Should We Make Church Less Weird?

Do you consider your church service weird?

Most of us church people don’t, because we are church people and it’s our service. And honestly, as church people, we are just comfortable with the weirdness. But when an unchurched person attends your church, odds are they will encounter a few things they consider strange, such as:

1. Worship

If your church sings songs about God, Jesus, Heaven, and the like, it is probably weird to outsiders. Imagine walking into a large room where people are collectively standing and singing songs about blood, healing, and praising an invisible God who we trust with our life even though he apparently is more concerned with being praised than giving us what we want. That’s what we sing. Come on… that’s strange.

2. Sitting and Standing (and maybe kneeling)

At most churches, we stand up at times, sit at others, and it’s nearly impossible to know which is which if you’re new. Weird. It can feel like a child in a dance recital who is always one step behind.

3. Responsive Reading

I’ve not participated in this for a while, but imagine being an unbeliever, being asked to repeat “truths” about a God you aren’t sure even exists? Strange.

4. Communion

Is it a mid-morning snack? Is it wine or juice? Not to be irreverent, but it’s weird.

5. Baptism

Maybe the weirdest of all! Adults allowing other adults to dunk them under water. That was fun in middle school, but as an adult? And if you wear robes, forget it! That’s even worse!

That’s only touching the surface. When we sit back and think about our church services, it’s pretty obvious that for an outsider or guests, experiencing what we consider normal can feel anything but.

So how do you make a church service friendly for an outsider without compromising the truth of Scripture or the traditions you hope to maintain? That’s the question, and here’s a few suggestions:

1. Emotionally connect the entire crowd up front.

There are many ways to accomplish emotional engagement. From secular music to games to comedy, emotionally connecting with the entire crowd breaks down barriers and creates an element of comfort. This is extremely important if we hope to take our audience on a journey throughout the service.

I wrote an entire blog on why we often sing secular songs to begin our services. You can read it here.

2. Be intentional in the welcome segment.

If it were up to me, every church would have a welcome element at or near the beginning of their church service. This is not announcement time … it’s a direct welcome for guests.

At Watermarke Church, we do this with a high degree of intentionality. Every week, we say basically the same thing. Copy it and take credit if you would like:

“Welcome to Watermarke Church. If you are here for the first time today – welcome. If a friend or family member invited you, I know they’re glad you came. My name is Gavin and I’m the Lead Pastor. Let me tell you a little about our church and what we are going to do together this morning. Our mission is simple: To lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus. This morning, we will be here for about an hour, we are going to sing a few songs. The words will be on the screens if you would like to sing along, and good news – if you have a terrible singing voice like me, the music will be loud enough that you can sing without offending the people around you! Also, we are in a message series called “Ask it.” If you like today’s message, you can watch any previous messages online at watermarkechurch.com/messages. Last thing: Today we are going to celebrate life change through baptism. Jamie is going to share a little of his story and then we are going to baptize him as a public display of his belief in Jesus. We’d love to talk to you about baptism if you have any questions after the service.”

Here’s the point: If you are going to stand up, tell people. If you are going to dunk people under water, explain why. If you are going to sing, give people permission to participate or simply tap their foot. Just tell people what to expect and how long to expect it. The welcome host serves as a navigator for the service, so navigate well.

3. Use everyday terminology. Amen!

At Watermarke, we use the term “music,” not “worship.” I realize that sounds like a theological slippery-slope to some, but if you are an outsider, worshipping a God you can’t see praising him for something you don’t yet believe is weird. So we use the term “sing a few songs,” not “worship our Heavenly Father.” I once heard someone leading music at a church say, “Let’s all stand up and chase after the heart of God.” I don’t even know how to do that!

We call the worship facility the “auditorium,” not the “sanctuary.” We don’t have a vestibule. If we did, we wouldn’t call it that publicly. We don’t say “progressive sanctification.” You get the point. Let’s talk in church like we talk in life, because being normal is helpful and accepting.

4. Preach from a place of understanding.

Nothing is weirder to me than seeing a pastor take on a new, somewhat non-human persona from the pulpit. (Addition to # 3 – pulpit. Stop using that word). If you are a preacher, just be normal. Please. You don’t need to scream and run around the stage.

What removes the weirdness is when the people in the crowd can relate to you, your life, your struggles, and your hopes. Normal is engaging and helpful. So work hard to prepare messages that are relatable and applicable, and present them like you would in your office talking to a friend.

5. Dress like the people in the community.

If everyone in your area wears suits, then you should wear a suit at church. I live in a community that is pretty casual, so the Sunday attire of choice for me is typically jeans and dress shirt. I do have a sweet pair of red chinos, though, which make an appearance quarterly. My kids often wear football jerseys. Many in our church wear shorts and flip-flops. I’m okay with the shorts, but I have an aversion to man-toes. I think God feels the same way – about the shorts and toes.

