Want to LISTEN to this article? Simply click the arrow above.
Here’s a question I’m often asked: How can we know if our congregation is really worshiping?
To find the answer to that question, first we need to understand the four stages of congregational worship. Everyone in our congregation is in one or more of these stages. The stages are progressive: one stage leads to the next that leads to the next. It’s a maturing process involving heart change and spiritual understanding.
Stage 1. Watch It
Remember how Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah chapter 6 began with him seeing the Lord high and lifted up? He was dropped right into the middle of this amazing heavenly worship service; yet all he could do at first was observe it. He wasn’t involved in the worship that was going on; he didn’t start with participating in it. He was just watching it. I believe this sums up many people in our congregations: They mostly watch others worship. They don’t participate in it.
Perhaps some of those watching have never trusted Christ as their Savior. I don’t believe a non-Christian can worship God, because true worship is adoring God and loving Him with our heart, mind, soul and strength. Lost people simply cannot do that. They don’t have hearts capable of loving the Lord in that way.
Lost people aren’t the only ones not worshiping in our churches. Even Christ-followers may only be watching at times. We, too, can be disengaged from the service, just observing aloofly.
I remember going to a Catalyst Conference a few years ago. They had incredible music from a talented and well-rehearsed band. Their lights and stage looked amazing, and the sound was top-notch. As the opening session began, I immediately started evaluating the technical and musical elements. A lady I knew was standing beside me. I guess it was obvious to her what I was (and wasn’t) doing, so she kindly said, “Dwayne, you need to engage in worship.” She was right. I wasn’t engaging in the worship experience or focusing on the Lord. I was only watching from a distance.
Every week our band, choir and praise team warm up and prepare in advance both musically and spiritually. However, when the countdown ends and the music starts, there are people in our congregation whose hearts have not been so warmed to worship yet. Many of them begin the service just watching.
Stage 2. Give It
The second stage goes from watching worship to giving it. After Isaiah had observed the Lord in his vision, he said, “Woe is me.” Suddenly Isaiah realized that what was happening in that service affected him personally. He saw his own sinfulness and his own need for God and for forgiveness. He went from passively watching worship to actively participating in the experience. The conviction he sensed led him to confession, which brought him to a point of cleansing and being able to truly worship the Lord.
We can’t be content with our people merely watching us worship. We should want them to participate in the experience too. They may do that in a variety of ways. Their praise may come out of them in the form of raising their hands or singing loudly, or they may just sit there quietly contemplating what they see and hear. They may be dealing with some things on the inside, but one way or the other, they begin to participate in the worship, not just watch it.
Stage 3. Live It
The next stage in the progression of our congregation’s worship is that they begin to live it during the week. As worship leaders we can’t settle for them just giving praise to God on Sundays. Our goal should be that they live worship every day.
How do we know if they’re doing that? We can tell it by their lifestyles–by their attitudes, by their faithfulness to God and the church, and by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. These are things which make it obvious they’re growing and maturing in God. These are strong indicators that they’re learning to live worship and surrender to the Lord throughout the week.
Stage 4. Share It
The ultimate goal for our congregation should be that they share worship with others. Isaiah wasn’t satisfied just keeping his worship experience to himself. He had gotten a glimpse of God’s glory, and it changed him. Now he wanted to share it with other people. He volunteered when the Lord asked, “Who will go for me?”
Like with Isaiah, true worship will motivate us to witness, to share our faith with others. It should cause us to run toward the lost and the needy, not away from them.
Moving Them Along
We have to constantly pray for our congregation, first and foremost. Only the Lord can change people’s hearts and motivate them toward deeper worship.
We also need to be patient with our people. Some will mature and move through the stages quickly, while others seem to fluctuate back and forth. Some Sundays they’ll come ready and primed for worship, but on other Sundays they show up with foul attitudes, or they don’t show up at all! Remember what Paul said: “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Ephesians 4:2 NLT).
Finally, be persistent in teaching them the foundational principles of worship. Teach them through your songs, through the prayers you pray and the things you say both on-stage and off.
[pullquote]If we want our congregations to give, live and share their worship, then, as leaders, we must consistently give, live and share authentic worship ourselves.[/pullquote]
Ask yourself now, do I tend to observe worship more than engage in it? Am I honoring God and worshiping Him every day? Ultimately, am I sharing my faith and sharing the worship God put in my heart with people around me?
If we want our congregations to give, live and share their worship, then, as leaders, we must consistently give, live and share authentic worship ourselves.
NOTE: I’d love to hear your comments and ideas of ways we can move our people to become better worshipers. Please comment below or on social media. Thanks!
Need more help navigating your next steps in ministry? Sign up for our ReIMAGINE Worship Intensive! It will change your life!