WHY WORSHIP IS CENTRAL TO CHURCH REVITALIZATION
There is little disagreement among Tennessee Baptists that we have churches in desperate need of revitilization. Reports are now telling us that 90% of our churches are either plateaued or declining. Now having pastors, other church leaders, or church members say, “Here’s one!” is a different matter. Strangely, it seems that there is a disconnect between recognizing a problem, and recognizing our problem. In other words, we have a very difficult time owning this issue of needing transformation in our own church. Yes, statistics tell us there is a problem in our churches. However, I am hopeful that you, like I, desire an evaluative look beyond statistics. I am convinced that looking differently at these matters will yield far different results. The really difficult thing is that measurability is much less attainable when we begin to explore aspects like a change in the spirit of worship services, deepening relationships, meaningful fellowship, biblical follow-ship, and other characteristics that are much more intangible. In the case of gathered worship it is in this less tangible arena that assessment takes place. Relentless numbers-minded folks will still turn to statistical measurements and rely first and foremost, if not solely, on questions answered by how many. How many attended? How many visitors? How many? How many? I was once working with a statistician on a worship project related to congregational singing involvement, and the first words from his mouth were, “How many are singing?” Please do not misunderstand. The “how many” questions are important and undoubtedly display some reflection on deeper matters. In matters of transformation and renewal, however, we simply must plough more deeply to try and discover more of the thick description, if you will, of what is happening among members of the congregation. Along the way, there may well be points at which we become dependent on what might be simply called, “a sense of things.” In the long run we may even find that some churches who show numerical strength are not necessarily experiencing renewal. Likewise we may find that some churches without significant numerical increase are nevertheless in the throes of great revival as the Spirit takes hold in the spiritual transformation His people.
This is where music and response and participation come into the picture. Worship music leaders may not be able to definitively say following a worship service, this many or that many people were singing. They may not be able to numerically compare one week’s experience to the next. With heightened awareness and timely questions, however, those responsible for planning and leading in worship services are quite likely to be able to offer some sense of the spirit of congregational worship. Most important, these same leaders including preaching pastors and music leaders can make comparisons as to how well a congregation is following admonitions of God’s Word. Pastors and Worship Ministry leaders should be relentlessly attentive to the design of biblical corporate worship, and provide some grasp of how well a congregation is participating in that worship. By expanding this group of assessors to include other staff ministers, deacons and elders, and other church leadership for open and honest evaluation as to how a congregation is following the claims of Christ we may begin to get a stronger sense of where a church is in relation to being renewed.
Please note I am not saying that because a congregation raises its decibel level in its worship singing it is therefore in transformation. What I am saying, however, is that a congregation showing clear signs of renewed commitment to remaining true to biblical demands including faithful worship on terms and in ways revealed in God’s Word is a mark of renewal. And for those who question the centrality of worship in this question of revitalization of a church, consider these quotes from author, pastor, and theologian, Warren Wiersbe from his book, Real Worship: It Will Transform Your Life.
On the priority of worship in transformation:
Separation apart from worship can become (and usually does become) a brittle piety that breeds arrogance, legalism, and an isolation from both the world and the church that, in my thinking, is not biblical. (15)
I began to realize that evangelism divorced from true worhip can become merely a program tacked on an already overloaded ecclesiastical machine, or, even worse, a struggle for statistics and results. Isaiah became an evangelist after attending a worship service in the temple and seeing God ‘high and lifted up.’ Evangelism is an essential part of the church’s ministry, but it must be the result of worship, or it will not glorify God.” (16)
How did the missionary venture begin? Even Paul’s missionary call came to him while he was sharing in worship in the church at Antioch. When missions is divorced from worship, the human need can become more important than the divine glory.
Worship is at the center of everything that the church believes, practices, and seeks to accomplish. (17)
Genuine revitalization in our churches will center in genuine Christian worship. Furthermore, genuine renewal of the church’s worship is a sure sign reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit of God.