Sep 16, 2011

A Church That Actually Plans on Having New People Showing Up

Last night I was at a presbytery meeting.

One of the things we always do at presbytery meetings is to worship together. I love worship. The sermon was good and the band was ok.

But the thing that really weirded me out was what happened at the end the service. The choir members rushed into the sanctuary and then stood all over the sanctuary and started singing. Some of the choir members were literally a foot or two away from me. That's a little too close for someone I don't know to be singing and dancing while staring at me.

Now, I think for most church-going folk, they thought this was pretty swell.

I thought it was kind of strange.

And then I was wondering if a non-church-going person walked into the church at that exact moment what would they think.

In my humble opinion, I would think they would be so weirded out by what they saw and experienced, they couldn't find the exit fast enough because they couldn't get away from that place fast enough.

The presbytery worship experience got me thinking about our regular worship services.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are the only newby in a group of people who have all known each other for decades? They all know each other's histories. They all know each other's stories. They all seem to speak "the same" language. They seem able to finish each other's thoughts and sentences.

Now imagine, if one of the insiders invited you to a gathering of these folk. The people there acknowledge your presence, but their conversation consists mostly of inside jokes and recalling past memories. Everyone is having a grand ol' time, but you are feeling more and more left out. It's not that they're terrible people. They're not mean. They're actually quite nice. It's just you don't get what everyone else is getting.

I don't know about you, but I've rarely felt comfortable in such situations.

I look at the way most of us do church, and I can't help but wonder if this is what it must feel like for someone who's never really spent much time in church. Their only exposures to church was some young life event, VBS, or children's ministry while growing up. And at least those events were kind of fun. But now, when they visit a local church...
  • everyone seems to know where Ephesians is when the preacher is preaching, 
  • everyone seems to laugh at the joke about Jonah and Moses, but you have no idea who Moses or Jonah are, let alone what's so funny about a big ol' fish,
  • everyone seems to know when to stand or sit or the words to the Lord's Prayer or the Apostle's Creed,
  • everyone knows where the bathroom, nursery, fellowship hall are,
  • everyone seems to know, except you!
It's not that any of these things should not be components of worship or that we should water down everything so that the average non-church-attending Joe and Jane can understand and feel welcome in our churches. It's just that I am convinced most of our churches could do a much better job at being sensitive to new people.

If we want the church to grow, doesn't it makes sense that we would expect new people to come?

If we know new people are going to come to church, doesn't it make sense that we would do everything we can to make our facilities and our worship services as welcoming and user-friendly as possible to new people?

This leads me to wonder, what is at the heart of worship?

What are the things that are non-negotiable for Christian worship?

Once we've identified those things, we can think about how to make the non-negotiables as new-person friendly as possible.

And then, we are free to be totally flexible and creative about other aspects of worship to make our worship services as God-honoring, people-engaging, life-transforming, new-person welcoming, non-church-going person friendly as possible.

What would such a church look like? What would we be doing?

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