that blessing in a hurting world.

Be blest as you plan and lead worship that transforms the church and creates disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

Resource List

“Music & Worship Arts Week,” Lake Junaluska, NC. June 23-28, 2019, June 21-26, 2020.

“A Place at the Table,” Kansas City, KS. July 15-18, 2019. 

*UM Hymnal p. 3, UM Book of Worship p. 15

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