Thursday, February 27, 2014

If Your Church Worship Feels Like a Family, You're Doing it Wrong!

Did that get your attention? Thought it might.

I read a really intriguing article on the MinistryMatters website yesterday titled Why Worship Shouldn't Feel Like Family that had me up half the night considering what it meant - and if I agreed.

 When I visit one of our churches, whether to talk about stewardship, vitality, strategic planning, or something else I almost always begin with a little icebreaker - asking folks at the table to introduce themselves and answer a couple of questions. Often, those questions are:
·         What is it you love most about your congregation?
·         What is it that you wish were different?
The number one answer to the first question (survey says!) is a variation on: our church feels like a family. And I understand that answer. A healthy church can be a place where people feel comfortable, where you are known, where you are appreciated, where you are cared for when in need, where you share fellowship. All good things.

This article, though, challenges what I think about that. The very thing that makes our churches feel like family to us can be very off-putting to someone not already in the family. Our use of shorthand (abbreviations and acronyms that only insiders will understand), our handling of church business during announcements, and how we pass the peace and vocalize prayers concerns can all be very disorienting to a newcomer, especially an unchurched person.

I spoke with a person recently who had been away from church since they were very young, returning after a three decade absence. She was essentially unchurched, having been shuffled off to Sunday school instead of ever actually experiencing worship as a child. She spoke of how unwelcoming worship felt when time came for the Lord's Prayer, and the Gloria Patri, and the Doxology, how everyone else began speaking or singing - and all the bulletin listed was the title. What was she to do with that? She moved her lips and mumbled, hoping no one would notice she don't know the secret code or password that everyone else seemed to. She didn't go back. She felt like an outsider.

That's just one example. Now, the article doesn't say (and neither am I) that your church home feeling like a family is a bad thing. But perhaps we shouldn't worship that way. Worship, after all, is not an hour long opportunity each week to hang out with your friends (or family). There are other times in our church life to do that. Worship is an intentional act of devotion toward God. Moreover, it prepares us to serve a hurting world beyond our doors - prepares us for the work of discipleship.  

When someone new comes to your place of worship (instead of you finding them) it's a wonderful thing. And all our churches, if asked, would say that they are a very hospitable and welcoming group. But there's more to it than handing them a bulletin, helping them find a pew, and smothering them during the passing of the peace. If they've never been in a church before, they will be shocked at what happens over the next hour. And little of it may make sense to a newcomer when we assume everyone knows certain things.  

So this week, I invite you to view how you worship through the eyes of an outsider. Consider an unchurched teenager. Or a Boomer who hasn't seen a church since their youth. Will they feel welcome? Are there unspoken cues in your worship that undermine what it says on the front of your bulletin  - that no matter who you are and where you are on life's journey, that you are welcome here?

To read the article, follow this link. (be careful if you read the comments following, sometimes church folk aren't very nice. Most people missed that he didn't say church shouldn't feel like family - just that we shouldn't worship like one)

Then come on over to the Conference Facebook page, and let's discuss. (or leave a comment here)

Peace,

Jim