This past week at the National Worship Leader Conference, I was once again given the pleasure and honor of teaching my fellow worship leaders and pastors about the things that God has blessed me to experience in my ministry. “Is everyone really welcome in the worship services at your church?” was one of the classes I taught. I thought going into the class that I had developed a solid premise for defining what it means to be welcoming and then a good game plan for making changes to make sure that this goal could be achieved. I was only partially correct.
The swiftly expanding definition of diversity makes meeting the equally broad definition of what it means to feel welcome seemingly impossible for even the largest church, with the biggest budget, and the most skilled staff and volunteers. I spent the early part of the class demonstrating just how complicated it is to meet every single person in a worship service with actions and expressions of faith that make them feel welcome. The class was only 45 minutes long and I could have easily spent an hour just on this one aspect alone. On this part, I think I did a pretty good job. (If you want to know more about this, read Infinitely Wide and Inches Deep, Part 1 and Part 2)
Then, I asked the class to define how they feel when they feel welcome. Here are just some of the words they used to describe what it means to feel welcome in church: included, valued, heard, empowered, inside not outside, secure, safe. . .loved. From these words and others, using the descriptions of diversity and learning styles I had shared earlier as a base, I gave them 4 questions to use as a filter for every action, every decision, in and about worship, to run through, and subsequently be adjust by, to more closely assure everyone had a chance to feel welcome in worship.
Overall, I thought the class was a good one. I did not provide concrete, specific items to improve worship design, which I never intended to do as these would have not been universally applicable. I did, however, provide a new template by which better decisions could be made in planning in any and all contexts. I was, and still am, pretty satisfied with my effort. Then I woke up this morning and realized that while I was thorough in my evaluation and creative in my application, I also missed the best, most complete, and truly what should be the easiest answer of all for a gathering of Christians: To make people feel welcome, make sure they meet Jesus.
I remembered that Jesusis the host of this gathering. We gather at the invitation of His Father, God. Everyone who walks through the doors of the church to gather for worship, including all of us who are already regular attenders, do so at the behest of God who wants us to meet God’s Son,Jesus. All of those points, all of those questions, all my lesson building and teaching skill, actually come down to one point and one question: How do I, as a worship leader and planner, and all of us who attend worship, make sure that everyone who walks through the door, no matter who they are, where they come from, what they look like, etc., have an opportunity to meet the one in whose honor we gather and who God, the Inviter, wants us all to meet and get to know-Jesus?
That, my friends, is the only point, the only goal, the only filter for decision making, that matters. If we as a church would make that one point, that one goal, the bar by which all of our decisions are made, how much more welcoming could our services be? Think about it:
- How does this song selection provide an opportunity for everyone, no matter what kind of music they like or identify with, to meet and learn about Jesus today?
- How does this sermon help people in this service get to know our host, Jesus?
- How does the way we greet one another in church make sure everyone is greeted as Jesuswould have us greet?
The answers to these questions and many, many more will define for us a worship practice that has the best chance of making everyone feel welcome.
This is extremely easy to understand. Probably not so easy to do. At least not without a lot of prayer and help from our God, which is how it is supposed to work in the first place.