By Dick Loizeaux
Question: How many Baptists does it take to change an Order of Worship Service?
Answer: “Change? What do you
And that is not just a joke. Recently Thom Rainer in Pastors Today (thomrainer.com) revealed his research shows the 3 most fiercely defended church traditions are: worship and music style, order of the worship service, and time of the
Does that mean we pastors are doing such a good job of creating life-impacting worship services that people don’t want to change? Unfortunately not. In a large number of our churches the people are dissatisfied with the worship service.
When I ask discouraged pastors why their church lacks health or vitality, they usually identify the cause as some combination of lack of money, volunteers, or resources; facilities or demographic issues; or spiritual lethargy and problem people in the congregation. All of those may be true. However when the church takes a NCD (Natural Church Development) survey, all too often the congregation has a different answer. In a surprising number of cases the congregation identifies an uninspiring worship service as the problem.
As a pastor I don’t want to hear that. It questions my preaching ability, my worship planning ability, or even worse my spiritual leadership. And yet time and again the congregation says the worship service is less inspiring, the music less helpful, and the preaching less relevant than the pastor thinks. They say the worship service does not help them connect with God, and confess that that they are often bored during the worship service and don’t look forward to it.
These low worship evaluations usually shock the pastor. Why? Because we like the music, we encounter God in our preparation, we are comfortable with our preaching, and people regularly tell us “Good
So why is there a worship disconnect and what can we do about it?
1. Stop believing your good press. When someone says “Good sermon, Pastor.” Ask them “Why? What was meaningful to you? How will that change the way you think, feel or act?” Then listen to their answer and pray with them.
2. Realize the sermon bar has been raised. Your people have access online to the world’s best preachers. That means many of us have to ramp up our game, spending more time in sermon preparation, honing our skills, and learning new methods to reach a new generation. Keep your authentic voice and style, but keep growing. Use a brief “sermon evaluation form” to get feedback.
3. Plan a worship experience, not a sermon. From the text choose a main point or theme and build the service around it, using scripture, music, prayer, video and creative elements all designed to help people understand, own, and apply the main point. Begin with the goal in mind: How do you want them to think, feel, or act differently as a result of this encounter with God and his Word? Then aim the entire service at that target. Use a brief service evaluation form to get feedback.
4. Help people encounter God, not just encounter truth. People are hungry for a spiritual, emotional, relational connection to God. Become a student and practitioner of the ways worship can lead us into the presence of God. One place to start is “Worship Matters: Leading Others To Encounter The Greatness of God” by Bob Kauflin (Crossway). Adapt your approach to the demographics and DNA of your congregation. Why is this important? If your people authentically encounter God in your worship they will be more likely to hear and respond authentically to God in your sermon. Regularly help your people experience God in your service and they will forgive you of much else.
5. Shift from solo preparation to team planning. ‘We’ is smarter than ‘Me.’ Create a group you can brainstorm with about felt needs in the text, applications from the text, questions about the text, and creative ideas for the topic. Let them evaluate your last service before you plan the next service. To connect powerfully with people, first listen to the people you are trying to connect with.
6. Keep your personal worship bucket full. Protect your time with God before your preparation to speak for God. Move past practicing disciplines to experiencing heartfelt devotion. Stay thirsty to drink at the well of God’s majesty and grace. Then let the Sunday Worship Service be a rich overflow of your time with the Lord during the week. No amount of worship programming will overcome the dryness of ministry from a parched spirit.
7. Take a Natural Church Development Survey. That will give you an objective assessment by your congregation. Only then will you know where and how you can improve the impact of your worship services so they become life-transforming encounters with the living God. May is NCD Month here at Converge MidAmerica. To arrange for your church to take a NCD survey at the reduced cost of $295 ($335 from the publisher) contact Dick Loizeaux.
Now back to the beginning. We started with the observation that worship style, order, and time are 3 of the traditions people defend most fiercely. So what can you do if you realize that your worship service needs to change?
Answer: Design worship services that lead your people past songs and sermons to an encounter with the living God. As they encounter God, as God touches their hearts deeply during your worship, slowly but surely God can change their hearts about the worship style. Or, even if they never do like the worship style, their hearts may change as they see God do powerful work in the lives of the people around them. Time and again I have heard people who initially resisted worship changes say something like “It is not the way I would choose to worship. But when I see how God is using it to reach new people and to change lives, I want to be a part of that.”
Build worship services where people experience God. Experiencing God changes everything.