Worship as Evangelism?

Here is the first of a few excerpts from the condensed version of Jeff Meyer’s The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal.

Why Go To Church on Sunday?

When you come together as a church. . .
1 Corinthians 11:18

What is the purpose of our Lord’s Day assembly? Why do we come to a church service on Sunday? The answer to this crucial question will help explain why certain words and actions are included in the church’s worship and also determine the way in which the service is ordered from beginning to end.

Unfortunately, there are serious disagreements about the purpose of Sunday worship. There are at least four different popular perspectives on the purpose of the Sunday worship service.

Worship as Evangelism?

First, some feel that the purpose of the service ought to be evangelism. Many “independent” and “community” churches tend to adopt this view, although more and more Presbyterian and Reformed churches also think that outreach defines the chief purpose of the Sunday service. Accordingly, worship becomes a technique for evangelism.

Too often, according to this view, results are what counts. The worship service is then evaluated based on the results obtained. At its worst, a church that adopts this posture may end up accepting whatever techniques that it judges to be effective in attracting unchurched people into the service. Churches that choose evangelistic effectiveness as the criteria by which they evaluate their services tend to look for ways to attract and entertain people, and they generally model their services after the broader cultural events (T.V. talk shows, concerts, sitcoms, etc.).

It is important to stop and note that these pop “styles” are not neutral. They embody a distinctly American, 20th century world view. Transforming the worship of the church using these cultural “styles” and the latest technological innovations in communication will affect the mindset and lifestyle of the community which submits to these popular “forms.” Form matters. Style = form. The manner in which doctrine is embodied, communicated, lived, and sung is not neutral. Form is not something entirely “indifferent” (adiaphora). The way we pray/worship is inexorably related to who we are praying to and what we believe about the one we engage in prayer and praise. Style (form) and doctrine are mutually conditioning. Or at least they ought to be. What you believe will influence how you pray, worship, and sing. And conversely, the way in which you worship will impact what you believe. I maintain that we have really not thought through this issue at all in our circles. When we say things like, “I am not concerned with the music style just the doctrine” or “musical style is merely a matter of taste, what’s really important is our confession” or “as long as you believe correctly it doesn’t really matter what style of worship you choose,” I think it is frightening evidence of our sloppy theology of worship and music.

These evangelism-driven church services are very carefully engineered to produce the desired results. Ed Dobson describes the seeker church criteria for music selection:

We wanted a musical style that would elicit a response. Unchurched people come to a service hesitantly. Their mind-set is ‘you’re not going to get me.’ Their defenses are up. We felt that a style of music that would get them moving in a physical way (nodding heads and tapping feet) would help break down their defenses. This does not mean that the crowd are on their feet nodding heads and clapping; they seldom clap during a song, but they always applaud at the end (Starting a Seeker Sensitive Service: How Traditional Churches Can Reach the Unchurched [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993], pp. 42f.).

There you have it: “breaking down their defenses” and the crowds always “applaud at the end.” You see how marketing and emotional manipulation often play key roles in determining the shape of these services. The inside of the church may look and feel like a concert hall (with a large band and choir up front), a movie theater (where everything is projected up onto a large screen), or an auditorium (with a “stage” up front). Typically, during the service the people are relatively passive: they function less like a congregation of active worshipers and more like an audience. Generally speaking, what happens in practice in these churches is that most of the traditional forms are jettisoned, and the church unashamedly embraces the dominant and omnipresent entertainment models so prominent in American culture.

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