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“Worship Services for the Twenty-First Century”
by Tom Goodman
January 6, 2005

Welcome to 2005, leadership partners!  We’re halfway through the first decade of the twenty-first century!  So, how are we doing at using the cultural forms of the twenty-first century to connect people to God?  I found the following article very helpful, and I think you’ll find it thought-provoking, too.  Pray for Gene and me as we put together weekly worship experiences for the twenty-first century!


“Stirring the Waters”
by Ed Stetzer

Churches can be revitalized.  Hundreds turn around every year and succeed—however, thousands more try and do not!  Churches that need revitalization need to ask why they are stagnant in the first place.  It’s amazing but consistent—churches that need to grow think they can do it without change!  The problem is, if they keep doing things the same way, they’ll have the same results.

Instead, most churches need to be led to embrace change if they are to see different results.  I’ve had the privilege of leading some churches to change and grow, and I always start by encouraging people to care for the lost more than they care for their own comfort—to embrace change because it helps them to be more effective at reaching their community.  Change is often needed to be more effective.  People resist change, but if people can see that change will produce growth, they are often more open.

As a pastor or an on-mission church leader, you probably already know that something has to be different today to see different results tomorrow.  But what changes are needed to put your church back on the growth path?

Churches often rediscover their passion for God and His mission by examining their worship.  In many cases, the worship of the church was once meaningful but has since lost its cultural relevance.  Younger families may no longer find it “worshipful” to sing “here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I come,” so they leave for other places.  Also, unbelievers may find themselves uncomfortable, not at the preaching and content of the Word, but with the expressions and cultural forms of worship.  So, for many churches, the first concern is the worship and how it can both honor God and connect with the community.

Worship cannot be the end of the refocusing process, but it’s a good beginning.  When we create a God-centered and culturally appropriate worship service, it helps us to begin the process of seeking God for other changes that also need to come.

Kevin Hamm has led Valley View Baptist Church from a declining church of 300 to a vibrant congregation of more than 2,000 in Louisville, Kentucky.  The church baptized 221 last year—a far cry from seven years ago when they used buckets to catch the leaks in the sanctuary, because they could not afford to fix the roof.  Pastor Hamm explained the turnaround this way:  “We worked from the premise that worship is the front door of the church.  So we spent the whole year looking at our worship service without expending energy trying to draw in visitors.  After that first year, we had our worship settled, and we started to reach out to the community.”

On three occasions I asked the members of stagnant churches to go visit the area’s fastest growing evangelical churches.  Every member returned wanting some of what they saw!  Pastors and church leaders can tell the story all day, but a live picture is worth a thousand words.  My favorite part of church revitalization is to hear the reports of longtime church members who, after visiting other churches, come back saying, “The Church changed, and nobody told us.”

Think of this as an exercise in reconnaissance, like the spies in the book of Numbers, but in this case they’re scoping out what the challenges are as well as what God is doing in healthy, growing churches.  It’s a great assignment and adventure for on-mission laypeople who are dedicated to revitalizing their church.

You may not find what you think.  According to Ellison Research, “churches moving toward more contemporary worship styles are outpacing those moving to more traditional styles by an 11-to-1 margin; however, this does not mean it will be effective everywhere.  Many emerging churches are embracing more liturgical forms of worship while many churches are finding that Southern Gospel music helps them to relate in their context.  As you start the journey to evangelistic effectiveness, be willing for God to stretch you in new ways.”

If your community is most effectively reached in a blended traditional service, then learn from the other churches and do it well.  If it’s contemporary and your church is really willing to do what it takes, then make the shift.

After you’ve visited the worship services of a few growing churches, it’s time to ask each other some questions:

o  What are these churches doing, and why is it working?
o  What is our church doing, and why is it not working?
o  What can we learn?
o  What can we try?
There’s no more powerful apologetic for change than to see a church, very different from yours, that’s reaching people when yours is not.  This enables your church to take the first steps to a more culturally relevant and evangelistically effective worship—often a change that leads to revitalization.

This article is from the Winter 2005 edition of our North American Mission Board’s magazine, On Mission.  It’s the first of five things the author says a church needs to do to revitalize.  He plans to cover the other four in future editions of On Mission.  I’ve abridged the article for LeaderLines, but you can find the longer version it online at  www.onmission.com/webzine/winter05/stirring_the_waters.htm.

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