Sunday, August 3, 2008

Accessible Worship

This is the third in a series of five posts, examining our strategy more fully, understanding how we seek to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We've already tackled Love-Motivated Service and Relational Outreach. This week, we explore Accessible Worship.

In our church, we offer worship services that utilize a variety of elements: skits, music, video, communion, the spoken word, giving, and other types of congregational response. We don't necessarily include every one of these elements in any given service, but these are the ingredients that we use in preparing each Sunday's worship gathering.

One of the things that we do that is somewhat unusual is to include both Christian and non-Christian elements in our decidedly Christian worship services. We have both Christian and non-Christian music, Christian and non-Christian videos, Christian and non-Christian skits. So what is the thinking behind this? Why do we design our services this way?

One of the assumptions I've often heard expressed (even by those who are involved in serving in the worship services) is that our worship services are designed to "attract" unchurched people or to "bring people in." But that's actually not the case. The only people who even know what our worship services are like are the ones who come to them. The people outside our church don't have any clue what our services are like, so how would they be attracted?

Rather, the services are designed to be intelligible and understandable to anyone who does come, whether they've never set foot inside a church in their lives, or if they've been a follower of Christ for 20 years. Our worship services are intended to be accessible. We want to do church in such a way that a person who's never been to church can "get it."

This means more than simply dropping the "Christian-ese" that dominates a lot of church-talk ("I felt so blessed to be justified by the blood and be filled with the Holy Ghost when God moved me to reach the lost. Hallelujah!"). It means communicating in a way that makes sense to the people we're trying to communicate with, giving them something they can reflect on and consider as they leave the service.

The ingredients we use that make up our worship services are effective for this in several ways:

  • Using music, movies, and TV shows from pop culture helps people make connections between their everyday lives and the Bible or God. It helps them see the spiritual dimensions of their everyday activities.
  • When they hear a song on the radio, or watch a TV show that was used in church that Sunday, it reminds them of the worship experience, reinforcing the message they heard.
  • Pop culture is often helpful for providing negative examples of how to handle life, which can then be contrasted with God's way, as expressed in the Bible. (In today's service, we had an example of that with the Hank Williams song, "There's A Tear In My Beer" and the Katy Perry song "Lost")
  • By using things that people are already familiar with (pop culture), it helps them relate to something new (the message of Jesus).

It would be right to point out that there are a few assumptions behind our approach, which the whole thing is built on:

  • All truth is God's truth, whether we find it in the pages of scripture or in a Jack Nicholson movie.
  • God is concerned with all of life--even addictions, crime, abuse, sexuality, or whatever else might make us uncomfortable--so all of life is up for discussion in a frank and honest way.
  • God is in the redeeming business; therefore, what someone in Hollywood intended for glorification of sin can be used for the glorification of God, when put in proper context.
  • Communication that is convincing is not just informational, but emotional as well. Since the arts have a tremendous power to persuade, it is wise to use them in our attempts to convince people.
  • Christians ought to be more considerate than non-Christians. We expect Christians to make the effort to accommodate the ones we're trying to reach, rather than the other way around.

In the end, we want everyone who comes to Pathway each Sunday leaving with a better understanding of what God wants them to do, and with a motivation to do it. But that requires a worship service that is accessible to everyone who comes.

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