The "Wow" Factor in Worship
Last week I heard a presentation by a pastor of a large church who does consulting with large churches on, among other things, how to put “Wow” in worship. I found this presentation to be rather disconcerting. It was disconcerting to me because the entire premise of the presentation is that worship is all about us. It is a commodity to be consumed. It is a performance to entertain an audience. The “Wow factor” is intended to elicit a particular response from the audience. The gist of the argument, it seems to me, is that if you can “wow” people enough, they’ll keep coming back for more “wow.” And they’ll bring their friends and neighbors with them so that they can experience the “wow.”
My problem with this presentation is its distortion of the nature and purpose of Christian worship. The presenter assumes that worship is all about us. All that matters is that people are properly “wow-ed.” The subject of worship, therefore, is the people who attend. This is not worship. It is idolatry. It is a distortion of the gospel and a dishonor to God. It also dishonors the people who participate in it because it does not form them as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. They become, rather, disciples of their own desire to be entertained and comforted. Which makes such “worship” not very far removed from paganism.
Christian worship is our response to God and all that God has given to the world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is the audience. The congregation comes, as a body, into the presence of God to give themselves as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1b). Worship is the “people’s work” in the presence of the living God. This, after all, is the definition of liturgy. John Burkhart puts it this way: “Whatever junction worship has, it is a response to God’s work and is inextricably related to the Christian’s work in the world” (Worship: A Searching Examination of the Liturgical Experience).
Worship, therefore, is not ultimately about “what I get out of it” but rather what I, and we, can give to God. What I, and we, can give to God is ourselves through loving, self-giving service to God and those whom God loves. We are helped to rehears this self-giving to God and neighbor by the liturgy of the Church. The liturgy is our basic pattern of worship (see The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 3-5). It helps us to keep our focus where it belongs, upon God and God’s good news for the world in Jesus Christ.
There’s nothing wrong with people experiencing “Wow” in worship. But it’s important that our “Wow” is in response to God and that it sends us into the world to serve God and our neighbors with joy and thanksgiving. Our worship must not be self-centered but should be centered in the Triune God who is indeed worthy of our praise, thanksgiving, and service. When we gather we ought not gather as an audience expecting a performance but rather as a congregation desiring to open and give ourselves completely to the Trinity. Genuine “Wow” is in the experience of the Triune God who calls us out of our self-centeredness to Christ-like self-giving love.