Twice in my life I have been deep sea fishing. Or, as I like to call it, "lay down on the floor of the galley until the feeling of your guts escaping leaves."
I'm not really a "sea fisherman" type. I'm more of a "pop open the can of Starkist" type.
But one of the things I learned on my fishing trips was the fine art of luring the fish by tossing out chum. You get the fish interested in the area by filling that area with dead fish parts (are you hungry yet?) which attracts the fish.
Then, you toss in the hook and BOOM you got yerself a meal!
Most churches today are passionate about finding and using the latest or greatest of most effective or "best" means of attracting new people into their churches. In some ways, they are creating lures by tossing out "chum" such as the use of fog machines, or laser lights, or moving stage lights, or other high tech attractions that will hopefully lure people into the sanctuary. Many have multiple-flavored services (old, young, hip, rock, country, etc). Some have done away with visual reminders that you are even in a church - no cross, no stained glass, no Bibles... All of this is in the hopes that a non-Christian will show up, enjoy the show and then be hooked in to a relationship with Jesus.
BOOM you got yerself a Christian!
The truth is, there is nothing wrong with those worship additions. And if your church prescribes to that model, then more power to you. God works in mysterious ways and who am I to question the motivation behind the rationale of using a dunk tank for baptism or calling the Lord's Supper "Commune-Yum-Yum?"
But I do find myself pondering something...
How LONG-LASTING are these "American Idol" methods going to work? See, when we format our church following an entertainment model - even if our motives are pure - eventually, some other church will offer a BETTER entertainment model - and your flock will flip the remote and simply go elsewhere. This happens - all - the - time.
Before I go on let me be very clear about something. This is IN NO WAY a condemnation on "modern" or "contemporary" worship. Only on STYLE. The same push for entertainment can occur in an ultra-traditional church setting where the style is robed choirs, liturgical structure, etc. Any format can become an "entertainment lure." We just happen to live in a time when the modern church has adopted (in a large, general sense) to become "hip and edgy."
But what if we were to offer something that IS long-lasting - that no other church in town is offering, then we will not only retain those who show up but we might actually create disciples rather than just spectators.
The early church (see the book of Acts) obviously did not have the means to modern-day technology so, on one hand, it's difficult to do an "apples to apples" comparison. That said, they DID share the same humanity that we have. They were men and women and children - just like us! They had jobs, and families, and relationships, and dysfunctions, and issues of anger and rage and hate, and they had various levels of need - from plenty to nothing. At the core level - they were just like us!
But here is one huge difference between them and us - the early church had no NEED to CREATE chum or to MANUFACTURE lures. You know why? (This is going to hurt) - THEY HAD THE HOLY SPIRIT! Yes, I know, I know... all of we believers "also have" the Holy Spirit. I get it.
But it appears that the early church enjoyed more of an awareness and expression of the Holy Spirit. Signs and wonders happened in their midst. (This is AFTER Jesus had left, so we can't simply wave it off as "because of Jesus' miracles.") They allowed for, and anticipated the actual presence, power and moving of the Holy Spirit in their assembly. No lights. No lasers. No fog machines. No Top-10 Christian Hits - - just the power of the Holy Spirit changing their lives in such a way that they were led to LOVE one another and ACCEPT one another and PROVIDE for one another.
The lure - the "chum" - was NOT external or manufactured... it was INTERNAL. It was a CHANGE OF HEART. It was TRANSFORMATION. And it was the direct result of their DESIRE to be immersed in, and changed by, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
The reason today's churches tend to be focused on the external lures is because we look around and see "success" by other churches doing the same thing. We see "large numbers" as proof of that success. And so we think that replicating what those successful churches are doing will bring the same type of success to our church. And, in the short term, it DOES! Until the worshipers decide to go find a "better show" down the street.
Ah - but what we DON'T see are the countless churches out there who ALSO have large attendance but have nothing flashy or showy to use as their evidence of growth. These churches - that most never hear about - are filled with men and women who crave to encounter the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I know this because I have actually been inside of those churches. The focus is never about the external flash. They have fantastic praise teams - but the focus is never about the well-rehearsed music. They have people who offer clear and articulate messages - but the amazing oratory of the speaker is not the focus. They have created welcoming worship rooms - but the color of the walls, the use of lights, the other particulars - are NOT the focus. The focus is ONLY on encountering the presence of the Lord.
THAT is the lure. THAT is the "chum."
If your church desires to see long-lasting, life-transforming growth, I challenge you to do the unthinkable: TEST this out. Begin focusing less on HOW you "do worship" and more on WHO it is you are worshiping. This might mean taking a bold step in how you order your service. It might mean offering a night of deep praise and worship with prayer and healing attached. It might mean shutting off the screens one Sunday. (Can you even imagine?) Whatever it means for your church, it is worth the effort.
In other words - don't be a "chum." Be a disciple!