According to the research of Thumma and Travis, the number one statistical indicator of which churches grew most rapidly in the last 5 years is whether the members consider the worship “exciting” and “informal.”
An important correlation is that these same churches also had the most members involved in converting new members. The question is why? You can’t help but figure that the likelihood of members inviting friends to your church depends heavily on the excitement and informality of the worship!
One church growth expert asks church leaders to ask themselves: “Consider a beloved relative or friend who has never been to church. If you could get them to attend just one church service — the one visit that would decide their eternal fate — would it be your church’s?”
Sadly, we’ve all been part of churches where we’d have to say “no”! In fact, if I’ve been places where, if God made me such an offer, I’d beg him to send my friend anywhere else. We’ve all been members of congregations with embarrassingly bad worship services. If you don’t change it, friends and relatives that might have gone to heaven won’t make it.
Informal. Now, what makes worship “informal”? Let’s put it this way: if most of your members still wear a suit to church, it’s formal — I don’t care how casually you behave. We live in an age where even lawyers only wear suits to court. I’ve been to funerals where I was the only one present in a suit! In today’s society, a whole lot of people don’t even own a suit!
I remember that thirty years ago my church’s campus ministry baptized a young man. We all had to pitch him to buy him a suit so he could go to church. You see, even that long ago, the only reason a college student owned a suit was for church.
The quickest way to change your suit-wearing culture is for the preacher and the elders to dump the suits. If they don’t have the guts, it won’t happen, and your church’s future is severely limited.
And don’t give me this blather about your church being open and accepting of people not wearing a suit. If that were really true, then your elders and preacher would be willing to show up without one!
Exciting. The first step is limiting the quietness. We live in an age where we’re used to constant sensory stimulation. We aren’t used to silence — especially in a crowd. I mean, just watch people at a football game or concert during a “minute of silence.” You’ve never seen so much fidgeting!
Therefore, have the man leading the praying come forward during the preceding song. Don’t make everyone sit quietly while he ever-so-gravely lumbers toward the front. And sing during the Lord’s Supper — at least some of the time.
And don’t let wanna-be preachers preach during their prayers. Insist that your men pray like Jesus taught us to pray — with short, to-the-point prayers. God gives no bonus points for longwindedness.
Insist that communion be led well. Some of my most agonizing minutes in church have been listening to horrendous communion talks. If you don’t have men who can give a good, short talk, sing a song instead. Nothing requires a speech before the Lord’s Supper. I think Jesus said about two sentences (Luke 22:19-20). That’s not a bad example.
But, of course, the most important thing is the singing. And we in the Churches of Christ — proud of our a cappella tradition — often do it very badly. Sometimes we do a great job, but we are very inconsistent from church to church.
Here are some guidelines on how to do it better. Ultimately, the key is (a) an excellent worship leader, (b) a song selection that appeals to modern listeners, and (c) except in the very smallest churches, a good praise team with good sound board operation.
Now, this inevitably brings us to the question of “special music” and instrumental music, which will be the subject of future posts. For now, just consider how to do traditional a cappella music well. And I think my church does it very well indeed. It’s entirely possible to do a cappella in a way that’s attractive to people from non-Church of Christ backgrounds. But it takes a lot of work.
There are lots of things we can do to improve our worship services. The key — the one essential element that overrides all else — is whether we care about the lost. In megachurches — in any church that grows — the members subordinate their preferences to the mission of the church.
It’s true that people will put up with a lot to be a part of something they believe in. But why make it harder than it has to be?