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But Contemporary Worship Brings People to Jesus! … Right?

Homily on Homage

Did you know that we’re supposed to do work in corporate worship?

I didn’t for the longest time either, having grown up in the middle of the church growth movement. As far as I could tell, the point of “worship” was to get as many butts in the seats as possible, mesmerize them with a theatrical production of bright lights and shiny objects. You know, the latest and greatest in Jesusy entertainment. And then, we bait-and-switch them with the gospel at the end.

At some point, we decided that the worship service was the best venue for evangelism. After all, if we can just make things interesting enough, funny enough, dynamic enough and entertaining enough, we can really pack ‘em in. So, put together a mini-concert, followed by a speaker who knows how to get the crowd energized, mix in a few things about Jesus and you’re set.

Even our language has changed dramatically, as we’ve learned to borrow more from our entertainment culture. Instead of a sanctuary, a place of refuge, we have an auditorium. Instead of chancels and platforms, we have stages. We have performers and an audience. Churches are now hiring worship “producers.” Our music is entirely current and commercial.

We couldn’t possibly do anything else. We’d lose too many people.

To make matters worse, we’ve grown to like it ourselves. It’s nice to come to church and be entertained. Throw that liturgy out the window. I don’t want to work, I want to sit here and get fat off the spiritual carbs they put in front of me. And if the production value slips, I can always go down the road and find another fast-food church that fits me just right.

No longer are there opportunities for congregants to participate, other than singing along if they feel like it, as if they were singing “Roll Out the Barrel” at a Milwaukee Brewers’ seventh-inning stretch. We’ve lost the idea that we are gathered there for a sacred task, not in search of a good time.

And it’s cost us dearly. We don’t have the opportunity to be the people of God together anymore, reshaped by God’s gifts and molded by the Christian story.

And in case anyone is wondering, it hasn’t really helped the evangelistic cause in the long run, anyway. It’s still shrinking. See, when you compete with all other forms of entertainment—TV, movies, music, sports—you will lose. Those things are always more entertaining, at least to those who are looking to be entertained.

That doesn’t mean we lock our doors on Sunday morning. To the contrary, and this is the tricky part. Evangelism is always a byproduct of true Christian worship. The problem is that we thought we needed to be marketable to begin with. Along the way, we got caught up in illusions of grandeur, judging our evangelistic worth by the number of people we could squeeze in our buildings.

Cancel the Vaseline and shoehorn.

But the moment we turn from our task at hand to try and capitalize, we fall short again. Stanley Hauerwas says it well: “The difficulty with worship especially shaped to entertain those who are ‘new’ is not that it is entertaining but that the god who is entertained in such worship cannot be the Trinity.”

So back to David Crowder. Whether doing his songs or his hymn arrangements is a good thing, well, that’s up for discussion I suppose. But I don’t think answer can be, “It’s OK because it brings people to Jesus.”