I once read a book by a psychiatrist who recommended to his counselees that they go to church frequently. The benefit he described is learning patience that could break them out of their self-centeredness at least for that hour in church. Apparently, in his experience (perhaps in a Catholic mass) Sunday worship is very tedious and very boring. Learning to endure through those 45 minutes is a good discipline.
Indeed, many Christian parents make children come with them to church to teach them self-control. Little wonder that so many kids drop out of a worshiping community when they become adults. They have had mostly negatives experiences in a worship service.
What’s the best way to keep believers in a worshipping community? Make sure that Sunday time together serves up personal experiences that satisfy a felt need. Work motivation is all about helping people satisfy a felt need through work activity. Anyone who doesn’t get such satisfaction is bound to be a poor employee.
Here is an overview of the basic components of a Protestant worship service: singing, reading Scriptures, the sermon, the prayers and the ending. Sometimes the Lord’s Supper is added.
Singing can be very rewarding for participants who know the song and have pleasant associations with it, especially when the melodies are reinforced by skillful accompaniment. Said differently, singing is not going to provide many satisfactions when the song is new, the melody is difficult, and the accompaniment is bad.
Most contemporary services I have participated in have about fifteen minutes of singing at the beginning, which usually means three songs. I have been in other services where the opening songs go on for about forty minutes, and I find myself getting more and more invested in what the songs are about. One explanation for why forty minutes of singing is good is that it takes twenty minutes to move from left-side dominance of the brain to more right-brain engagement and then twenty minutes later back again. One side of the brain develops rational insights, the other is the seat of emotional experiences. Engaging both halves of the brain brings a deeper personal investment in the singing. Call that full-brain worship. It can bring deep satisfaction.
It makes sense in one section of the service to read three selections from the Bible (an Old Testament selection, an Epistle and the Gospel for the day). While that rationally makes sense, that is a lot of Scripture for the average listener to absorb. I think frequently that I should ask those leaving the service if they can remember any of the lessons. I suspect most can’t.
In the sermon itself, the first question to ask is whether most of the listeners were engaged. If not, that was a poor sermon regardless of the content. Did it give listeners insights that they can apply to their daily life? If not, why would a listener come back and sit through additional ineffective sermons? I think in most traditional churches the sermon is something to be endured without practical payoff.
My middle-grade son once asked the pastor of our church why the prayers in the service were so long. The pastor gave him a detailed explanation of what a good corporate prayer ought to have. He did not appreciate what Matt was really trying to tell him: Please shorten the prayers in the service; they’re really boring.
Entertainers know that you have to leave the audience wanting to come back. Doesn’t that make sense for worship services, too? Try to have a rousing ending. You might object that worship is not entertainment, and I agree. It is a way to serve God. So be sure and end the service in a way that will make them return next week to serve God again. They are more likely to do that when they have experienced an hour that brought them deep satisfaction.
What happens after the service is over? My Lutheran experience is that families and friends cluster together and engage in small talk, the kind that goes on in other social settings. I really crave God talk with others, talk that also inquires about what God is doing in the lives of friends and family. We Lutherans have not learned how to do that. I suspect this is also true in other traditional mainline churches.
Do you want to motivate more people to come to the Sunday service? Help them have experiences they find to be personally satisfying. Let that be the goal for all parts of a Sunday service.
Lee Larsen says
We are blessed with two very dynamic pastors at our church as well as a very gifted vicar. We also have some very knowledgeable Bible Study leaders that do a great job of bringing God’s word to life. Great interaction from the groups brings added dimension to the Word on how we can apply it to our daily lives. Of course unless we talk it all up to others the numbers that are having this more enriching experience will not grow.
The other aspect of what we do at our church is the challenge to take that next step of engagement. Something simple, but that requires many hands to make happen. What is key is that the final results of their work must result in many souls being touched by Jesus. The seeds of His Spirit must be clearly sown. This is what our PACK (Planned Acts of Christian Kindness) Program over the past 25 years has provided. On any given month maybe only a small number of our youth and general congregation take part in directly sharing Jesus with our community at large through some simple acts of kindness and our Connect Cards. What doing this routine has developed is a mindset of “what can we do to make a super impact for Jesus!” From this has come events like our “School Backpack Challenge”; “Neighborfest” & “Thanksgiving Mountain of Food” all of which have enlisted the help of hundreds of our congregational members, our youth as well as many of our local citizens and businesses. The reason we have truly been blessed by all of this is because at the center of every act of kindness is Jesus. Every Connect Card that accompanies our acts of kindness openly declares that He is the true source of these gifts as well as the reason for our joy, peace and hope! The fact that these cards also provide an introduction and an invite to our church/school/youth activities… is a very distant second to the importance of the recipients feeling the love of Jesus pulling on their heart strings in this unusual & refreshing way! Nothing is left to chance because these days that can lead to all kinds of assumptions. “Those are just some really good people”; “Oh, they must be rich and can afford to share some of that with us”; “Some will assume we are trying to earn our way into God’s good graces”; or even if they associate these gifts with god, which god? The Connect Card makes this crystal clear including the fact that like the free act of kindness you just experienced so is the love & grace of God through His Son Jesus, as none of this can be earned or bought at any price. A great reminder for us all! This all serves to build faith & Kingdom, which is pleasing to God, not my words, but His! God bless!
