In their latest research on worship, the Barna Group asked a random sample of church goers what they experienced at church. The highest experience, at 68%, was that they felt that they were cared for. Next, at 66%, was that attendees connected with God. Close on the heels was the experience of gaining new insight (61%). Only 26%, however, believed that their life had been changed by attending church.
What is the purpose of corporate worship and how is it best defined and measured? I'm not sure something as holy and supernatural as worship can be defined or measured. The Bible typically uses metaphors to describe great truths and the metaphor most often used for worship is journey. The typical narrative describes worshippers moving from their current location into the presence of God and then returning as transformed creatures.
Like most journeys the road can be treacherous and difficult to navigate without some kind of guidance. I believe that it is the responsibility of pastors and worship leaders to serve as guides on the journey of worship. With advance planning, prayer, and execution, every worship service can be designed to guide attendees from their community into the throne room of God and then return to their sphere of influence as transformed creatures.
As on any journey there are many methods of transport. Unfortunately in corporate worship we typically only rely on a few—preaching, music, and prayer. While these may be tried and true there are dozens of other powerful tools for worship. If we as pastors and worship teams would add elements such as scripture reading, silent meditation, drama, collections, recitation of mission and beliefs, communion, visual arts, testimonies and tactile experiences we might discover that more of our worshippers will have a successful journey.
Of course this all takes advance planning. In order to invigorate worship teams, pastors should have the theme and main point of their sermon message ready to go weeks in advance of the service. Pastors who use a sermonic calendar are able to plan months in advance. This allows the worship planners time to develop a well thought out and executed road map for worship.
Yet pastors and worship leaders are only guides on the journey. The attendees themselves must walk the journey— there are no vicarious worship experiences! We need to coach, guide, and instruct our parishioners in the personal journeys they make during the week in preparation for the corporate journey. And we must teach our congregants how they can take their transformational experience back into their worlds
Why do people go to church? For many reasons, some of which may be appropriate and others may be totally unrealistic. It is my vision that at the top of the list of expectations is experiencing a corporate journey into the presence of God, and returning to transform their communities.
Dave Gemmell is associate ministerial secretary for the North American Division. This article appeared in the March 2012, Best Practice issue.