I want people to feel comfortable, because dressing in funeral attire to attend church feels weird for an outsider. And the last thing I want them to remember is a funeral. That might have been the last time they stepped foot in church!

That’s probably just the tip of the weirdness iceberg. But my encouragement to you is simple: pay attention to how your church service is viewed by outsiders, and work hard to make it comfortable, inviting, and helpful. One great step is removing the weirdness.

Last though: If you can’t see your church through fresh eyes, invite fresh eyes to sit with you. It’s amazing how strange things begin to look when you are sitting beside an unchurched friend.

What am I missing? How have you maintained the truth of Scripture while removing the obstacles of weirdness? I’d love to hear in the comments below, and please share this around so we can get more advice!

  4Comments

  1. Gavin Adams   •     Author

    Jared, that’s a great question. Maybe we should create another post around this idea.

    Personally (as a Ga Tech fan), I think the barking is just abnormal and I cannot imagine anyone wanting to be join that group!!! That aside… there is power in our desire to belong. And the church can really leverage this desire effectively.

    I wonder if there is a way to leverage the desire to belong to something (like a group, or a church, or the body of Christ) without making the group look weird in the process. In college football, tradition is expected without the negative connotations. In church, most people seem to be walking around with a lot of baggage from previous weird experiences.

    But let’s be honest – we will NEVER remove all the weirdness. We are worshiping a God who we can’t see and celebrating a level of grace we can never fully understand. That’s weird. I just want to keep the weirdness to a healthy minimum and remove as many obstacles as possible (like our friends in the first century – Acts 15)

    • Jared Jones   •  

      Thanks for the reply! Yes, the college football analogy runs out quickly ;), however it also helps proves the point that by me wearing red and black and barking you immediately know that I’m a UGA fan. I don’t have to tell you I’m a UGA fan, or explain what any of it means, you just know. basically, people’s traditions/practices/symbols, especially the weird ones, are the markers that distinguish one group of people from others. it makes that group unique. it makes them “weird.” not necessarily in an unattractive way, but in a way that stands out.

      so, there are some things that in a worship service i hope feel “weird” to an unchurched attender. things that if we talked to them after the service and they said, “it was really weird to have everyone stand and read that confession together.” we would smile and respond, “Yeah, it is weird isn’t it? there’s a whole lot going on with that that I would love to explain sometime, but i totally understand you thinking that was weird.” and then just let it be.

      overall though, one thing i really appreciate about NP though is their understanding that we are not in Christendom anymore (Toto). Defining our terminology where we need to, (and changing it when needed, as well!) is a necessary and beneficial thing today. We need to re-explain and re-interpret our “words” (theology, doctrine, beliefs) rather than just assume everyone knows them or everyone has the context for them.

      Additionally, I wonder if there’s a way to do this with some of the traditions of the church’s worship throughout Church history. updating hymns is a great, simple example of this. taking songs many people know from childhood and reimagining them by putting them to the music of our day. these words sound “weird” to modern people (“here I raise my Ebenzer”? what is an Ebenezer??), but yet they aren’t necessarily unattractive because they’re re-interpreted through common music. in the same vein, i wonder if there’s a whole world of tradition, liturgy, and practice that we could try to bring into the modern church, rather than being content to leaving it in church history as something Christians “used to do.”

      Ok, i’m done. thanks for the reply. I love what you guys are doing, and I think it comes at a time when we need leaders in the church who read culture well and read Scripture well. Maybe I’m just contending that we may be missing out if we’re not reading the Church (both past AND present) well, also.

      thanks for the blog! thanks for all you do.

      😉

      • Gavin Adams   •     Author

        Jared, you asked a great question; “I wonder if there’s a way to do this with some of the traditions of the church’s worship throughout Church history.” I think there is – by simply explaining what you are doing. Not to oversimplify it, but what’s is weird is what is unexplained. Singing about blood and a cross is weird, but singing about it after being told why we think it matters removes a lot of weirdness!

        I think it will always be difficult to decide what to modernize, what to leave behind, and what to bring along unchanged. In my mind, there’s a pretty small list in the latter category, but that would only be on man’s opinion!

  2. Jared Jones   •  

    This is great! Quick follow-up question: what things in church do you think should feel weird? Or should anything at all?

    For instance, going to a UGA game as an outsider, its certainly “weird” that people are barking at each other or wearing red and black, but that’s also part of the charm and part of the “culture” that you are attracted to and want to return to. Its almost like the “weirdness” of that should just be left where it is…as weird.

    So, to re-ask the question: which parts of church (if any) you think should feel weird to an outsider and be kept as “weird”?

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