The statistics are telling. George Barna, founder of a research firm that studies religious beliefs and behaviors of Americans, surveyed regular churchgoers. He found that 14% of adult believers have never experienced the presence of God. 14% have experienced God’s presence but not in the past year, while 72% have encountered God within the past year. Sobering news for churches: about 50% report not experiencing God’s presence in a “typical worship service.”
In The 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase notes, “Vibrant,
fruitful, growing churches offer Passionate Worship that connects people to God and to one another. People gather consciously as the Body of Christ with eagerness and expectancy; encounter Christ through singing, prayer, Scripture, preaching and Holy Communion; and respond by allowing God’s Spirit to shape their lives. Lives shaped by God’s Spirit become the nucleus for congregations with extraordinary warmth, graciousness and belonging. People are searching for worship that is authentic, alive, creative and comprehensible, where they experience the life-changing presence of God in the presence of others. Worship is the most likely point of first contact the unchurched have with a congregation, and in some churches, many visitors do not find genuine warmth, a premium on excellence, or a message presented in a form that engages them.”
So how can our churches offer worship experiences that excite the love of God in churchgoers and open their hearts to God’s presence?
In March, leadership teams from eight NCCUMC churches delved into that challenge, embracing the tenant that “worship is not just about an event – it is a lifestyle.” To Phil Maynard, creator of SHIFT, “great worship” is the vehicle that moves us from viewing worship as an event to experiencing it, in its fullness, as a lifestyle. Utilizing probing questions and offering new ways to plan and execute creative, engaging worship experiences, SHIFT frees participants to innovate. Of particular importance is thorough planning — across all worship elements — to develop a strong, central message for each worship experience and to connect with the community the church is serving.
At the end of the day, leadership teams were enthused and thinking of
implementation. Allen Lamm, from Evansdale UMC in Wilson, feels that discussions “opened up our eyes to the possibilities that sometimes we miss…of the things you could be doing to improve worship, the things you could be doing to improve the guest experience, the things you could be doing to reach people. SHIFT helps you become aware of those things.”
Mary Jones, also from Evansdale, says that her group “looked at things that we were already doing that were done well and ways that we can improve.”
Dan Baer, pastor of St. Luke UMC in Goldsboro, believes the focus “helped St. Luke become more aware of how to become more engaged in our worship style and to let people leave here with God as their Head.”
If your church would like to become involved in the next SHIFT Coaching Network, please contact Steve Taylor @ firstname.lastname@example.org.