Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Worship is not Evangelism and Evangelism is Not Worship

     The “Wow Factor” in worship is a prime example of the current confusion between worship and evangelism. The contemporary “church growth” movement has managed to convince the church that the purpose of Sunday morning worship is to attract visitors and seekers. Using examples like Willow Creek Community Church we are encouraged to downplay liturgy, get rid of the hymnal, remove Christian symbols from the worship space, and employ multi-media techniques like PowerPoint and video clips to draw people in and keep them entertained so that they will want to become members. The focus of worship is shifted from God to the audience.
     I use the word audience here rather than congregation deliberately. When we become concerned about making sure that the Sunday morning gathering is filled with “Wow” moments we are then putting on a show for an audience. It is no longer the “work of the people” in the service and praise of God. The purpose of “Wow” is to connect with the wants and desires of individual members of an audience who come to consume a commodity. We want to leave them wanting more so that they’ll keep coming back for more. In this sense, Wow Worship is not even good evangelism. It is lacking in evangelical content because the focus is upon getting the right response out of the audience rather than proclamation of the good news of God in Jesus Christ. Faithful proclamation of this good news often brings about feelings of crisis and grief because people are awakened to their own sinfulness and need for forgiveness and healing. This is not the desired response of the Wow factor.
     Marva Dawn describes the confusion between worship and evangelism in her brilliant book A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World

“Worship is the language of love and growth between believers and God; evangelism is the language of introduction between those who believe and those who don’t. To confuse the two and put on worship the burden of evangelism robs the people of God of their responsibility to care about the neighbor, defrauds the believers of transforming depth, and steals from God the profound praise of which he is worthy” (page 124).

She goes on to point out that the Sunday morning events held at Willow Creek are not intended to be the church’s worship. Rather, Sunday morning at Willow Creek is evangelistic outreach to seekers. Worship for those who have made the commitment to follow Christ in the world is held on Wednesday evenings. Unfortunately, however, far too many United Methodist congregations have attempted to imitate the Willow Creek (and other) model of Sunday morning evangelism. The problem is that the people of God are denied opportunity to truly worship God. In so doing, our efforts to make disciples of Jesus Christ are severely handicapped.
     It seems to me that we, as a denomination, need to do some major remedial teaching and learning about worship and evangelism. We need to stop confusing the two. When we can be clear about these two essential elements of our life together and our responsibility to the good news of God in Jesus Christ, we will be able then to do justice to both.


Blogger see-through faith said...


but I do think that there's place for making worship something in which the congregation - both new and old belevers (and first timers) can be part of it

and in my book dusty hymnals, dreary sermons and a liturgy which is not self explanatiory (and inflexbile so that there's no chance to explain what we're doing and why) isnt the way forward

2:23 PM

Blogger Mike Mather said...

Hmmm. Some major learning about worship and evangelism, huh? I agree. But I think the question is how do we get there from here? If liturgy truly is the work of the people I think that worship would probably be a lot more varied than it is. When congregations in United Methodism (since I don't feel free to talk as openly about other branches of Christendom) try to bring worship and evangelism together that is not usually a new thing to them. We have often been doing that with whatever we were doing in the past as well. It is often a miserable experience for congregations. But it's really just a less familiar form of misery. Still -- I've known places with terrifically rich liturgical life (from all appearances) and yet are as bigoted and homogenous a crowd as one can imagine. I remember over 20 years ago hearing Bishop Tutu reflecting on driving with his Mother-in-law through Johannesburg on Sunday morning and hearing her wonder aloud as to how these white churches could be filled and the apartheid state continuing. Good question (Bishop Tutu's response was that were he white and South African he would be in church every day thanking God!). It is simply a reminder to me that worship -- no matter how well done -- can have no connection to our life and calling adn the world. The largest UM congregation in one community I lived in, which modeled itself very clearly and intentionally along the lines of Willow Creek -- had as vapid and unhelpful (if I was less temperate I might say -- demonic) a response to the life of the poor around them...but so did many dying congregations with very traditional worship services -- and so did ones that were confused and seemed to me some version of worship lite. It seems to me that there is no way to devise a worship service that is the "right" way. So...let's hear it for dusty hymnals, dreary sermons and non explanatory and inflexible liturgy and let's hear it for drums and electric guitars and images on a screen up front and sunday morning seeker services -- but not because of their form -- but because of how they shape us...

6:38 PM

Blogger Steven Manskar said...

Thanks for these comments. I hope you understand that I am not advocating for "dusty hymnals, dreary sermons and inflexible liturgy." I am advocating for worship to be truly worship. Genuine, faithful, and vibrant worship will draw people into its mystery and wonder. The liturgy is self-explanatory for those who live with and in it over time. We need to teach the liturgy. We need to do some remedial training for our congregations in what worship is, and is not, and how to worship God.

A sign that shows the genuineness of our worship is when those who participate are compelled into the world to serve with Christ with and for the poor. The congregation becomes a sign community for the coming reign of God.

11:49 PM

Blogger Mike Mather said...


Yes, of course I know you aren't advocating such things. I had my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek. Thanks for putting down your thoughts on these's a wonderful opportunity to think about these important things...Thank you.

5:05 AM

Blogger Michael said...

This is awesome! I suppose I've lamented about the improper focus of our gatherings (I hesitate to use the word "worship" now!) which is in making people hunger for the wrong things. I don't think, however, that I have ever considered it in the context you've presented. Thank you. Lots to think about.

8:32 PM

Blogger Rob Adams said...

Wonderful article. In your article, you mention congregation-as-audience several times:

the purpose of Sunday morning worship is to attract visitors

draw people in and keep them entertained

we are then putting on a show for an audience

[I know that the quotes are out of context. Hopefully anyone reading my comment has reads the main article first.]

In a later article you write:
One of the consequences is that many church members now regard Sunday morning worship as a performance for them. They are the audience. The pastor, choir, choir director, organist/musicians, and liturgists are all the performers.

This problem is not exclusive to the Willow-Creek 21st-century powerpoint-using electonric-music church.
The 19th-century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote that in the drama of worship, most people consider the worship leader as a performer, prompted by God, for the benefit of the congregation as audience. Kierkegaard went on to describe how that view is skewed; in true worship the audience performs, prompted by the worship leader, for the benefit of God.

I am frustated by my own inability to convey that message. Whenever I hear someone say "I didn't get anything out of church today", I cringe. I wish I knew how to tell them that they aren't there to get, they are there to give!

10:08 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home