Friday, June 14, 2013

Worship at the Altar of Relevancy

I read an article today in the most recent version of the WorshipIdeas newsletter that lists several bad reasons to worship, or better put, to worship in a particular way.  The article did not set out to give bad reasons to worship, but that's what it ended up doing, nonetheless.

The article reports that a survey by Faith Communities Today indicates that churches who make a switch to contemporary worship receive an almost immediate and consistent growth rate of 2%.  Also, churches with more contemporary worship styles are more likely to see continued growth than their more stylistically traditional counterparts.  This is not necessarily a bad thing per say, but it sounds to me like a terrible reason to "switch" worship styles.

One worship pastor says that the style of music in the church affects how "people see the church as relevant," and so, because the church is seen as relevant, people will supposedly come.

Is that really how we want to be determining how we do worship in the church - by what the masses consider to be "relevant?"  Really?  The church's relevancy is determined by what people think of the worship style?  Are we missing something here?  Seems to me like we're more concerned about what people think is relevant than what God thinks is relevant, which is the opposite of the way it should be.

The underlying tone of the report implies that churches who want to grow should switch to a contemporary worship format.  I couldn't disagree with that implication more.  Don't get me wrong: I realize that we are cultural beings who have cultural persuasions and preferences, and it would be foolish to dismiss the impact of these persuasions on our people, and even on worship leaders and pastors.  But to focus on the desires of the people at the expense of focusing on the desires of God is dangerous ground to tread.

What the statistics promote is a pragmatic way of conducting worship services.  In other words, church leaders have an idea of what they want to accomplish when they conduct a worship service, and they then ask themselves what they need to do to accomplish that goal.  If and when your goal is to attract X number of people to your worship service, than you will do what you can to cater to their whims and desires: you will play the music they want to hear, you will preach sermons they want to hear, and you will create an atmosphere that is comfortable for them.  

The opposite (and more biblical approach, in my opinion) is to ask "What does God want from this worship service?" and then to work toward accomplishing whatever the church has determined that to be.  In this way of seeing worship, the reaction or opinion of the masses doesn't matter.  When our goal is pleasing God with our worship instead of people, whether or not people like what we're doing or how we're doing it is a question that never even blips on the radar screen.  When we are working to please God with our worship, our goal is obedience to what we believe he would have us do in leading and conducting worship.  Our goal is obedience to God - not numbers; it is working to honor him - not to please people.

What is the most relevant thing the church does?  Is it not to maintain faithfulness in the proclamation of the gospel?  If the most relevant thing about the church is its music, then we have serious, serious issues.  May it never be at my church.  Another question to consider is this: can the church be focused on the gospel and still utilize culturally relevant music and modes of communicating the message?  I think it can, and does.

The question is not, "What do we need to do to get more people?" but is instead, "What should we do, because that's what God tells us to do?"  There is a significant difference between the two questions, and the answers you will get from each are vitally important in the life and ministry of the local church.


Anonymous said...

Most churches measure the strength of their congregation by the number of attendants. After all, that is what can be seen. The strength of the member's faith is hard to be seen, spiritually. Hence all the visual and technological embedment into the worship service. Another side effect of this tendency is the lack of public scripture reading, which shamefully is diminishing from worship.
I agree wholeheartedly with your post.

Joel said...

Anonymous -

Thanks for the comment. You're right, as we become more concerned with what people want, we become less concerned about what God wants, which naturally means a departure (to varying degrees) from his word. I am not so much against the use of technology in worship, so long as it is used to preach the gospel and declare the word of God. But using technology for the sake of using technology, or using it as an attraction to draw in people seems, to me at best, unwise.