Worship Is Worth The Effort

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Last night our church had our quarterly church business meeting and as part of that meeting our Strategic Planning Team made its first report to the church. As the team started trying to figure out how to order our work, we wanted to start with things that had the most potential to make the BIGGEST impact in the shortest amount of time.

So we decided to start with the functions of our church that people just finding out about us would be most likely to engage first--Outreach and Worship. 

We’re defining outreach as everything we do to communicate who we are and what we do to both current members and the larger community. That means we’re looking at how we present ourselves on our website, in social media, in printed materials, in advertising, and even how we appear to people driving by our campus. And so far we’ve had some great discussions that are leading us in great directions. 

We haven’t made quite as much progress on worship yet, though. We’ve actually just barely started talking about it. Worship is central to the life of any church, and ours is no exception. 

We all have deep emotional ties to where we worship and how we worship.  Both the setting and content of worship--when experienced week after week--can powerfully impact our faith and the kind of people we become. So as we look at who we’ll be in the next chapter of our life together, a conversation about worship is one of the most important conversations we can have.

As our team begins to drill down on worship and worship space, I’ve noticed we’re not the only ones talking about it.

In a podcast conversation with Carey Nieuwhof, Joseph Barkley, pastor of Radius Church in Hollywood, CA tells the story of asking a friend to come to church with him on Easter Sunday. He had already invited his friend to church several times, but he invited him again on Easter thinking if there was any time he would agree to come it would be then.

Growing tired of the repeated requests, his friend finally said, “I get why you keep asking me to come to church, but I’m never gonna say yes because I already know what I’m going to experience—mediocrity and irrelevance.”

That’s the larger world’s expectation of worship; that’s why they’re not coming. Their learned experience of church and worship is that it’s not gonna be that great and that it's not gonna connect.

That’s the often heard critique from outside the church, and it can be an uncomfortable mirror to look into. But even more troubling is the critique from inside the church.

Bill Wilson, founder of The Center for Healthy Churches, published an article this week detailing ten reasons that church members attend church less frequently. Wilson’s list comes from actual surveys of actual church members from more than fifty congregations of all shapes and sizes. The respondents to Wilson’s survey said they attended church less frequently for all kinds of reasons, mostly variations on the trend toward more activities competing for less leisure time. 

But Wilson’s respondents also often gave another reason for less frequent church attendance. Wilson reports, “Many have told us that the depth of their commitment to weekly attendance is eroding. There are multiple reasons, but at the heart of the matter is a sense that what is offered on Sunday mornings is not meaningful or valuable enough to make the effort to attend.”

It stings when a non-church attender from way out in California paints with a broad brush to call the church mediocre and irrelevant, even if we can recognize some truth in what he says.

But it’s downright painful when our own members tell us they’re not coming as much anymore because their experiences at church lack meaning and value.

People should LOVE coming to church. Church members should be excited about inviting new people to worship. Church leaders should be proud of the creativity and energy and effort put into planning and preparing and executing worship in a way that honors a God whose excellence and relevance and meaning and value are beyond compare.

None of the above statements become—or remain—true by accident. It takes sustained effort and a continued willingness to improve and update the way we communicate the love and power of God on Sunday mornings.

So we’re starting a conversation about worship in our Strategic Planning Team. The process won’t be short and the work won’t be easy, but I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re not the only ones having this conversation and strengthened by the thought that you’ll be praying for us.

See you Sunday.