I'm Just Not That Into Church

“I’m a spiritual person. I’m just not into going to church.” As a church planter, I hear that all time. Most church leaders are familiar with the tension expressed by many outside the church. On the one hand, people possess a deep hunger for a transcendent experience with God. While on the other hand, they have a strong aversion to the institutional church. Such sentiments create frustration and opportunity for pastors and church leaders.

Some innovative church leaders have responded to this tension by creating incarnational or missional communities. In these communities, emphasis is placed on developing highly visible, missional partnerships with local agencies; teaching about incarnational living within neighborhoods; and developing highly attractive small groups. The thinking is that missional engagement, incarnational lifestyles and small groups become the primary ‘on-ramps’ into the church instead of corporate worship. The assumption, and rightly so, is that the old ‘attractional’ model of inviting unchurched seekers to Sunday worship is no longer appealing or effective.

At the Bridge Presbyterian Church – the church I’m helping plant – we are committed to growing a missional, incarnational community that prioritizes hands on local mission and incarnational living. But the leadership team and the emerging congregation also really enjoy worship. In fact, we are discovering that corporate worship at the Bridge remains just as much an ‘on-ramp’ into our new church as our small groups; our mission projects; and our incarnational lifestyles.

We are learning that, perhaps, the most urgent question seekers bring with them to worship is:
“How can we connect with God every day?” This has led our leadership team to explore the link between effective worship and faith formation with the goal of helping folks experience God on days not called Sunday. Our assumption is that if our worship helps folks find the tools and practices to experience our living Lord during the week, they will be more eager to return to worship and bring their friends and neighbors. Additionally, if folks discover faith formation tools and practices that connect them to our living Lord, then their lives will naturally become more incarnational.

Here is our emerging understanding of how to develop effective worship that lead to faith formation.
1. Proclaim the good news in a way that helps people experience God in their day to day life. Our worship leaders keep being reminded that 21st century seekers are not asking questions about God in worship. Instead they want to encounter God in worship. Seekers come to worship asking: “How can I experience a life with God every day.” Everything we do in worship is designed to help answer that question.

2. Integrate teaching moments into the sermon or as a response to the Word proclaimed. Our current sermon series: “Eight Words to Pray Every Day,” is an example of what we are trying to do. The series invites folks to use 8 ordinary words like “here” or “sorry” as one word prayers to recite throughout the day. These one word prayers are effectively forming faith in the lives of people too busy or too intimidated to consider a 20 minute morning devotion.
A previous sermon series: “Gathering and Scattering: Finding Christian Flow” invited worshipers to consider concrete practices for scattering on mission each week. Faith formation practices like inviting a neighbor to share a meal once a week or tithe a tenth of the time you watch TV to a local food pantry were suggested at the end of worship.

3. Provide space for people in the congregation to share their experiences practicing faith formation. We typically have 5 – 6 small groups per quarter. Each small group is tasked with finding and executing a ‘short term mission project,’ within the community during the 8- 10 session. Then, each small group is invited to share their experience in corporate worship. This means that during an 8 – 10 week period, our congregation will hear about how our small groups have partnered with agencies that feed hungry children; house victims of domestic violence; provide mentoring for at-risk kids etc. These testimonies inspire faith formation.

4. Use Facebook, pastor’s blog and small groups to discuss the faith formation practices taught in worship. We are learning that people are eager to talk about their experiences and struggles associated with the faith formation practices taught in worship. Sermon-Based Small Groups provide a forum for such rich discussions. Posting prayers and practices (discussed in worship) on Facebook allow for online discussions. Additionally, it allows others, not involved in our new church, to see what the Holy Spirit is up to at the Bridge.

5. Music is an essential tool for faith formation. Under the leadership of Rev. Wes Hunter, our band has made a conscious decision to focus on worship music that worshipers can sing and memorize. While the quality of the band is outstanding, they avoid the temptation to make worship a performance or concert. Instead, the songs are a blend of contemporary music and traditional hymns re-cast with, say, a reggae beat. Thus, faith is being formed as worshipers learn to sing new and traditional songs.

In short, we are learning that worship that intentionally focuses on faith formation: a) helps seekers answer the question: How can I connect with God every day; b) creates an eagerness in people to return to worship; c) motivates worshipers to invite their friends and neighbors to worship; d) Inspires incarnational living; e) increases participation in local mission; f) makes worship innovative and (at the Bridge) really, really fun!

For a helpful discussion check out Hugh Halter and Matt Smay: The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Communties: Jossey Bass (New York), 2008. See also Mark Tidsworth: Shift: Three Big Moves for the 21st Century Church: Pinnacle Leadership Press, (Columbia, SC), 2015.
See Brian McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words: Harper Collins (New York), 2011

Contact Doug Cushing at dougc@pinnaclelead.com to discuss his experience with church planting.