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January 1, 2014

Creating Worship Tourists

by Kenny Lamm
Worship Tourist

I talk quite a bit about the importance of creating an environment in worship of active participants, not mindless spectators (or “pew potatoes). Unfortunately, I see a culture of spectatorship in all styles of worship in churches I visit.

My friend and counterpart from the Kansa-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, David Manner, offers some great words on creating “worship tourists.”

In Teaching A Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard wrote, “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, watching the radar screen, noting weather reports radioed from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things.”[1]

If we never involve our congregants as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive spectators to active participators? Aren’t we really creating worship tourists who select their destination based solely on their impression of the platform tour guide and excursion offered rather than worship travelers on a continuous journey?

Leaders must facilitate participative worship not just depending on their own strengths and abilities but also by investing in the strengths and abilities of other congregants who are willing to subordinate their individual interests to the corporate concerns of the entire congregation. The leader who promotes participative worship taps into the collective resources and talents of others by affirming publicly and privately their value to worship health.

Participatory worship is intentionally collaborative and is not guarded, territorial, defensive or competitive. Considering participatory worship leverages and trusts the creative abilities and resources of the whole in the planning, preparation and implementation. Participatory leaders are not threatened when someone else gets their way or gets the credit. And participatory worship is a culture, not a one-time event.

William Willimon wrote, “Many of the Sunday orders of worship consist of the pastor speaking, the pastor praying, the pastor reading and the choir singing, with little opportunity for the congregation to do anything but sit and listen . . . When the Sunday service is simply a time to sit quietly, hear some good music and a good sermon, sing a hymn, and then go home to eat dinner, no wonder many of our people get confused into thinking that Christ only wants passive admirers rather than active followers.”[2]

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You can find many more posts on participatory worship here. Also, consider attending an upcoming Worship Leader Boot Camp or Worship Summit for much more on creating an environment of active participation in worship.


[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 52.

[2] William H. Willimon, Preaching and Leading Worship (Philadelphia PA: Westminster, 1984) 20.

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