As a geeky kid growing up in the early 90’s, nothing hit my radar quite like Jurassic Park. (well…maybe Wayne’s World). I remember when the cool guy who helped me earn my Science merit page in Boy Scouts took me to the opening night of the movie. I had already read my paper back copy of the book several times and was excited about seeing the story brought to the big screen. Jurassic Park was a movie that EVERYONE saw.
I think there is an important lesson church leaders can learn from Jurassic Park when planning worship. I would even go so far as to say it is a timeless message. It is a lesson both worship leaders and scientists creating large and destructive living beings from fossilized DNA should understand. I call it the Jurassic Park principle.
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD.
You never know when things might get out of control.
Maybe your lighting crew can make a holographic depiction of the Death Star and your Youth Pastor can make it into an illustration on the one Sunday they teach at traditional worship…but should you really?
Maybe you really are getting into ancient liturgy and your community has gotten down reciting the Apostles Creed, but jumping straight into the Rite of Constantinople might go over their heads.
You have a great preaching illustration taken from The Age of Ultron, but the last movie most of your congregation saw in the theater was Driving Mrs. Daisy, will it truly work?
For younger ministers, there is a huge temptation to delve off into unknown creative waters when leading our congregations in worship. We might have seen something cool at a conference or around the internet and think it will be the thing that catapults our worship into truly skinny jean worship leader status…but are we willing to experiment at the expense of those we worship with? How far does that truly lead our churches into a deeper and more incarnational aspect of faith?
What might seem really cool to us and a few others could be the theological equivilent of unleashing a pack of velociraptors in the sanctuary. Remember the most important word in Worship Design is context. Sometimes innovative things will match our ministries well. Other times we need to step back and realize something might not be best for our church. This is all part of the process of discernment. Our job as leaders, whether music, logistics or preaching is to present Christ to people and facilitate the worship of the Triune God in the most approachable and accessible way for the people we worship with.
Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
Part of the season of church planting is having flexibility with Sunday mornings. I have spent most of them helping out other churches, leading music or preaching supply. We have had a couple of Sundays where we go visit other services and see how they do things.
This weekend I decided to do something different.
I skipped church on purpose. And it was glorious. The whole day was amazing.
I did an experiment Sunday morning and spent several hours at my favorite coffee and breakfast spot. It is a higher end gas station serving the exact demographic we are planting Foundry in. Folks can easily come in and spend $5-7 on a great cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich or pastry.
I was there for around four hours observing who else was skipping church.
I grew up in church. I was there easily 5 days a week. I’m a preachers kid! I remember thinking about folks who skipped church when I was younger. I don’t know if it was subliminal or someone actually told me, but I viewed skipping church as a fast track to a stretch in the penitentiary. The folks who skipped church were the true dregs of society, sleeping off what was most certainly a debaucherous night worthy of Hugh Hefner and company.
Then I went to college and started skipping church.
Recently Carey Niewhof has spent considerable time on his blog looking at the phenomenon of declining church attendance (here, here and here). He, like others, gives weight to the theory that many of our churches aren’t declining through significant departure, but instead declining frequency of attendance.
My time over the last few years in ministry has shown the same thing. We rarely had a family leave my previous church-but when we crunched the numbers of average attendance vs. who was there at least once a month we found either more frequent attendance (in growing services) or declining (in shrinking services).
So with these facts in mind I decided to skip church and observe folks skipping church (I guess that sociological research degree is paying off).
Observations from Skipping Church
1. Folks are spending their time with family
Earlier in the morning (around 8-9am) I saw plenty of families together. Some of them came to get a family breakfast before church. Others were heading out to a day at the lake or the camp. Some families came in and spent 30-45 minutes with each other and other families rushed in and out.
I did see 3 different groups of Dads and kids together. I assumed (due to the lack of wedding rings and one conversation with one) this breakfast was the last big event before Dad ended his weekend with the kids and brought them back to Mom.
