One of the things that I have noticed about contemporary Christian ministry is there is disagreement over the purpose and aim of Sunday worship services. The two options for the focus are:
- Christians who are part of that Christian community.
- Non-Christians who will hopefully visit the church, either as an invited guest or their own initiative.
Depending on what we see as our guiding philosophy, this will have a major impact on how those worship services look like. Although I generally consider worship to be the entire service, for the remainder of this post, I will use worship to refer to music, responsive readings, prayers, etc.
Purpose of Worship
If the target audience of a church are non-Christians, there may be a de-emphasis on worship. There may be less songs and it may be more performance-oriented. This is not a criticism. Such churches acknowledge that worshiping God will be foreign to people who do not yet know Jesus. The best we can do is present a well done musical performance that will hopefully touch the people. It is more likely to be a passive experience.
If the target audience are Christians, it will look much different. Then the goal would be for the people of God to worship that God. There would be an expectation of active participation through congregational singing and other means. The worship would take place in the context of a relationship with God.
Purpose of Preaching
What does preaching look like if Sundays are aimed at non-Christians? This can manifest in two ways. One is to have every sermon have an evangelistic focus, often with an option to respond to the call of salvation through an altar call or prayer. It could also take a seeker sensitive approach, preaching on felt needs, avoiding any deep theology and not making many references to the Bible. If the preacher is assuming that the people have little to no Bible knowledge, this will shape how these sermons look.
If the the focus is on Christians, then preaching may have more of a teaching component. The preacher may demonstrate how different passages fit together and may make some assumptions about familiarity with the major stories of the Bible. The application will look different as well. Instead of attempting to get people to make an initial commitment to Jesus or to take some baby steps toward considering faith, the purpose of the message may be in the area of discipleship and becoming better followers of Jesus.
Where I Land
I need to say that there are churches that do both of these and are successful. I have no interest in telling one church or pastor to stop one way and follow another.
Having said that, I do need to choose the direction of my ministry. Based on my reading of Acts and other early Christian writings, it seems to me that the Christian worship meetings were focused on followers of Jesus worshiping God and of learning about Jesus through teaching.
That is not to say that the early church was any less evangelistic. There is a reason why the church grew so fast, people were very open to sharing their faith. But I don’t see that evangelistic activity taking place in worship services. Rather it was through relationships within the community.
My focus for my church is to encourage us together to worship God in an active rather than passive manner. I also take Sundays as an opportunity to teach the Bible and develop some theological understanding. I am both evangelistic and seeker sensitive in my own way. If the text calls for a response to the call of salvation, I preach it. I also am aware that not everyone (including Christians) knows the biblical and theological jargon, so I try to translate without dumbing down the content.
Will this stunt the churches growth in terms of people coming to know Jesus? I don’t think so. I believe that if I put my energy into discipling Christians, together we can be more effective than if I just focus on the one or two non-Christians who may show for a service.
What about you? Who does your church target?