In the quest for church growth, many churches have turned their church services into nothing more than a tool meant to reach non-believing visitors that may or may not be in attendance on a given Sunday. Some churches consciously pour countless amounts of time and money into worship services that will be pleasing to the visitor, but most of the churches practicing visitor-centric worship have no idea that they're doing it.
What happens when worship is reduced to being nothing more than a vessel to reach the non-believing visitor? Simply stated, much of what worship is intended to be is ruined. How exactly is worship ruined? It's ruined in these two ways:
We Ruin Its Focus
The Psalms provide for us some of the most raw and honest encounters with God in worship. Notice how God is painted in worship here from Psalm 29:
"Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters." (Psalm 29:1-3)
The worship of the psalmist here is all about the Lord. This gels perfectly with the New Testament word for worship which means "to kiss towards" or "to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior." When we worship we come before the Almighty Creator, our Superior, and fall before Him as the focus of our worship.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to remember that. As a minister, it's not uncommon for me to reach the conclusion of worship thinking about the visitors a few rows ahead of me instead of God. Why? Because I've been taught to.
During the announcements we tell our guests that we want to get to know them after worship has concluded. We make the special announcement that our time of giving is for the members only, so that we don't make the visitors in attendance feel uncomfortable. As the sermon begins (a sermon that is part of a visitor-friendly series by the way) we remind the visitors of the meal we have prepared just for them following services, and at the end of the lesson we conclude with an encouragement for all the non-Christians in the room to dedicate their life to Christ.
Where is your focus when you're sitting through a long list of announcements covering all of the events you have planned for the guests in the community?
Where is your focus when you are hearing yet another sermon that's purposefully shallow so that visitors won't be turned away?
Where is your focus when the preacher recites the same word-for-word invitation again week after week after week in the hopes that a visitor will come forward to be baptized?
Where is your focus when all of these things are going on? Are they on God or the guest sitting next to you?
Worship isn't meant to be a long list of community event announcements followed by a one-hour commercial to the non-believer about what Christianity looks like, in the hopes that they'll come forward and convert! Worship is meant to be a time for us to give back in thankfulness and praise to God, His Son, and His Spirit for the salvation given to us. It's a time for the believer to focus on God, and any visitors there during worship are simply meant to be observers of that, not the objects of our attention (1 Cor. 14:23-25).
Focusing on visitors ruins worship by taking the focus away from God and placing it on those that should be focused on at another time.
We Ruin Its Role As Teacher
Worship is not solely a time to praise and honor God, it's also a time to learn and grow together as God's people. Everything, from the songs we sing (Col. 3:16) to the sermons we preach to the time of fellowship we enjoy by being together (Acts 2:42-47), is meant to instruct God's people on how to be more like God.
When visitors become our focus, the objective of our teaching changes. Instead of lessons that challenge us to go deeper in our understanding we are presented with lessons that barely scratch the surface because those that are visiting are in the "milk" stage of Christian knowledge (Heb. 5:12-14).
Instead of lessons that equip us with all the tools we need to teach and make disciples (Mt. 28:19-20), we use the sermon time to try and make disciples of those who happen to be visiting.
It's no wonder that many of the Christians in our churches are suffering from a lack of knowledge, their dietary needs of meat are continually being eschewed in order to give milk to potential Christians.
Focusing on visitors ruins worship because it removes worship as a much needed teacher for the Christians in attendance.
It's not wrong to want to reach more people, but worship is not the time to do that. Worship is a time for believers to turn their attention to God for the purposes of praising Him and growing in a relationship with Him through the knowledge of His word. It is this time of praise and learning that encourages and equips us to then go out and make disciples of the lost around us. Worship is for God and the believer and the moment we move away from those two audiences we destroy what worship is meant to be.
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