2. Hanging out with friends
I saw several younger couples of groups of friends come in early to grab breakfast and hang out. They stayed at least for an hour catching up and sharing stories. One of them even talked about a Bible study they were in! The common thread in their conversations was life change and transition.
3. Growing themselves or taking care of other responsibilities
I saw a people come in, sit down by themselves and pull out an iPad or book and read during a cup of coffee. I saw people journaling. Others came in to grab a quick bite before running errands or driving to see family.
4. Different people at different times.
Earlier in the morning I saw more families come in. Around 9:30 younger people came in and people swung in to grab stuff to go. Around 10/10:30 I started to see college kids come in or folks that probably had a hard Saturday night and were just getting going. At 11am or so it swung back to families with kids coming in to sit down.
So what did I learn?
People are skipping church for good reasons.* Like I said earlier, I had a magnificent day. Meredith and I spent great time to ourselves and part of me thinks the relaxing morning I had reading and reflecting was something to do with that. I wasn’t stressed out on Sunday morning
People were spending time with important people. Whether it was their kids, spouses, significant others or friends-they filled Sunday morning with relationships.
Folks used Sunday to do what mattered to them. Saturday is quickly getting filed up with responsibilities. I recently read over 30% of the workforce works on the weekend. With sports and other obligations, Saturday is now a work day with more comfortable shoes on! Sunday is the new Saturday, a time to relax and refuel yourself.
So think about that. These people aren’t skipping church for malicious reasons. In fact, they are skipping worship for the very reason worship is important! Worship should be relaxing (not stressful or awkward), it should be about relationships and connecting with the body of Christ. Finally, worship should be a time to press reset and reorient life. This isn’t about creating a consumer driven service,** but we have to realize God never meant worship to not matter!
I don’t offer any thing besides this. I have my own theories, but they are contextual.
What I am doing at Foundry is thinking about what our weekly services will look like and asking questions along these lines. Church shouldn’t be a drag. I promised our launch team I would do everything for worship to not suck or be embarrassing.
Church leaders need to get really honest with themselves and be willing to ask the hard questions. I think many people quit going to church not because they no longer believe, but they slowly stopped thinking Sunday morning in church was worth it. That worship mattered. And we as Christian leaders need to own up to this and do what we can to fix it.
*Let’s think about what would subliminally drive someone to not attend church. We can sugar coat it as much as we want, it can be disagreements, lack of opportunities, janky worship services or many other things. For many people it is simple being too busy. What it boils down to is the experience of corporate worship isn’t as important as other things-it doesn’t carry the beneficial weight. This isn’t saying worship isn’t important, but we have to be honest with ourselves about what we are presenting as worship to people.
** I honestly think many people experience God in worship. I have rarely met a mature disciple of Jesus who hasn’t been positively affected in and by worship numerous times. Worship is an important and heavy thing. Because of that conviction I think worship needs to be excellent. It needs to engage context, senses and sensibility. Expecting people to experience God in a worship service completely out of touch to them isn’t a holy excuse. If we want worship to be a priority we need to give it all we’ve got.
How To Get People To Sing In Worship (why repetition matters)
Sermon | Playing House (Building the Worship of God)
The Most Important Word in Worship Design…
Learning About Worship From Iron Maiden
For several years I spent at least half of my employable time concentrating on worship design. I led a team of people who designed three services a week for several hundred people. Music styles, preachers and other pieces in the service would change daily and sometimes at a moments notice. With multiple streams running, we had to stay on our toes.
It was during this time I began understanding how hard a task this was. As I branched out and would help other ministries and churches design and lead worship I learned one word was more important than anything else.
The most important word in worship design is context.
Who are you leading in worship? What is the culture? Are these people thoroughly churched or at the edges of faith? What are the spiritual emphasis and mission of the congregation? Is this a parachute drop service or part of a larger theme?
These are all important questions to ask.
