What does a guest think when they experience your worship service?
By Randy Bloom, Regional Director, Northeast
“Honey, we have some new neighbors. Let’s invite them over for dinner.”
“That’s a great idea, let’s do it. What should we fix for dinner?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Let’s just have our leftovers from the other day. That meal was pretty good and I think there’s enough.”
“That sounds good. What do you want to do while they are here?”
“Well, you and I enjoy sitting around and watching TV or fiddling around in the yard. They could join us in what we do. But, actually, I’m really busy this week and don’t have the time to think about it. We can figure that out at the last minute. They can just fit in.”
Thankfully, this is not how we prepare for visits from friends and neighbors. Instead, we put a lot of thought into how we can help them feel welcome. We consider their needs and what they enjoy eating and doing. We try to be considerate of them. We plan and prepare what we will feed them and what we will do when they visit.
What if we planned every Sunday worship service with the same consideration as we would plan a dinner with our neighbors? What if we planned our worship services with others in mind, rather than just planning around ourselves and what we like? I wonder if more visitors would come, and if they would be more inclined to return.
I have had opportunity to visit countless worship services, GCI and non-GCI, over my life and sadly, too many of them come across like they were thrown together at the last minute and seem a bit self-centered. I realize this sounds harsh, but I don’t think the impressions were intentional. I believe people gather with a sincere desire to worship God, hear from God and to encourage each other. But over the years a certain culture, a certain way of doing things, has developed that members are accustomed to and we simply don’t think about how things look to a visitor. In most of the churches I visit, the people openly express how much they hope for and pray for new people. But if new people did show up, they are often stepping into an environment that is not particularly inviting and they find it difficult to participate.
With our GCI goal of healthy church, it behooves us to consider how visitors can feel warmly welcomed, comfortable and able to participate. Let’s look at some things we should do, and a few things we should avoid. For the purpose of this article, let’s concentrate on the musical portion of our worship services. Here are some things we can do:
Prepare every aspect of the worship service with guests and new members in mind.
My personal opinion: we have been doing what we want and what we like long enough. For everything we do we should ask, “What would a new person think of this?” This is a loving approach. It’s not about giving up everything we do and simply accommodating others at the expense of tradition. It’s about being willing to put aside stumbling blocks and barriers that would prevent others from encountering and worshipping Jesus. If our ways of doing things are a hindrance, we need to jettison them. And this means no sacred cows (idols in our minds). It’s about us meeting new people as Jesus brings them to us and together sharing a new path on our journey with Jesus.
Here are a few examples:
- Let’s stop singing the same old songs over and over. We may like them. They may make us feel warm and fuzzy. But many songs I hear are dated. This makes us seem dated. This is not about disrespecting our age, maturity and customs. It’s about what helps others want to join in worship. Many of our songs don’t help.
- Understanding we all have different tastes in music, some like meditative songs and some like lively songs, it’s important to make sure the songs are theologically correct.
- Let’s not sing songs about us. Song’s that talk about us, how faithful we are, how we will follow Jesus, how we will overcome, how we…. You get the idea. Let’s sing songs that focus exclusively on Father, Son and Holy Spirit and their love, glory and grace.
- While it’s good to keep our song repertoire fresh, we want to be careful not to introduce too many new songs. We want people to sing. They will be more inclined to sing if they are at least familiar with the songs and the members know them well. This helps new people because hearing members sing encourages them to sing.
- Let’s have some uplifting music (not slow, funeral style music) playing as people enter the worship area. And let’s be sure our first couple of songs are lively and upbeat. We are calling people to worship a great God. Let’s be joyful. We can slow it down for the last song or two before we pray, receive the offering and hear the sermon. At the end of the service, let’s send people off with another upbeat, encouraging song.
- Let’s not sing songs that even mention the devil. Yes, I hear them on occasion. He does not deserve the breath that goes into vocalizing his name, so let’s just not do it.
- After we sing, let’s not sit down and bring the focus back onto us. We want the beginning musical portion of worship to help people “leave the streets behind.” That is, we want to help them shift their focus from their trials and burdens to Jesus and our Triune God. So often, even if we have an inspiring song service that gets our focus on God, we kill the worshipful environment by taking prayer requests (lasting 5-15 minutes, usually from the same people each week). This is a sure way to lead people away from their focus on God to focusing on themselves again. More and more GCI congregations are moving their intercessory prayer session to a small group setting before or after their worship services. And they like doing this!
The purpose of our weekly worship services is to help people enter into the eternal worship of Jesus. We want to help them enter this worship with joy. We want them to retain the worship experience throughout the service and we want to send them home with a strong sense of having encountered Jesus, anticipating his active presence in their lives. And we want people to return and encounter Jesus the following week.
Keep asking yourself, “What would a new person think about what we do and what can we do to help them worship?” Let’s be as inviting as we can enabling others to enter and enjoy the life we share with Jesus.