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