A congregation member recently passed on an excellent article (read it here) from Rev. Robert Cunningham of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church. Read this paragraph and see if it sounds familiar:
“I don’t preach in jeans (skinny or baggy); I preach in a robe. Our meeting space is not an auditorium with big screens; it’s classic architecture with wood pews. The service itself isn’t a new and fresh production each week; it is a liturgical routine with common practices. Our music is from a hymnal, accompanied by a choir, and led by an organ. In other words, our church shouldn’t work. And yet each Sunday the pews are not only filled, they are filled with a lot of young people. This comes as a surprise to many.”
This same paragraph could be written about Crestwood. In many ways, our worship service goes against the grain of what is considered popular in church circles these days. Conventional wisdom says that growing churches rely on upbeat music lead by a band, visual stimulants such as lighting and screens, and an intentional effort to distance themselves from the more traditional (defined as “boring”) aspects of worship. Churches that do these things attract young people and grow; churches that don’t are dying. And yet, if you look at the number of children in our worship every Sunday, we have a much different story to tell.
Why is that? Why aren’t people flocking away from our worship instead of toward it? Cunningham offers several reasons for this, and I believe there is a lot of wisdom in what he has to say:
1 – Members are the primary gatherers rather than the service itself – I believe most people don’t come to worship for the service; they come for the relationships they have with other worshippers. People come on Sunday to be together and to be with God, so we prefer to focus on the aspects of worship that help us foster those connections horizontally (with each other) and vertically (with God). Our style of worship may not be the best for attracting people, but I believe it holds more promise for return visitors because of the connections they make.
2 – How you do things is more important than what you do – I’ve seen some traditional services done with excellence, and I’ve seen some contemporary services done very poorly. I believe style of worship is less important than the way it is enacted. People who say traditional worship is “boring” have probably never heard a Call to Worship said with passion, a moving choir anthem, or an Invitation to Communion that stirs the soul. When the congregation comes together to participate in our worship, it’s a transcendent, Spirit-filled experience. Our goal each Sunday should be to worship as excellently as possible. If we do that, then the style we use won’t matter.
3 – People don’t want to witness our poor attempt at imitating the culture – Churches are often too eager to jump on the latest cultural trends in order to appear relevant. Rather than be true to who they are, they will adopt popular forms of worship, much like a parent trying to be cool by wearing their kids’ clothes. But people can see right through that. Rather than impressing people, the church often becomes laughable. At Crestwood, we should not try to be anyone other than who God created us to be. Rather than attempting to be Southland or Quest or Immanuel, we should be striving to be Crestwood. Guests to our worship can sniff out inauthentic attempts to be something we’re not, and they won’t be back. If we are genuine in our hospitality and our worship, people will appreciate that. There are plenty of churches out there trying to be “cool.” I think people are tired of that. Instead, they’re looking for a church that is faithful. Let’s be that church.
Finally, the key to any worship is to ground it in the word of God and the life-giving witness of Jesus Christ. Through our songs and prayers, scriptures and sermon, offering and communion, we boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that give joy and hope. That is who God is calling us to be, and God willing, that is what people experience when the worship with us each Sunday.