Worship Experience #1
The congregation sang one song at the beginning of the service, but they sang poorly. Most of the worshipers were unfamiliar with the tune and unmoved by the words. As a result, when they finished singing, few of them were prepared for the quick shift into a time of reconciliation.
Although the service had started, many members of the congregation had not yet begun to worship. They had come to worship, but the beginning of the service had failed to help them focus themselves and gather their distracted thoughts. While the minister was calling them to repentance and confession, most of them were still mulling over yesterday's problems or planning today's dinner.
One member, reflecting on that service and his own inability to join in the first twenty minutes or more of worship, wondered what visitors experienced that morning. "What about others who were not there as expressly as I was for worship? What about those who didn't know much or anything about God? What were their chances of meeting God that morning?"
Worship Experience #2
The worship service started with the congregation joyfully and enthusiastically singing a number of songs that they seemed to know well. A praise team led the singing, and the words of the songs were projected on the wall for all to see. Not only the organ but many other instruments as well added to the sounds of praise.
The songs that the congregation sang (from the Psalter Hymnal and elsewhere) expressed their love for God with a joy fulness that came from their souls. They were songs that evidenced the intimacy of children who know they are talking to a loving parent. "My Jesus, I love you!" "Lord, you are more precious than silver." "I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice."
A visitor had joined the congregation that morning, a young woman who was not a believer or a friend of fesus. She observed that there seemed to be something real in this service— something authentic and joyful. She felt the enthusiasm of a people freely speaking their love for their Lord and Maker, and she began to wonder about this God to whom the people were singing…
What enables people to meet God in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Friend? In the second worship situation described above, the P&W service, singing is the key—not the mumbled, stumbling effort described in the first example but rather enthusiastic, sustained, focused singing that points to God as the almighty Creator of heaven and earth. Though the P&W style has often been criticized as being overly emotional or manipulative, I think it takes seriously the human heart and mind and enables all who are present in the worship service to meet God—often at the very start of the service.
Over sixty years ago R.S. Simpson, in his book Ideas in Corporate Worship (pp.121-122), said:
In the Christian church the Christian faith is really only worthily presented to the world when it is proclaimed as essentially the faith to be sung out or a Person who is sung to… And if you wish most worthily to present fesus Christ to the world, you must present Him as One to be sung to, as One to be sung of, as One to be sung forth unto men…
If Simpson's statements are even somewhat true, then certainly joyful and enthusiastic singing at the very beginning of the worship service is a strategy we should consider in our attempts to effectively present Jesus Christ to the nonbelieving worship attender. To help a congregation think through the possibility of using this style of singing in its worship service, I offer six strategies. They are intended to help you consider and design a style of sustained, focused singing at the beginning of a worship service as a tool of witnessing to the nonbelieving attender.
The P&W style has a way of riveting a person's attention on Jesus Christ. After all, it is Jesus whom the congregation wishes the visitor to meet—first as a friend and eventually as a Savior.
Prepare Worship with All Worshipers—Both Members and Nonmembers—in Mind
Many worship services that seem to go well are thought to be the work of persons with good stage presence. Most of the time, however, that is not the case. Usually, conscientious planning is the key: the service is designed carefully to meet the emotional and physical needs of the worshipers from the moment they set foot on church property.
This planning involves an understanding of who is present and what mental and emotional frameworks these people come from. It involves tuning into what happened in their world during the week. It involves highlighting the resources of God to meet their needs, to bring comfort, and to challenge each listener personally.
Such planning must evidence enough consistency for the worshiper to be comfortable, but enough variety to successfully coax the congregation to be responsive and awake—thinking and feeling with what's happening in the worship service.
Guide the Worshipers into God's Presence
Because worship does not automatically begin when the service starts, it's important not to coast into the worship service. Rather, assume that the worshipers have come unprepared for the experience. Don't assume that the congregation is "with you" or that they're ready to worship simply because they're in church.
Realize that you must lead the worshipers into the presence of God. They cannot be commanded, cajoled,manipulated, or dragged into it. You must find a way to connect with them in what is said or not said, what is done or not done. Usher them into the presence of God. Introduce them to Jesus.
Leading people in worship is, in a very real sense, an art. As artists, the worship leaders work under the direction of the Spirit of God, carefully and prayerfully enabling the worshipers to meet God for the first time, or again for the first time.
Create a Deep, Focuse Attention on God
Worship that enables a person to begin worshiping God at the very start of the service incorporates elements that quickly grab and focus the congregation's attention. Such a beginning helps the worshipers gather straying thoughts and distractions and touches them personally and individually on the emotional and intellectual levels.
