The pastors of the EC Church have a Facebook page. It’s a place where we pastors talk shop throughout the week, ask each other questions, debate, and so on. Recently a pastor friend of mine asked the following question:
Has anyone ever surveyed their congregation regarding worship style? If so, do you have any questions that my worship committee might use?
I knew I had to respond. We’ve done worship surveys at Faith Church. Maybe some of you remember them. How would you answer his questions? Want to know what I said? here is my response:
Don’t survey them! It always went bad for us!!!! Ha! That is true though.
My eye starts to twitch when I think about surveys. They give the impression of interest in hearing from people and caring about their perspective. But somehow it has not gone well for us. I think that might be due to believing that majority rules, or that majority is always right. At Evangelical Seminary’s recent Faith in the Marketplace breakfast, speaker Jim Smucker (CEO of Bird-In-Hand Corporation) gave a wonderful presentation, including a clip from the movie Invictus. Please watch it here before reading further.
So I knew I had to say a bit more in response to my friend’s question:
When I said, “don’t survey them,” above, the more I think about it, the more I think that is serious. By surveying them about worship style, how could you avoid promoting a consumerist mentality toward worship? In 2007 Faith Church was going through worship difficulties. One proposal (which I admittedly favored) was going to two services, one traditional, one contemporary. I was wrong. Though kicking and screaming, I supported our decision not to go to two services. Instead we attempted a blend. Our reasoning was that we wanted our people to practice unity over and above their personal preferences. Many were unable to demonstrate that kind of sacrificial attitude. Faith Church is now smaller from a resulting worship exodus, and has ongoing budgetary concerns.
I wonder often if we should have just given people what they wanted, and hoped to minister to them (change their minds) after keeping them here. This is speculation, but after decades of consumer-oriented worship, I highly doubt we would change their mind. Could the Spirit do it? Sure. But we didn’t go that route, and here we are smaller. About two years ago, we evaluated the blend idea, and found that wanting too. Attempting to place everyone in a position where they get a little of what they want, and have the opportunity to sacrifice a little bit, it wasn’t working. Trying to please everyone leads to pleasing no one.
So we went back to the foundation, asking “what does it mean for the gathered church to worship God?” The traditional style doesn’t have a corner on the market. Neither does the contemporary or the blend or high liturgy or anything else for that matter. Our conclusion was that we needed to lead our people in a varied, experimental, creative, biblical, Christ-centered, joyful, worship of God. Now, we tinker with order of worship almost every week. We introduce elements of worship from a variety of traditions. Some weeks an entire worship service is devoted to one of those traditions. We practice variety in giving, with communion, with baptism, etc. One week we didn’t have a worship service and instead did a Church Has Left The Building…worshiping by serving. We worship twice each summer in a local park. And we’re looking into more options this year. Not everyone likes every Sunday, but we’re no longer driven by their preferences. After a Silent Sunday (Quaker and Taize influenced), I asked for feedback, and one couple gave the best compliment: “We didn’t care for it, but we respect what you’re doing.” They’re still here a year later.
Unless you can avoid promoting consumer worship, I urge you not to survey them. Lead them into worshiping God.
So while we don’t have worship figured out at Faith Church, I hope we never do. Instead I hope we always experiment, having teachable hearts that expectantly seek to worship God in new and old ways as much as possible.