Continuing a series based on Bishop Robert Schnase's book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.)
Worship describes those times we gather deliberately seeking to encounter God in Christ. God uses worship to transform lives, heal wounded souls, renew hope, shape decisions, provoke change, inspire compassion, and bind people to one another. The word passionate expresses an intense desire, an ardent spirit, strong feelings, and the sense of heightened importance. Congregations who practice Passionate Worship offer their utmost and highest; they expect worship to be the most important hour of the week.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that worship attendance is declining in most mainline Churches and even in some evangelical mega churches. Given the fact that participation in corporate worship is almost universally regarded as of the utmost importance among Christians, this downward trend seems odd. What's wrong with this picture?
Perhaps we have not been effective in teaching about the centrality of worship. Most of us who have been in ordained ministry for a while have tried all of the less direct, “kid glove” approaches and they are not working. We've tried to fix our sermons, our music, and our wardrobe to make things more “convenient,” “appealing,” and “entertaining.” We've set attendance goals, assumed much of the blame for the behavior of people given into our care, and tried numerous gimmicks to coax the faithful to worship. And still, worship in our churches continues to decline.
So, let's try the direct approach. We have not been completely honest and we have not served the flock of Christ well by shading the truth. One of the most important and helpful things a pastor can do is tell you this:
God wants you to adjust your life so you can be there when your Church gathers for divine worship!
God will be pleased. It will strengthen the Church, enrich you spiritually, and help you love others. Think of this time as God’s time with you instead of your time with God. Consider it the most important appointment of the week. From the earliest of times, God has called God’s own people to join together in worship. In corporate worship, we focus our hearts not on ourselves, but on our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. When we do that, we open ourselves up to receive the grace and love that we cannot earn or find anywhere else. There is just no substitute for worship.
How to get started - If you are still with me and have concluded that worship needs to be a greater priority in your life and the life of your household, you may be wondering how to proceed. Here are some ideas:
- Some may be able to simply decide to be there every Sunday unless prevented by a major physical difficulty like illness, disability, or severe weather conditions.
- Others may commit to a gradual change during the next year. For example, if you attend corporate worship once a month, try twice; if you worship twice a month, try three times; or just decide that you will worship twice as often.
- Some may have a job or obligations to others that make Sunday morning attendance extremely difficult or impossible. At Saint Martin’s, we have a service on Saturday evenings at 5:00. We also have a service in the Chapel at noon on Wednesdays. One of those may be an option for you. If not, let me know and we’ll discuss the possibility of starting a service at a time that does work for you. It may work for others as well.
Most Christians could double their worship attendance and still not be there every Sunday of the year. I'm not a mathematician but I believe I'm correct in suggesting that if places of worship are typically two-thirds empty and we doubled attendance, our churches would then be two-thirds full. That would be a good thing for God, for the People of God, and for the world God loved so much that he sent his only begotten Son. There would be more of us there to welcome newcomers. It could be the beginning of another Great Awakening in the hearts and minds of Christians.
Whatever you do to improve your participation in corporate worship will be a step in the right direction. It is time to reverse the trend and it has to start with a new commitment on the part of the believer. This is a call to worship - passionate worship.
Therefore, I join St. Paul in extending this invitation to those born of water and the Spirit, who bear the Name of Christ: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect” (I Cor. 12;1-2).
I'll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church