By Eddie Pipkin
This is part-the-third of our five-part 2020 kickoff in the blogosphere in which we are looking at the elements of discipleship as they fulfill the needs of those seeking purpose and power in their lives. We’re helping people think of the healthy habits of disciples not as a chore, but as a chance – a chance to experience life more fully and the blessings of God’s grace more deeply. Learning to embrace worship as a lifestyle epitomizes this approach. We move from thinking of worship as a one-hour, once-a-week event to a moment-by-moment attentiveness to God’s presence, and everything is changed.
If anything has changed in the past couple of decades in terms of how people, particularly young people, think about church, it’s a move away from the manner in which their elders have thought about worship. Even spiritually focused young people, even those explicitly interested in embracing discipleship, have moved away from thinking that traditional Sunday morning worship attendance is the be-all-and-end-all experience that defines their relationship to God (or even to the local church).
I wrote that paragraph with a focus on young people (twenty-and-thirty-somethings), but I am also observing a mirrored version of it among my peers, the empty-nesters, folks in their 50s who have raised their children in the church, successfully launched those children into the world, and, finding themselves at the crossroads of what comes next, are disenchanted with the local church as they have known it.
For either (or both) of these groups, when we think about worship, here are ways we can help the people in our congregation move past outmoded thinking:
- Teaching the spiritual habit of worship as lifestyle.
- Making organized worship relevant to their lives.
- Creating more options for experiencing organized worship events (beyond the one-and-done model).
- Using technology to promote worship as lifestyle.
- Moving resources away from the production of traditionally scheduled worship events in order to focus more on other aspects of ministry that promote worship as lifestyle and other aspects of discipleship.
Teaching the Spiritual Habit of Worship as Lifestyle: There are great resources (including of course, here at EMC3 Coaching) for how to help growing disciples understand worship as a lifestyle. It involves habits that keep us tuned to God’s ongoing presence in our lives throughout our daily routine. We can make decisions with God’s heart as our own (the world around us being the great practical lab of discipleship). We can integrate prayer into the rhythm of our day, harnessing its power to guide us through emotional ups and downs, face anxiety, and love or neighbors as ourselves. We can fill our spaces with visual reminders of God’s love for us and the world. We can make a point of regularly entering nature to experience God’s love through creation. These are very practical skills that move from the traditional worship space to our workaday world conceptually, but most people need some help visualizing how to import those worship skills into their routines.
Making Organized Worship Relevant to the Lives of Those Who Attend: This topic is one of the more popular in all church revitalization discussions. It can devolve into “making worship hip,” and it certainly is important to offer currently popular, professionally presented music and the kind of media presentations that people associate with the world in which they spend most of their time. But it’s really about dealing with the topics that are on people’s minds and the challenges that people face in a way that is authentic and practical. Such worship offers deep connections with fellow believers, as well as a safe place to celebrate, praise, and share genuine struggles without judgement.
Creating More Options for Experiencing Organized Worship Events: Let’s take a moment to break down the way the megachurch model has skewered the thinking on this topic. First of all, the megachurch model (which drives most of the books you can buy on these topics, because that’s where the money is), dictates that you should pick one worship style and stick to it, doing so with excellence. This was an excellent strategy for growth, and done well, it drew in crowds – those happy, engaged crowds were often willing to make a drive to experience an awesome worship vibe. But this strategy is not necessarily a good fit for engaging a community whose members have diverse styles and needs (and are less monolithic in those styles, needs, and spiritual maturity). If you can offer some options of worship styles, times, and approaches, you may not be bursting at the seams for every worship offering, but you may find yourself with a deeper “bench” when it comes to participation – more diversity, more interesting perspectives. Some highly effective worship experiences can be led by just one or two leaders – and are no less relevant to the people who choose them as their connection point.
Using Technology to Promote Worship as a Lifestyle: This strategy incorporates the three we have already discussed. Most local churches have struggled to move their social media engagement beyond a “bulletin board” status. They use their websites and social media feeds to promote upcoming events. Some even celebrate those events through photos once they have happened (and even doing that would be a major advancement for many local churches). But it is rare that a ministry uses technology to promote engagement, interaction, or support for a worship lifestyle beyond the official activities of the church. For people who have integrated social media into their lives – and this includes not only the younger generations who have grown up with it, but also those empty-nesters who are increasingly dependent upon it for their social connections – they are oriented towards filtering the world in this way. There are powerful opportunities to interact with the sermon topic for a given week or reinforce a vision campaign or challenge disciples to engage the community around them.
Moving Resources Away from the Production of Regularly Scheduled Worship Events: The chief obstacle to the technological engagement I described in the last paragraph coming to fruition is that there is no dedicated person in most local churches thinking about this process. It is generally handled by a staff member who does it “on the side” in addition to a more traditional church staff role, or it is handed off to a volunteer who is not given a clear mandate on how to proceed or a budget to facilitate proceeding or access to tools or information that would be essential to success. And this volunteer may or not have the skill set to tackle this important job – lots of churches hand it off to their resident twenty-something, thinking that they “get” all that “social media stuff.” In most churches in America, the majority of most staff focus and time is devoted to putting together Sunday worship. We allocate a lot of time and money to sermon preparation, musicianship, and Sunday production elements and technical support. In a world in which attending worship in the way we have always gathered for worship will become less of a desire and focus for people, imagine if we shifted some of those resources to community building (both real-world and virtual), community service, and discipleship growth.
How does your local congregation promote worship as a lifestyle? Do you have designated people thinking about this topic and the development of other discipleship skills or are they afterthoughts? Where do you see opportunities to rethink how we help people think about worship? Where do you see challenges or think the premises of this blog are off the mark? Engage!