Before you jump down my throat for starting the worship conversation in the wrong place and with the wrong word, relax and let me define a few terms and explain what I mean by “winning” @ worship.
What is worship?
I like to define worship as seeing God accurately and responding appropriately. We could take a lot of time and space and nuance the definition, but in the end, the basic elements would still be the same. We worship when we catch a glimpse or are reminded of who God is, what he has done, is doing, and will do for us and then respond in praise, repentance, thanksgiving, obedience, and service.
How should we worship?
If that definition is correct, then it becomes crystal clear that worship does not equal singing, even though we often refer to the singing part of our services as worship. Don’t get me wrong; you can worship when you sing, but you can sing without worshiping. In fact, if our definition is in the ball park, you can worship while reading the Bible or when you are reading the newspaper. You can worship before the service begins, while the preacher is preaching, even while the offering is being taken. In fact, you don’t have to be inside or anywhere near a church building in order to worship! You can worship in your car, in your house, on the beach, on the golf course, or while sharing a meal with friends. Worship is not about the context of your body but the focus of your mind and heart.
There is nothing wrong with calling our church gatherings worship services because those services should be designed to help us see God accurately and provide opportunities to respond to God appropriately. The appropriate responses to who God is and what he has done often best take place once we leave the confines of a church building and continue what Jesus started in our neighborhoods, places of employment, and social contexts.
What is the purpose of our gatherings?
In his book, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, Andy Stanley from North Point Community Church asks, "What’s the win for the weekend?" In other words, what is the main goal for gathering together? What are you hoping to accomplish? Without a clearly defined purpose, we will have no way of knowing if we were successful or not. Before long, we will gather together because we have always gathered together without giving much thought as to why and without making changes when necessary.
Based on the subtitle of the book, you may have guessed that the win for North Point Community Church is to create worship experiences that make people want to come back next week.
I really like the fact that North Point has a win for weekend services; but I don’t so much like the win as they defined it. It is completely focused on getting bodies into a particular place at a specific time. Even though we all do something similar in our churches, I would prefer the win to be more gospel-focused and less building-centered.
I began to ask staff and attendees at Calvary Church what they thought the win was for our services. Their answers were in the same vicinity but the language was different and not very memorable. So I set out on a quest to craft and communicate our weekend service win and this is what that journey led to:
That means that no one is on the bench, but instead, we are all on the gospel playing field. It means that the language we use from the platform, the music we play before, during, and after services, the way we greet people and speak to them all matter and contribute to the win.
The win is not just for those who do not know Jesus yet; it is for all of us because we all need to regularly be reminded of the gospel in words, categories, and narratives that make sense to us; we need to experience the gospel lived out in concrete forms as we relate to others.
Our win has helped us refine and think creatively about what happens when we gather, but it has also helped define how we are to be church as we scatter – bringing the gospel to bear in relevant ways at our work places, neighborhoods, schools, etc. It means being present and participating in the larger community in ways that allow people to experience a lived-out application of the gospel.
Charles Zimmerman is a gifted communicator and serves as the Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. His degrees include an M.A. and M.Div. from Biblical Theological Seminary and a D.Min from Westminster Theological Seminary. Charles brings experience to The Center in the areas of strategic questioning and ministry strategy.