“Multi-style worship planning is all about helping others speak to God in a voice that is most like their own” – Craig Gilbert
I was at a large worship conference when the presenter blew my mind with this quote. I mean, it felt like it hit me like a pile of bricks. If we choose a worship style based on the music we like, that means worship is all about us and what we like. That’s not about God. However, I will always hold onto his clarification and emphasis: We, as a church, are called to offer multiple styles of worship so that our diverse communities have a familiar voice with which to praise God.
God, the Creator of the Universe, has wired everyone differently. If the church is to provide a sanctuary (sacred place) and liturgy (work of the people) so that our communities are able to praise God, it needs to be in a voice and language that is familiar enough so the people can worship. We are called to help both disciples of Jesus and those curious to find their own voice in the cacophony of praise.
And here’s where I am learning and growing even since then: We need a diversity of voices in worship, both in our planning and on Sunday morning. God created all people and races. If we are to truly come together and experience the full Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31), we must have those people present. In fact, without a variety of people present as we worship, we are missing a piece of God.
The church has been notorious for leaving out big chunks of God, even chunks which are present in our communities. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that “Sunday at 11 AM is the most segregated time of the week.” In the fall of 2014, Lifeway Research did another study to see if this still held true. The study happened two years ago, just after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MO. I’m not sure how statistics have changed as our country has weathered racial tensions (not to mention the election), but I was deflated when I saw the findings:
86% of congregations had one predominant racial group.
- 67% of churchgoers believe “Our church is doing enough to be ethnically diverse.”
- 53% of churchgoers disagree that “my church needs to become more ethnically diverse.”
- 50% of churchgoers agree that “churches in America are too segregated.”
Friends, we are still leaving out chunks of God. For the church to present a witness and a familiar voice to the world around us, we must include people who are different than us. Young people. African American people. Hispanic people. White people. Men and women. Asian and American Indian. African people. There are many others in our communities are discouraged from or shut out of our churches.
So what are some next steps we can take for our worship? Your context will be unique, but here are some ideas to try:
- Be honest about the demographics in our church compared to the demographics of our surrounding communities.
- Invite someone of a different race to worship, or to a worship planning meeting, or to contribute from the platform.
- Preach about racism.
- Attend a service in a setting very different than what is normal for you.
- Start a service in a non-traditional space.
- Incorporate music from a different part of the world.
- Trade musicians or worship bands with another church for one Sunday.
- Learn more. One powerful book is “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.
How else are you working to rediscover the chunks of God that we’re missing? I’d love to hear what you’re doing. Leave a comment below!