Most religious sociologists show that worship attendance is decreasing in America. Even if “membership” remains steady, regular attendance at worship is slowly declining.
In the early days of my ministry, I tried my best to encourage persons toward regular, weekly worship. Not because “God is gonna get you” in some fashion if you don’t show up; but because worship was the energizing center of our lives. Worship might not be the most important part of the Christian walk, but worship does give spiritual energy and vitality to the soul. I’m not sure how effective my regular encouragement was in this vein.
Now, as a mostly retired preacher, I am a congregant more than a leader in worship. And I modify my understanding somewhat.
The word “religion” comes from the Latin meaning to “re-link” or “re-connect.” Worship is vital so that we re-connect and remain connected to our faith story. We also need to be reconnected to one another and to our God.
I have often said that the secularization of our society is not inherently evil. But that secularization (and the rapid use of technology) does increasingly separate us from one another and the deepest meanings in our lives. Worship reconnects us. Regular worship keeps us from falling prey to the power of the secular. Worship helps us peel away the layers of meaningless pursuits and move toward more deeply satisfying and enduring relationships with the Holy, the Mystery, and one another.
Therefore, when we encourage regular patterns of worship, we are doing far more than trying to build attendance patterns for an annual statistical report. Rather, we are ministering to the deepest needs of a society that can easily lose its way amidst the plethora of devices of technical connectivity and trivial energy drains. We need not condemn those devices (except to silence them during worship) or those other growing numbers of competitive energy drainers; but we can offer something far more valuable and of deeper meaning.
It is incumbent upon those of us who lead worship to do everything in our power to provide that “reconnection” element in every service. Our mission is to form disciples. But is it very difficult to form disciples from those who do not know the story. Somehow, somewhere, we offer new energy and new insight into where our faith story meets the challenge and opportunity of everyday life. We re-tell the basic story. We never assume our hearers know Biblical people or places or narratives. We diligently, faithfully, persuasively re-tell the same story. Perhaps in the message? Perhaps in the music? Perhaps in the offertory? Perhaps even in the joys and concerns? But somewhere! We do a disservice to the power and place of worship when we neglect to consider this vital dimension.
March 18, 2014