Church Growth: Worship

churchgrowthl.jpgOkay. For Churches of Christ, this is a touchy subject. But we get nowhere being in denial. It’s time to consider the impact of how we worship on church growth.

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?

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Church Growth: Worship

  1. odgie says:

    Jay,

    Some interesting ideas here. However, some of it is disturbing. While I agree that meaningful assemblies call for effort, thorough planning, and innovation, I would be reluctant to implement every one of your recommendations in every church that I have attended. I am especially concerned about your recommendation to "limit the quiet." As you stated, people today are overstimulated. This level of stimulation makes worship, both corporate and private, very difficult. A little silence might help people in attendance to connect with God.

    I am also reluctant to hang a person's "shot at salvation" on a worship service. No worship style is an adequate substitute for relationships which provide a context for ministry and evangelism.

    I am not trivializing the importance of the assembly, and you could not be more right when you say that we often do worship poorly. However, I am convinced that in sharing the gospel, relationships always come first. God bless.

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  3. Jay Guin says:

    odgie,

    Thanks for your thoughts. (And I love your avatar!)

    I certainly think a meditative silence is appropriate in corporate worship. I'm just thinking of the church the way my congregation used to do it. In those days (quite a long time ago), every prayer was preceded by a long pause as the prayer leader ambled from his pew up to the mic. And then back. And communion was distributed from the front, with much time spent in passing the trays with carefully somber expressions on all the men.

    Today, we pass communion from the back, so that we don't have to watch the men line up and distribute trays. The men much prefer not to be on display (a very proper attitude I think). And it goes faster.

    Sometimes we spend much more time on communion than before, but it's spent with song and readings and devotional talks, rather than watching men line up and pass trays and feel self-conscious. And we often spend it in silence, but with no one up front. (The man who leads the prayers sits with the church between prayers.) We just project an image of a cross on screen. It's nice not having the distractions.

    Oh, and we no longer pause between songs. Rather than calling out a number and waiting for the church to turn to the right page, we project the music on three very large screens and have no song books. This way, we sing far more songs and the service just flows.

    My complaint is silence that interrupts the flow of the service, breaks the continuity between songs — not a time set aside for meditation.

    I entirely agree that relationships matter much more than the assembly. It's just that the assembly matters. A lot. It's not either-or. We need to do our best at everything that matters for the salvation of others — so much so that our members are proud and delighted to invite their friends.

    But, as you've said, they've got to make friends in order to invite friends.

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