Those who come to worship come with many different distractions. Their minds may be racing in a zillion directions. Their emotions may be strung out from a week of damaged or broken relationships. Their security may be undermined by financial duress. Persons who are successful or unsuccessful in their job, in their home, or in their relationships are often preoccupied with details.
The worship leader faces the huge task of getting the attention of these people, of gathering in their stray thoughts and making what's happening important for them as individuals. That must happen at the very beginning of the service or the believing atten-ders (and, even more so, the nonbe-lieving visitors) may never truly become involved in the service. Worse yet, they may never realize that they are in the presence of God.
Ignite Worship with Sustained Singing
The joyful P&W style of singing is a very attractive option for making worship begin as soon as the service starts. P&W singing fills the opening moments of the worship service with a sustained flow of music that is strong enough to gather the thoughts and the feelings of all the attenders and to focus them on the God who is being worshiped. Through a specific flow of words, pace, volume, and instrumentation, P&W singing enters the hearts and minds of all attenders and provides them with a fresh experience of meeting God and seeing Jesus.
This powerful beginning can create an awareness that the worshiper is in the presence of a holy God. It can create a quiet, peaceful reverence—which is great preparation for the attender to be reconciled (in body, soul, mind, and spirit) with God. And it can serve as a powerful testimony to the nonbe-liever.
Use Singing that Suits Your Intended Audience
P&W can be done in many different ways and adapted to many different traditions. For some, the organ is very important. Others respond more to a guitar and drums; if their feet don't move, neither will their hearts. For others, a lead singer or team of leaders is needed. In some fellowships the choir leads.
Witness, for example, the beginning of some African-American services. Often the choir leads the congregation for half an hour so that by the time the pastor/preacher comes in, the congregation is saying, "Yes, Lord, let the preacher preach the Word of God, and we will listen!"
Witness the beginning of a service that catches the attention of young people who enter the church. The beat that is part of their normal life is also part of the service. Those who live with headsets on; those who drive cars with open windows and stereos turned up; and those who carry blasting boom boxes to the beaches—their attention is caught by the beat of drum, guitar, and keyboard. Some are mildly tolerant of attending traditional worship services on command. But when they are no longer required to attend a traditional service, many will go to a place where the beat and the music resonates more with their lives.
The point is that P&W singing can be used to appeal to and communicate with both the congregation and those they are reaching out to.
Organize the Whole Church to Pray for the Salvation of the Nonbelieving Attenders
The use of the P&W singing strategy must be part of a whole outreach program. To be effective as a witness to nonbelieving attenders, the congregation itself must consciously have decided to reach out to the "lost sheep" and the prodigal children. The congregation must be praying for these people and seeking to be God's instrument in finding lost and wandering children. It must organize itself to warmly receive and effectively embrace these newly found children of God.
Using some variation of P&W in a congregation, then, is only one of a number of strategies for outreach. But it can be a strategically powerful one within that supporting context.
P&W has the power of making everyone—old timers and first timers—realize that they stand together in the presence of God; that this God is one who not only enters their minds but also fills their hearts; that it is a joy to worship God and to be God's son or daughter; and that expressions of love from them as believers are appropriate.
P&W also has the power to cause the nonbelieving attenders to sit up and take notice that this worship is very real and authentic; that God in Jesus Christ abides with these people and invites them to be part of the Christian family as well. For that witness to be effective, however, it needs the support of a whole congregation that is praying for these nonbelieving attenders and has organized itself to warmly receive them as part of the family of God.
Is P&W for You?
If you're an out-reaching congregation looking for an effective strategy to use in beginning worship when the service starts, try singing in the P&W style. It can be effective for believing worshipers and nonbelieving attenders alike.
Plan your singing and praise with the nonbelieving attender in mind. Energy, vitality, joy, and authenticity always influence those who want to be spiritually alive.
As worship leaders, fill your role with energy and vitality. A so-so worship leader will most likely produce the same kind of worshiper. Telling worshipers that they are in the presence of God won't do it. Lead them there—carefully, pastorally, expectantly. Focus their whole being—body, soul, mind, and spirit—on the person of Jesus with the use of sustained singing that frees their spirit. And do it in a way that matches their culture and heartbeat.
You may be surprised how life-changing and energy-charged a regular and routine worship service can become, and how the Spirit of God will use such worship to enable those present to see God for the first time— or to see him "again for the first time."
An experience like this, set in the context of a supportive congregation that is praying for the lost, can put the prodigal child on the road back home to the waiting Father and may help the "lost sheep" find the fold.