By Randy Bloom, US Regional Director
Years ago, faced with the challenge of leading major change in the congregations I pastored, I took the opportunity to visit some non-GCI churches. Initially, I was simply accepting invitations from pastor friends I made in a local ministerial association. Right away it occurred to me that accepting their invitations was more than responding to their warm gestures of Christian fellowship, but I had opportunity to learn a great deal. It was easier back then as my congregations were still meeting on Saturday. My new friends pastored churches of a wide range of worship styles, all within the circle of orthodox Christianity. It is a major understatement to say the experiences I had were eye-opening. I learned a great deal from them, and I am eternally grateful for the experience.
We have always had worship services in GCI, even if we didn’t call them that. We gathered to honor God, sing, pray, hear a sermon and fellowship. All the basic “ingredients” for a worship service. But there was much we had to learn and needed to change for our worship to be Christ-centered, theologically sound and, well, more worshipful.
Over the years we in GCI have learned a great deal about what worship is and how to facilitate worship in our gatherings. We have come a long way. But growth and learning are not static. We continue to learn and grow. At least we should. While we have made some wonderful changes in how we craft our worship services, we have sometimes continued with certain practices that are still an admixture of what we used to do, or which are outdated or not culturally relevant to the neighborhoods where we meet. In some cases, what used to work well has now become old hat, perhaps ineffective and even dull.
We can keep things fresh and relevant by continually learning about how to develop inspiring worship services. We can do this by reading and attending conferences or workshops. And I still think it is highly beneficial to visit healthy, inspiring non-GCI worship services to gain some insights into developing worship services that have a transformational impact on people. As a regional director and church consultant, I still urge pastors to visit non-GCI churches.
As you (pastors and Hope avenue coordinators) go, here are some things to watch for:
- What is the arrival like? This includes parking, greeters, signage, etc.
- How do they welcome guests? Arrive a bit early to get a good feel for this.
- How is information about the church made available?
- Do they start and end on time?
- What do they do or don’t do during the worship service?
- How does their order of service flow? Are there interruptions that disrupt the worship experience? (Keep in mind that people have different definitions of “worshipful.” So some, loud music is an interruption. To others, the sermon is the interruption,)
- What kind of songs do they sing? (This will depend on their overall worship style.)
- How long does the worship service last?
- What happens after the worship service? Stick around. Ask questions.
I need to acknowledge several things. First, churches with healthy, inspiring worship services need to be identified. This should not be difficult. You can ask people in your community who you know where they attend church. Second, don’t visit megachurches. Try to find smaller churches to visit. Large churches will seem overwhelming. Smaller churches will have a group dynamic closer to what we experience in GCI.
Next, I recommend scheduling a couple Sundays for visits during the year. This will enable you to experience a variety of worship settings and styles. Pastors, I hope your congregation isn’t so pastorally dependent that you can’t do this. If you have more than one worship leader, they can take turns making a visit. If you are a very small church, with only one speaker and one worship leader, you could alter the format of your Sunday gathering for one week in order to give you an opportunity to make a visit. Go in pairs so you get different perspectives (and it will help you feel more secure). It can be done.
You may be concerned about walking into a scenario with which you are not familiar or comfortable. It’s OK if you do. A couple times I inadvertently walked into services with styles of worship with which I was uncomfortable. My general practice on visits is to sit in the back so I can get an overview of things. But also so I can quietly exit early, if need be, without disturbing anything. I have done this. And survived.
I still enjoy visiting a non-GCI worship service on occasion. I still learn from these experiences, enabling me to help some of the congregations I work with. I hope you will give it a try. GCI has benefitted greatly from our relationships and experiences with our family and friends in other parts of the body of Jesus Christ. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom and discernment he gives us, I still believe we can continue to learn and grow with a little help from our friends.