I love my church. The pastors’ messages. The music. The people. And that the true Word of God is taught there. But while I love to worship at my church and look forward to Sunday mornings, it’s not about what I like. It’s not about what style, traditions, amenities, or programs I enjoy. It’s not about my comfort and sense of community. It’s not about my fun singing in the band.
I already know I am a child of God. While church should be edifying to its members, if it really claims to be an evangelical or mission-minded church, the services should also appeal to the unchurched.
This is not about making church entertainment with a little “Jesus loves you” thrown in there. We want all to come to church to experience God in a welcoming, comfortable, understandable place, and that may mean re-evaluating how we design our services.
If someone has very little background in the faith, or hasn’t gone to church regularly since they were a kid, it can be intimidating to step into a new place.
In the book of Romans, Paul explains the grace of God to the church in Rome, who were mostly Gentiles, or new believers. These people likely did not have much background in the Scriptures or traditional Jewish laws. So, Paul explains faith, righteousness, and Christian living in a way that was understandable to them.
Paul knew his audience and adapted the way he shared the message with them. He did not compromise or change God’s Word, he changed the method. As the 21st century church we should follow his lead.
What can we do to make our churches inviting to guests, and meaningful that they want to come back?
The words we use in our services are the most important thing. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to change hearts, but we don’t want a wall to be put up in front of that Word by using big Christian words and assuming everyone understands. Those that grew up in the church and went to confirmation classes may not have a problem with the language the pastor uses, but to the unbeliever or searcher, it might just go over their heads.
“Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” Acts 8:30-31
I would much rather have the pastor take a moment to explain a Bible reading as he goes, or pause at a confusing word, than to just read it through and move on to the next one simply because the order of service says “first lesson” and then “second lesson.” Talk to me person to person, and teach us, not just talk at us. Even if I have to listen to something explained that I’ve known for years, I can sacrifice those few seconds for someone who may really need to hear a concept or word broken down to today’s English.
Sometimes it’s easy to just go through the motions. We may know what’s coming next in a service, but a guest may be confused with all the sitting and standing and responses that seem to come out of nowhere. How can we make everything we do clear, or maybe even simpler? Can the pastor explain why we confess our sins, what is the importance of reading this long creed, what makes Communion so special anyway?
When apostle Paul was on a missionary journey in Athens, he knew the people had very little knowledge of Jesus and Christianity, so he started with what they knew.
“He was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So, he reasoned with them in the synagogue.” Acts 17:16-17.
He saw that they were very religious, but unfortunately had false gods, including an altar “to an unknown god.”
“Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” Acts 17:23
He took what they knew, and what they perhaps questioned, and brought them to the truth.
“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.” Acts 17:32
It’s the hot button issue: traditional vs. contemporary music. But it doesn’t have to be such a dividing factor! Either style of music can be good and worshipful.
Some people love the reverent, special feel of singing hymns with an organ, with lyrics that they grew up with, have memorized, and can sing in four-part harmony. Others may be bored and unmoved by this “old” sound with too many verses of poetic lyrics that make no sense unless you stop to really think about them and take apart what you just sang - which is hard to do in the middle of a service.
Some people feel so connected to God and their fellow worshipers when belting out songs with a contemporary worship band. The instruments are ones they hear daily when listening to popular music, and some of the songs can be heard on Christian radio during the week. It’s a more familiar feel to guests, even if the songs are unknown. I also argue that the melodies are easier to pick up and join in when you’re comfortable, perhaps after hearing the chorus once or twice. Because of the often used “verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus” layout of popular songs, it almost always recycles back to a main point with a catchy tune. To me, it’s more memorable than a hymn with four verses of beautiful, though often heavy language. I love going home humming the songs we sang in church and remembering the message that went with it.
Now, contemporary musicians must be careful to choose songs that proclaim the truth of God’s Word and have some meat to them lyrically. Some people enjoy repeated phrases that seem to grow more profound every time you sing them. Others are just waiting for some new material or for the song to end. It’s all about balance.
What music is best to grow the kingdom of God? My pastor once said, “If polka music was the way people best connected and worshiped God, we’d do that.” Once again, it depends on the congregation because any instrument or style can give glory to God when done with the right heart.
I’m obviously biased towards contemporary music because I feel guests and newer Christians can relate and understand it more easily. However, maybe you’ve had guests that are looking for the sacred, liturgical feel, that makes them feel something different than in their regular life. There will always be different opinions from members and non-members alike, but I believe we should be open to evaluating our own preferences for the good of the unchurched, that they may be encouraged, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, to become part of the greater Church.
And lastly, though I can be hard to stomach in some cases, if someone leaves your church for another that still preaches the truth, but just has a style that person prefers, we should rejoice because that person is still hearing the Word of the Lord. It’s not a competition. It’s a family.
Do guests feel welcome at your church? Do they feel judged? Confused? Does anyone sincerely say hello or introduce themselves?
The Body of Christ is so important, but often we put growing the church all on the pastors’ shoulders (and on the musicians to some extent, too). Do well. Feed me. Then people will come. But the average person sitting in the hard pew or modern, squishy chair is just as important.
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord...there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-5, 25-27
How can we put aside our own comfort and preferences and make a difference in the kingdom of God?
This is our mission.