Intersection of Life and Faith

Don't "Dumb Down" Worship

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • 2002 15 Feb
Don't "Dumb Down" Worship
Some churches will do whatever it takes to attract new people. But if they focus their worship services on people rather than on God, they're not letting people truly encounter Him.

Here are some ways churches can design the type of worship services that help people experience more of God's presence:

  • Focus more on praising God than on seeking to meet people's felt needs. If a church becomes a place people attend because of what's in it for them, members become self-centered rather than God-centered. Help people learn more about God, and He will meet their deepest needs as they draw close to Him.

  • Include elements of different ways of worshipping God into the same service to give people a taste of God's fullness and enable all types of people to draw close to Him. Be evangelical, charismatic and sacramental together - preach sermons based directly on the Bible, invite the Holy Spirit to participate in worship and celebrate sacraments such as communion frequently.

  • Don't try to limit the worship service to follow a prescribed agenda simply to be efficient. If the Holy Spirit leads people to worship a few minutes longer than one hour, people should have the opportunity to respond. If God moves during prayer time and encourages the congregation to pray more deeply about something, they should be able to do so.

  • Don't hype worship services as simply upbeat times of celebration. While there should be great joy in genuine worship, there should also be opportunities to confront life's sorrows and seek God's healing for them in deep, honest ways. People need to know how to form a bond with God that will last them not just through happy times, but also times of suffering.

  • When planning music, seek to communicate the substance of the faith rather than to entertain people. Both contemporary and traditional music can present either deep or shallow messages. Pay more attention to what songs say about God than their style. Include music of different styles into the same worship service to speak to all types of people rather than polarizing them on the basis of their personal tastes.

  • Make sure worship helps people build the kind of character God wants them to have. Constantly ask how a particular worship service is revealing God's attributes to the congregation. Include time for people to confess their sins and ask the Holy Spirit to transform them more into the people God wants them to be.

  • Give people a sense of how awesome God is by worshipping Him with reverence. Don't portray God simply as a friend with whom people can chat; let them know that He is God of the universe as well.

  • Allow and encourage church members to help present the worship service. Be creative. There are many opportunities for people to contribute, such as by crafting pottery to use in communion, reading Scripture passages in dramatic ways and helping to produce bulletins or devotional pamphlets for each week.

  • Warmly welcome everyone from the surrounding community into a worship service. Work proactively to make sure that people whom society overlooks - such as disabled and elderly people - are noticed and encouraged by church members. Foster a sense of genuine community within worship.

  • Don't try to make people feel comfortable or even cozy in worship. Worship should shake people up as they encounter God's holiness, and incite a passion in their hearts to grow in holiness themselves.

Adapted from Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for this Urgent Time, copyright 1995 by Marva J. Dawn. Published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich.,, 1-800-253-7521.

Marva J. Dawn is a theologian, author and educator with Christians Equipped for Ministry, Vancouver, Wash., and Teaching Fellow in Spiritual Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

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