David Luecke says
Tell me again what church you belong to. Sounds like they are doing very exciting ministry. They certainly have you involved in a ministry with passion.
Jeude Landhauser says
I taught 6th grade Sunday School for over 30 years. Those kids taught me a lot about this subject. Some kids want to go to worship. Others don’t like it. God doesn’t care about attendance, certainly not about endurance. He cares about hearts that worship Him. He’s worthy!
I was asked, “Why does this have to be so hard?” Every fiber of me wanted to scream, “It shouldn’t be!” Did the early Christians think this was too hard? I think they joined because what they heard about the Risen Savior and what they saw in the lives of the believers motivated them to want to come. The Holy Spirit moved into their hearts. As he became part of them, they became part of him. We breathe the pneuma . We become integral. This is not boring.
Today’s Christians so often have lost the thrill, the “good” in Good News. I watch pastors go through liturgies dryly. Do they know who they’re talking to? Are they leading worship to the God at whose feet we will fall at the Second Coming? The One whom heaven and adore? Some do. I want to worship with them! I love it!
One of my pastors told us that when angels appeared to the shepherds on Christmas, heaven joined into earth. There were millions of angels filling the sky and singing. This singing and praise is going on nonstop in heaven. When we worship here, we are literally joining the everlasting throng. This is not boring.
This is not about what we do or need to do. This is about who we worship. When we get that, problem over.
This is about pastors leading us in worship that literally connects us to the Almighty.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” He explained. It doesn’t say “He read.” He explained. Their reaction: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Their hearts burned when he opened the Scriptures.
Now if every pastor would open the Scriptures to the congregation every Sunday so that the hearts burned, and lead the worship, not “get through” the liturgy . . . – that’s a Church on fire for the Lord! Jesus set the example!
David Luecke says
Right on. Well said. We have turned ‘want to do’ into ‘have to do’ and expect to offer lessons on discipline. No wonder so many have gone absent. The only real solution is to keep worship engaging. Liturgical worship is just the opposite.
Jeude Landhauser says
I have loved liturgical worship in my life. I have concluded that, regardless of definitions, liturgy is the collection of words and music we agree to use to worship God together.
This can be a useful perspective. It can also help us evaluate whether our purpose is to please ourselves or fulfill our mission of reaching the world for Jesus. Historical liturgy can be taught, but only to people who will stay for the lesson. Who does Jesus want to stay for the worship?
If we substitute “liturgy” for “speaking in tongues,” do we get close to the heart of God and get a good discussion going? 1 Cor 14 (MSG)
“Plain truth-speaking, on the other hand, goes straight to the heart of believers and doesn’t get in the way of unbelievers. If you come together as a congregation and some unbelieving outsiders walk in on you as you’re all praying in tongues, unintelligible to each other and to them, won’t they assume you’ve taken leave of your senses and get out of there as fast as they can? But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service where people are speaking out God’s truth, the plain words will bring them up against the truth and probe their hearts. Before you know it, they’re going to be on their faces before God, recognizing that God is among you.
‘So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight… When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches—no exceptions.”
Ed Thomas says
As churches we can and have easily slipped into worship worship instead of Jesus worship. Anytime we replace Jesus with an idol, the life, errr the Spirit is literally sucked out of the activity.
David Luecke says
Well said Ed. Thank you.
John H Kieschnick says
Many years ago Lyle Schaller said, “If you have three songs in your worship service, make sure the opening and closing hymns are ones the people can really sing. If you have to pick a harder tune, put it before the sermon.” Sound advice many years later, whether hymns or praise songs. Keep up the great ministry of provocation!
David Luecke says
We have two good worship teams. Neither has the hang of getting the worshippers singing. They do what I call presentation singing–presenting basic Gospel truths in often Nashville style. To me the measure of how good a team is how well the audience sings. That just doesn’t communicate to the contemporary crowd.
Raymond Van Buskirk says
Worship is an encounter with God, angels, archangels and the whole company of heaven. His Word of grace and truth fills our hearts with real answers and His love, His body and blood strengthen and preserve us, and He hears our prayers and confessions and answers us. Pastors need to meditate on the Word and regard it as alive and active and ready to change lives. Real forgiveness is here for all who come seeking it. God is ready to lift your burdens and souls. As we give thanks and praise to God, our spirits soar. Worship is the most exciting place on earth and in heaven! And so we should speak of it to all. Amen
David Luecke says
Agreed. All this is offered–when the pastor/preacher does his job well–many don’t. All this can be offered in a rote way that is not engaging. Personality plays a big role. The Christian “package” is wonderful. Now the question is what will motivate a believer to participate. You have not answered that. What will move a person to come and participate? That is something within. What are you appealing to?