Does your church do worship right? That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? We have been through a bit of “worship wars,” and I’ve read any number of posts about why hymns are good or why modern choruses are good or why we need to use hymnals or why we need overhead projectors. Frankly, most of those arguments strike me as people trying to justify what they like and make it sound theological. Then there’s the “worship isn’t about Sunday; worship is what you do with your whole life” crowd. While there’s truth in that —Paul did say that “presenting your body as a living sacrifice” is real worship — it also misses the point a bit. In this case, we’re interested in what we do together.
The key point about what happens on Sunday (or whenever your church gathers) is that it is “congregational worship.” It is the time when we come together as a people to worship God. That time is unique because it calls people together as the people of God. At the risk of being accused of “justifying what I like and trying to make it sound theological,” I want to offer a few suggestions that I think would help churches do congregational worship better. If it is to be a congregation worshipping, we want a congregation of people involved in worship, not an audience watching performers. So here are my three suggestions for improving corporate worship.
Turn the house lights up.
Anywhere we might go (theater, music halls, TED Talks, etc.), when we see the lights go up on the stage and down on the crowd it tells us one thing: the show is on the stage. Why do churches, then, choose to fight that? When a church puts the spotlight on the stage and turns the house lights down, it is telling the people not on the stage that they are an audience rather than a congregation. Saying, “We want everyone to sing,” isn’t going to change that. Anonymity and congregationalism simply don’t go together.
Turn the music down.
Now, I know I’m officially sounding like an old fogy here. However, I don’t hate loud music. I still listen to loud music in my car and still go to concerts. That’s not corporate worship time, though. It took me a while to figure out why this bothers me in church. I finally did when I visited a church that wrote in the bulletin, “Don’t be embarrassed to sing out, our music is so loud no one can hear you anyway.” I realized, “That’s the problem!” How do you have congregational singing if you can’t hear the congregation? It’s just a bunch of individuals singing along alone in that case. Set the music where we can “hear the people sing.”
Get more people involved.
You may think, “Well, duh,” but most churches have a very small group of people with jobs in the service. Why not have teenagers reading the scripture? And why not read the scripture more — so more people are involved? How about changing up who takes up the offering? (I can tell you from experience that a five year old can do it.) Why should it be staff members doing the opening welcome? It would be more trouble to get more people involved, but if congregational involvement is the goal, why not go to some trouble?
I’m not going to pretend that I’ve solved all our worship problems here. I do hope I’ve at least raised some questions that might get addressed in worship teams and church leadership groups. The problem with worship isn’t style; it is getting people involved. We need to find the ways to do that.