Do Our Worship Experiences Miss the Point?

What is it that really constitutes a great worship experience?

To me, the word “experience” doesn’t do justice to our gatherings.

When I think of experience, I think of my family’s recent trip to Disney World. Man, that was an experience. It was an experience lugging two toddlers around the enchanted streets. It was an experience buying a $10 turkey leg. It was quite the experience seeing the castle lit up at night with fireworks all around. It was memorable. It was fun. Was it life changing? Hardly.

I’ll remember Disney. It was a unique family memory. But nothing about that experience will prepare me to live for Jesus and speak of Jesus and magnify Jesus in a dark world.

And that is what I feel our worship “experiences” are truly for. We gather not to have a memorable experience. We gather to be changed.

Changed … by the living Word of God.

Changed … to be sent out and live for Jesus in our communities.

Changed … by giving praise to the One who is worthy of all adoration.

Worship Is Transformational

It’s more than an experience.

We don’t gather for information but transformation.

It’s not enough to be entertained by a band. It’s not enough to be inspired by a talented worship leader. It’s not enough to sing your favorite songs.

It’s not enough for worship services to be a form of escapism from reality. If anything, they should prepare us to love Jesus in the midst of life’s realities.

Think about this: Christ died …

“So that he might sanctify her [the church] having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:26-27).

Worship leader, as you lead, think about this verse. Labor to present your church to Christ, not to steal their affections for yourself. Labor to root their faith in more than a powerful, energizing experience.

We all know what happens when our faith is merely experiential, celebrity-driven or a chasing of the latest fad: Faith falls away when life is shaken. I have numerous friends whose fire once burned bright for the glory of God. I remember the conversations about reaching the nations, giving it all, going for broke. But many of those people are no longer following Jesus. It was an experiential faith—faith based on experiences: a feeling.

Our worship, our preaching, our services need to go deeper.

We need to view our worship planning through the lens of transformation.

The Problem With “Experiences”

The problem with the “experience” focus is that we focus on inspiring people with our excellence. We have a desire to “wow” people with our talent and production. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, except that’s not enough to categorize something as “church.”

Does our production prepare people to truly live for Jesus?

If our worship services aren’t preparing people for the storms of life, what are they doing?

If they aren’t helping to anchor people to the Rock of Ages, what are they doing?

I understand the semantics of this. Most of us when we say “experience” refer to people having a life changing encounter with the Holy Spirit that will influence how they live for Jesus on Monday morning. I get that. But we can often stray far away from our ideals.

I simply want to offer a challenge in all our worship service planning.

Worship leaders, how can you lead people to Jesus and not just to an awe of your talents?

Preachers, how can you produce a congregation of people who learn how to feed themselves with God’s Word Monday through Saturday?  

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David Santistevan
David is a Worship Pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, PA.

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