Why do so many worshippers disengage from our worship formats as they are practiced today? If you speak to various generations of church worshippers today it will not take long to discover that there is a challenge before the local church in seeking to keep the generations engaged while in worship. Those gifted with great singers, an incredible band or orchestra, powerful worship leaders and an awesome preacher still feel challenged with what it takes to bring the various generations to a point of worship together. Usually one group is blessed while another generation struggles with the content and the pace. Even the best of the best realize that there are challenges to drawing all generations together at the same time. Age preferences come into play almost every Lord’s Day as we gather to worship in any church in America.
Sermon Engagement or Disengagement
Some participants prefer the sermons short while others see nothing wrong with longer length messages. It has always amazed me that there is such a polarization of opinions when it comes to the length of sermons. I had a discussion with a dear saint from the American Baptist Denomination a few days ago while I was in New Jersey. He was remarking about the former pastor now retired only preached for about twenty minutes while the new pastor preaches for about forty minutes. He lamented how much he missed the shorter sermons but while he was reminiscing he made the statement: “You can’t argue with the results now! The place is packed every Sunday.”
I have been told for years that a pastor’s sermon lengths are becoming shorter. While I do not believe this to be the case in a growing church it might be evidence for a declining church. My father’s generations said that in the 1950’s the average preacher preached around thirty minutes for his message. There is no real evidence of this but many seniors believe this to be the truth. By the time these elder generations were in their silver cresting years many of their pastors, which were functioning more as a chaplain, preached about twenty-two minutes. Older individuals declare today that sermons should be no longer than fifteen to eighteen minutes. Excuses relating to individuals shorter attention spans are often suggested.
The reality relating to length and attention spans are irrelevant. The number-one context for the length of sermons is the size of the crowd. Three basic generalizations apply. First, the larger the number of people in the room, and the greater the degree of anonymity among the people, and the larger the proportion who have been worshiping there for less than two years, the more time is required for music and intercessory prayer to transform that collection of individuals into a worshiping community. Small congregations take five to fifteen minutes. Very large congregations take twenty-five to thirty-five minutes. Second, the larger the crowd and the greater the emphasis on teaching, the longer the sermon should be. That also applies to the need for humor, change of pace, revealing personal anecdotes, and redundancy. Third, unless it includes a highly liturgical format built around the Lord’s Supper, the larger the crowd, the longer the service. Forty to fifty minutes may be appropriate when attendance is less than a hundred, but if it exceeds five hundred, the worship experience should be in the sixty-five to ninety-minute range.
Musical Engagement or Disengagement
I like worship music loud, fast, and engaging. My father likes worship music reflective, quiet, and slower. When we worship together usually one of us is left with a desire for more. If I worship with my Dad, I know it will be very slow and I will really need to concentrate to remain connected with the worship leader. If Dad worships with me he will probably need two Aspirin before worship and a few more afterwards because his head will be splitting. Different generations respond to different things when it comes to worship. Let us consider a few differences when it comes to worship:
Spiritual Passion and Synergy
If there is not an overarching belief that your worship services have a biblical mandate to engage people in praise and worship, then you can fail miserably. In fact, spiritual passion and synergy just might cover over a lot of the limitations you have. Worship regardless whether or not it is traditional, blended or contemporary should draw the largest number of participants to the Lord in each worship service. If older people attend the early worship service then it would stand to reason that a more traditional mix of music would be used. If younger generations attend a particular worship service than a more contemporary musical selection could be offered. Missing the target audience is unwise and will cause great confusion in the worship setting and cause individuals to become disengaged.
Cultural Engagement or Disengagement
Having planted churches with all types of peoples groups, there is a big difference how cultures celebrate and experience the presence of God. There are differing cultural expressions that are drawn from regional, ethnic, and age appropriate traditions. If your selection does not match the group you are endeavoring to reach, you will miss an opportunity for evangelism for sure.
Theological Engagement or Disengagement
In some situations the engagement or disengagement has nothing to do with neither the sound nor the volume. This disconnect has to do with your church’s view on the scriptures. It is critical to select music that matches your church’s theology. Theology is engaging and you should present your theological beliefs with the best songs possible.
Leadership Engagement or Disengagement
If the pastor is leaning towards modern worship and a few committees and factions are rebellious of him, then your church will feel this every Sunday morning. This is not generational, per se. It could be about anything, really. If the worship leadership feels dissatisfied with the pastor’s course of action, then it will impact things as well. In general, conflict that is not addressed will in some way play itself out in our public services. Count on it. Conflict is always with us. The key is to deal with it early and upfront.
Strategic Engagement or Disengagement
This is when needed strategic changes are made, but they are done much too quickly without relationally walking people through the impact it may have on them. The jolt that some members feel when changes come too quickly has a whiplash effect that creates an imbalance. If you suddenly make a change, without your membership being lead slowly, your services will feel the imbalance. The principle here is to be sure your strategy is connected to a unified vision. Your implementers cannot compensate for leaders who shift too often too fast.
New Leadership Engagement or Disengagement
Yes, that amazing worship leader who aced the interview and wowed you all in his audition is now not so exciting after six weeks. He prayed too long twice, making the pastor visibly frustrated. People who did not chime in either way about his coming now complain. It takes a while for a pair of jeans to feel real comfy. So, expect some bumps. It is normal. Trust God’s process and empower him or her to lead you. Time is on everyone’s side.
Creative Rut Engagement or Disengagement
Instead of new leadership, the ones who have been around forever have taken all the risks they are going to take in their lifetime and no one new is being developed. The result is the same. Yes, for a couple years it worked well. Now, something has to change; but what? It could be tired worship leaders need space. What new challenges, learning experiences or mentoring have your worship leaders had recently? It is a new economy, but a rut costs more than you know. Keeping the church engaged and avoid allowing them to fall into the rut of disengagement.
Weak Structure Engagement or Disengagement
Systems are important. Planning, evaluation and delivering tools, such as music to musicians and schedules to volunteers, matter. When your systems are being overtaxed or if they are not well developed, your service execution suffers. This means engagement is at risk. People follow who they trust. If structures are weak, they feel that. Button up this area, and it just might help.
As you work on this list, the key is to always go back to first things—what you believe God wants from your worship services. Are lives being changed? Are people making decisions to follow God?
Let’s think about that fact and begin doing something about it! If you would like to have conversations related to this blog post, why not drop me a line so we can begin your journey and conversation
You can connect with Dr. Tom Cheyney and the RENOVATE Church Revitalization Virtual Coaching Network additionally via Facebook at RENOVATE Conference. Tom is the co-author of Spin-Off Churches (B&H Publishers), a conference speaker and a frequent writer on church planting, new church health, and church revitalization. Be looking for The Biblical Foundations for Church Revitalization by Tom Cheyney and Terry Rials later this year. If you or your church would like more information you may contact him at Tom@renovateconference.org, or firstname.lastname@example.org.