A few days ago, I was talking with some of my students at Asbury University about worship planning. One of the students mentioned that when putting together a worship service with their worship team, someone inevitably raises the point that they need to be mindful of “the other 5%.” The 5% she speaks of are those who do not come into the church with the same knowledge and background of the other 95%. In other words, those 5% are the visitors. (These percentages aren’t exact statistics, just examples she used to make a point.) This student then asked me how I approach this concern.
To begin with, I want to note that the “other 5%” are important. Nothing pleases church leadership more than to see unfamiliar faces becoming familiar faces. The church certainly has an obligation of hospitality to those who darken our doorways.
However, I want to offer some further thoughts I have been wrestling with for consideration:
1.) Most visitors likely have a basic understanding of Christianity/the church
Christianity in America is on a rapid decline. Those number of those who claim to be Christian is steadily decreasing, and even more so is church attendance. Hundreds if not thousands of churches are being shut down yearly due to lack of funding, lack of attendance, or consolidation with other congregations.
As for churches that are seeing an increase of visitors, these visitors usually fall within two types of groups: 1) those attending because of a personal invitation by a friend; 2) those attending because they are shopping around (for whatever reason) for a new church. Statistics have shown that less than one percent of visitors attend church because they woke up that morning simply feeling compelled to go to church, or they woke up sensing a deep conviction of their sin, seeking a place to repent. (I apologize for not including citations. A good friend passed these stats to me and I failed to write down the source.)
If this be the case, most likely visitors in our churches enter with some basic knowledge of Christianity. Perhaps those attending because of a personal invitation do not, but they at least have come because of someone who does.
2.) When did 5% of people start deciding 100% of worship?
There has been a trend in worship over the past 30 years to be more seeker-friendly and appealing (though we use the word relevant) to those either outside of the faith or burnt out with the church.
Over and over again, I have seen or heard about churches make decisions on the content of worship based on the 5% that might be entering their doors. They don’t want to confuse or offend visitors. One commen statement used in this approach is, “Well, what if visitors don't understand or have questions?”
My response – Good! Let them have questions! If someone steps into our church and attends worship for the very first time and they don’t have questions, we are probably doing something wrong.
Worship by nature should proclaim something very opposite from what the world proclaims. It holds all other powers and principalities as subjective to Christ. Furthermore, as I said in an earlier post, worship is relevant to every life. It doesn’t need to be made so.
Let us look again at some of the sources I quoted in that same post:
“Worship will eventually be subversive of the surrounding culture, God’s truth transforms lives… Worship inverts values, habits, ideas as it forms our character… The worship response of service includes and demands social action leading to social change” (Marva Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, 52, 72).
“The worship of Yahweh creates a world of justice, mercy, peace, compassion…this is the real world, created in the moment of liturgy, which asserts that every rival claimant and candidate for the real world is false and destructive. Thus doxology is polemical because it means to uncreate – disestablish other worlds and affirm this is a better world” (Walter Bruggemann, Israel’s Praise: Doxology Against Idolatry and Ideology 53).
If we agree with Dawn and Bruggemann, we must acknowledge that authentic worship will raise questions. True worship, a true revelation of the glory of God, will constantly raise questions for 100% of people. Christian life then becomes about journeying and seeking answers together, encouraging one another in the faith, and holding one another accountable to Christ-like ways of living.
However, in the quest to appeal to the 5%, do we begin to eliminate some important questions? Perhaps one fundamental question has been ignored – who is the worship for?
3.) Take personal interest
So, what do we do? As worship leaders, do we continue to design services focused on getting a certain response from the congregation? Do we focus on the praise of God to the point of shunning the people in our context as well as the visitors in our midst? Or is there something more?
I continue to wrestle with this, and by no means do I feel I have the answers. However, I can speak from my own convictions on the matter.
What we can do as the church is take more personal interest in this 5% instead of relying on worship to do it all for us. We can offer to take a visitor out to lunch after the service, ask if they have any questions and be willing to answer and/or discuss them together. We can get to know our visitor's stories, learning about their past and discovering what brought them to church. That's pretty simple, and probably is a common practice.
Understanding that pretty much 0% of people just show up to church on their own volition, the need for personal invitation to church is strong. We are often afraid unchurched people won't "like" or "get" church. Don’t expect worship to just magically draw them in. In fact, you might even expect it to repel them. But know that’s not a bad thing. It just means you need to talk with them more, explain more, let them ask questions and wrestle through their issues.
As a final thought, maybe the church as a whole needs to stop looking at conversion as a decision, but more as a process. This idea is a discussion to dive into further at another time, but I do wonder how much the drive for "making a decision" in worship has hurt American Christianity. What do we lose when we cease to take ongoing personal interest in the initiation and incorporation of individuals into the community of the Church?
Perhaps we lose people. We lose them because they do not meet the Triune God in worship, standing in awe of His presence. We lose them because we have not taught them the Gospel message and what it means to live new lives repentant of sin. Or maybe we lose them because they just weren’t happy with the font we used for the song slides, so they decided to look for a new church.