The Attractional Movement: Next Steps
It is important to stress the fact that most Christians want to worship well. There are sanctuaries, school auditoriums, warehouses, living rooms, open fields, and a myriad of other venues where Christians are faithfully coming together, week after week, to offer God something of themselves. I believe God greatly approves of this. The heart of the Father is blessed by the faithfulness of his children to come together to be with Him, but the heart of the Father is also continually wooing us to greater, more mature places in our understandings and practices of worship.
Much of the pain that was experienced during the conflicts over worship styles in recent decades has dealt primarily with one generation perceiving the message, “you’re doing it wrong” from another. If a group of believers are faithfully and honestly coming before God with halfway decent intentions, I don’t think they can get worship “wrong.” Yet, no matter our worship style, theological approach, or longevity of tradition, we can always grow in our approaches to worship. This doesn’t mean that we are always throwing away the old for the new, but there should be consistently something new, challenging, and stretching amidst our current worship approaches. With this in mind, we should be able to recognize that our current efforts in worship are most likely good and pleasing to God, but instead of being satisfied with stable sufficiency, we must recognize we have the honor and opportunity to ask, “What’s next?”
The Attractiveness of Worship
Should worship be attractive to those outside our congregations? I believe, to a large degree, it should be. The words of Jesus in John 12:32 cause me to wonder about this. “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” I know Jesus is referring to his death here (see the next verse), but I wonder if there more to this statement. Will the Holy Spirit draw unbelievers to the Lord as we lift him up? In worship, our goal should never be to impress people, but in generous hospitality, we should welcome newcomers into the weekly gathering of our incredible God and his awestruck people. The shift here for many of us is not so much in practice, but intention. Instead of a primary attentiveness to outsiders or new participants, we are primarily focused on interacting, abiding, and being with God. Our aims at hospitality are quite important, but they are secondary. This follows the basic pattern of the first and second greatest commandments (Matthew 22:38-39). When God is the primary goal and aim of worship, our relationship with God and outsiders should bear greater and greater fruit.
What many of us have found over the last few years is that the truly attractional aspect of worship is God himself. He is the one wooing, attracting, healing, speaking, helping, and doing a myriad of other things that will always outshine our ability to impress. If Jesus is uniquely present in our gatherings and He is truly the most attractive part of our worship, perhaps we should be spending more time focusing on Him and giving him space to be displayed. I believe God has been pleased with our heart for the lost and our desire to see people come to know Jesus, but some of our attention simply needs to be refined a bit. Part of this refining is experimenting with practices that cause us to be first God-focused and then people-focused. Refining our approaches to worship in this way, while not throwing away our concern for the outsider, will allow us to grow into this wonderful new season of spiritual maturation and relationship with Him.
How do we get there? How do we begin to refine our current worship cultures? If I was to tell you I had six simple steps to increase your worship potency, I would be lying. Instead, I have a few hunches as to how to take those first initial steps down the path of Spirit-led transformation. First is prayer. If we are longing for something more substantial in our times of worship, we should ask. Second, intentional discipleship must play a key role. We need to learn, experience, and grow in our understanding of God, the Bible, and worship itself. We also need to make room. We have to be willing to give up some of our past worship habits in order to mature and grow. As well, we need to involve others. Engaging in holy conversation with those inside and outside our congregations is healthy. Corporate change seldom happens without some level of corporate discernment. Lastly, we have to be willing to fail. Excellence is a word used quite a bit when designing worship services. This is appropriate, but we have to be willing to take risks, and learn from those things that did not go well. It is possible to fail excellently as long as we grow and change from our experiences.