When we are so immersed in conversations about worship, whether we are musicians, dancers, preachers or techs, it is easy to forget their is purpose in our design. We can get fascinated with minute details. If you don’t believe me, check out how meticulous worship musicians can be over seemingly non-essential pieces of gear, like guitar cables, amp cases or how to mount your effects pedals!
We can’t forget each gathering will have a unique group of people who need to be led in worship in a unique way! What might work well in another situation will be completely foreign in others. It could be said that the sister word to context should be flexibility. Part of the growth in worship leadership is learning how our decisions affect those we lead in worship. Are our ideas working?!!!
The bottom line is we need to be aware that the decisions we make are in genuine interest of the context of the worship service and how it will serve to bring people to Jesus. Our own personal opinions sometimes will need to be out of the conversation. As I adapt in leading my own congregation each week I see things that I need to change, and me alone. As worship leaders (and I use that phrase broadly) we need to always be investigating how (and are) we best interpreting what will draw our friends deeper into a life changing relationship with Jesus.
What tough changes have you yourself had to make in the last 6 months?
How many times have you been in a worship service and no one is singing?
I think this is especially true in many contemporary services.
People often think there isn’t a way to specifically fix this. Instead, they blindly hope the Holy Spirit will fix a problem they can easily own.
Last year on Facebook, an article on Patheos by Dave Murray began trending. I don’t think the problem specifically applies to men, which Murray identified in his article. It was just part of a growing group of articles going viral talking about the lack of participation in contemporary worship services (and I think it dually applies to traditional worship).
If we aren’t singing in worship…is it really worship?
I think local congregations need to tackle this problem headlong. My team knew we could do better, it would just take some intentional leadership?
How to Get People to Sing in Worship
You have to make it repetitive. Plain and simple.
When I stepped into my current role as the pastor of a contemporary congregation we had over 200 songs in our rotation. We could pick out of any of them every week. It was way too much.
People weren’t singing. A few were, but as a whole we had a participation problem.
Designing worship is a deliberate activity. The songs any congregation sings matter because sung worship is a vocabulary building activity. When people aren’t able to engage in the singing they slowly become mute towards the language of the Gospel.
Over the last 6 months we have only sung around 30 songs. If you figure five or six a Sunday, that isn’t many. This Easter, we sang the same song three weeks in a row.
Why Repetition Matters.
- We wanted a powerful Easter service. Part of that meant people really singing along with what was important theology for Easter. This meant a couple of new songs. There was no way we could have had great engagement on Easter Sunday with a brand new song. Not just a basic knowledge, but an extreme familiarity.
- These songs taught and embodied a great view of who God is. When we sang these words over and over throughout Lent and Easter (our Lent wasn’t very Lenty). While this was a bit odd, it made sense for the current group of people and our situation. What we couldn’t anticipate were issues and concerns which would rise up during Lent and these songs provided a pattern of hope and healing.
- We built up a better theological vocabulary. We sang songs about the “largeness” of God, the power of Christ and the timeless action of the creator. We sang words from scripture we probably haven’t in some time.
- When people are comfortable with the songs, they will sing more. We had around 70 people more than our average Sunday on Easter (almost 50%). What could have been an awkward experience for folks not normally in worship was much easier to participate in, because the people around them were interacting with the sung worship.
If you are unsatisfied with the amount of singing in church, let me suggest trimming things down and repeating songs frequently. It was a semi-conscious experiment over the last 8 months or so and it has contributed tremendously to our times of sung worship.
Did you ever build a fort as a kid? I had a little shack I constructed out of old fence boards. It stayed up for several years and was one of my favorite places. I even stayed the night out in it a few times.
As an adult, I even still fantasize about having a special place. I catch myself researching building sheds and cabins out in the woods. One of my favorite special places is a tiny prayer shack in the middle of the woods outside the Abbey of Gethsemani.
We want special places because we can create special things. Special memories, moments, rituals and gatherings.
Worship should be a created special place.
