I live at the world-epicenter of Evangelical "seeker-sensitive" worship in Orange County, California. The whole area is "Purpose Driven," if you know what I mean. That is interesting enough to experience, but what I find equally intriguing are the Reformed anti "seeker-sensitive" churches I have attended. They are so seeker-insensitive that even I leave church with a rash!
This all begs the question, "who is worship for?" It seems everyone is split into one of three camps - worship is either, a) for God, b) for Christians, or c) for seekers / non-Christians. Historic / traditionalist / Reformed churches tend to choose options A/B, charismatic / pentecostal churches trend toward options B/C, and Evangelical / baptistic churches are increasingly settled on option C. This is why baptistic / Evangelical churches are "feeder" churches to other traditions - and why other traditions experience little or no conversion growth.
I am convinced that biblical worship is actually for God, Christians, AND seekers. It is for glorifying God through our praise, prayers, communion, and giving. It is for Christians who need to be renewed again to the Gospel by confession of sin, the cleansing and consecration of the Word, the communion with God and neighbor, and the commissioning of God into the world. But it is ALSO for the non-Christian seekers who are converted by the preaching of the word and call of the Gospel in the midst of God's redeemed people.
One of the reasons Reformed churches don't grow without so-called "transfer growth" is because they don't get this at all. Here are my suggestions for Reformed folks to consider as they wrestle with the threefold "audience" of worship:
- Music is H.U.G.E. - It is okay to contemporize old texts into more popular / accessible music. It has taken me a long, long time to come to this. You have to realize I am a classically trained pianist for over 20 years, so I have a huge elitist-classicist streak running through me. I play Rachmaninoff and you don't, so hear me out. If the music itself (not the words) is so arcane and alien to seekers that they can't connect to it without a life-time of exposure - you've got yourself a whopper of a problem. Go ahead and put the powerpoint and projectors up. Put the 30-year old blue hymnals with yellowing pages down. You can sing meaty / ancient texts and even Psalms, but you should make the tunes accessible for your cultural context. Make it your top priority.
- The sermon should not be the climax - A Gnostic lecture-hall is not what worship is all about. The sermon is one component of the whole liturgy, not the single pivot that everything else emanates from. Unless you're Tim Keller, keep it short - under 30 minutes. There is just no need to go 45 minutes to an hour. The law of diminishing returns is one you can take to the bank. Please!
- Keep the table at the center - The whole point of the Gospel is renewed fellowship with God, neighbor, and the world. Don't leave the whole point of the Gospel out. Put it up front and center and celebrate in a big way. People will get it - they really will.
- Pay attention to visual circumstances - We don't worship with blindfolds on, but I think most Reformed people think we might as well. We're flesh and blood and our visual circumstances impact our attitudes. You want to eat a 5-star dinner at the greasy spoon? Didn't think so.
Well, I could write more, but this was just my way of passing Saturday morning while the kids watch cartoons. Peace!