What Are We Doing Here?
I came across a study a few years ago that changed the way I think about church. It wasn’t Barna or Pew – which both regularly release studies showing the decline in church attendance especially among younger generations. Those are scary enough.
But this terrified me.
It was a study posted by researcher, Christian A. Schwarz, showing that the longer we remain in church the less spiritually active we become. In his words: “There is a “negative correlation” between the number of years that a person is a Christian and a member of a church, and 35 qualities that contribute, according to our research, to church health (three of them are displayed in the diagram below) In order to fully grasp the explosive character of these findings, it may be helpful to translate them into plain English: The longer people are Christians (and church members), the weaker their spirituality, commitment, and eagerness to grow.” (https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=1850236378432876&set=a.139419172847947)
Certainly you’ve seen this play out. It’s why the youth group isn’t allowed in the Jones Memorial Parlor. And why “I’m all for change, pastor, as long as you don’t go messin’ with worship.”
I believe the goal for Christians is to grow up to be more like Jesus. Matthew called it discipleship. Paul called it transformation. James and John used language of perseverance. Wesley called it sanctification.
It’s why Jesus sent out the 12. It’s why he made them pass out the bread and fish. It’s why he called Peter out on the water. And it’s why he told them they’d do even greater things.
It’s why middle-schoolers have math homework and shoot free-throws and practice kissing their hand. We learn by doing.
And what do we do at church? Stand, sit, be quiet, and pretend we didn’t just spend all morning screaming at the kids to get ready for church. To be fair, every church I’ve ever attended also did a lot of great ministry and discipleship beyond Sunday morning worship. The problem is in the numbers. Most folks don’t do it. Most folks just do worship.
So it’s time we start messin’ with worship. It can no longer be a spectator’s sport. We pastors have to stop idolizing the sermon as the pinnacle of worship and begin coaching people how to practice their faith.
What if instead of pastoral prayer, we gave time for folks to pray. If instead of a 40 minute sermon, we made it 20 followed by reflection? What if we started assigning homework (a good friend calls homework missional benedictions) and giving time in worship to reflect on it? What if the the whole sermon was really just a prelude to… wait for it… the service?