As we are winding up our study of the disciplines, we come to one of my favorite topics and scripture passages. This week we are going to be talking about worship. To do that, we will use Revelation 4 as our focus passage. This is my absolutely favorite chapter of scripture in the Bible.
Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast. The voice said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this.” And instantly I was in the Spirit,and I saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it. The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow. Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God. In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal.
In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—
the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”
Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,
“You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
and they exist because you created what you pleased.”
Revelation is the perfect place to build a biblical idea of worship. Most of the book is worship. We usually don’t get to realize that because we rarely open up Revelation.
This passage shows us three key things about worship and creating special place.
1. Worship gives us the place to learn about the character of God.
2. Worship gives us the place to see who God is.
3. Worship gives us the place to honor the God we know.
See you this Sunday!
What is a sermon preview?
Sermon previews are released on Friday’s. They are to give YOU a short glimpse of what the conversation is going to be like on Sunday morning. On Monday, the preview is updated with some discussion questions, scripture guide and an mp3 of the sermon. I do these for 2 reasons. The first is so God can continue working in your life throughout the week. The second is for you to share this with a friend. I invite and encourage you to share the preview on Facebook/Twitter and through email.
I remember spring break in 1999. I was at South Padre Island with 80,000 college students having the time of my life. Nothing can beat the beach when you are young and spring break is in full spring. While 98% of the college students crowded into South Padre Island and were intent on substance abuse and casual relationships, I was one of around 400 there for a different goal. Yep, we were there to evangelize and reach out to our peers for the sake of Jesus.
I sorted out many things that week, and I had the very first life altering encounter with the Holy Spirit. I can look at many parts of my life which find their origin on the trip. Worship leadership, vocational calling, dependance on Christian relationships and prayer. They all found their beginning during spring break. It was the most important week of my life.
I truly believe most people have events such as these. They might not be as deliberate or even Christian, but they are primary spiritual experiences. And once we have them, we can easily base everything off of them for the rest of our lives. This especially holds true in the Christian life.
Primary Spiritual Experiences become our mold and model for what we think proper worship is.
I am a big fan of pizza. I like to frequent the slice blog. It is part of the seriouseats.com family. Part of the slice blog is a routine engagement with what they call the “pizza cognition theory“, the first pizza anyone remembers from childhood is their primary idea of what constitutes pizza. Every slice of pizza they eat will be subconsciously measured up to their childhood definition of pizza.
We have the potential to do the same with our primary spiritual experiences…after all, they are primary! We use these stories as the basis of our own personal story of God working in our lives. It’s downright biblical. Read the Old Testament and see how Israel always brings it back to a few key events; the exodus, the temple and Abraham. Think about how Paul relates his testimony to the experience on the Damascus road. Part of the Christian life is understanding these moments where we first met with God and allow them the proper place of shaping things.
The dangerous part is when we begin to think of primary as permanent.
When we think God will no longer move in our life. When we think the best has already come. When we think God can never do something like He did once before. We take every single experience and try to mold them around those first ones. We can slowly begin insisting on others spiritual experiences conforming around ours. I think this is the basis for nearly all conflict in church.
As a worship leader I think many disagreements stem from a projection of primary spiritual experience. Music selection, instrumentation and many other things. As a pastor I have seen it play a part in conversations regarding building usage, fiances, staffing and strategic planning. Our idea of worship isn’t necessarily the best idea of worship.
Please don’t hear me wrong. Primary spiritual experiences are the foundation of a life with God. We should treasure them. But we can no way let them be the permanent idea of what the spiritual life should be, especially as we get older.
It’s dangerous to not let Jesus be the God of our future. It’s terribly frightening to place radical dependance on the cross. The only thing is…we can’t have a faith existing and only grounded in the past. Belief in Jesus is a belief in the future.
So the challenge is to learn to tell the story. To tell the story of the past and to become people expecting to experience in the present.
How would you describe your primary spiritual experience.