Friction Free Worship

As I’ve thought more about the impediments introduced by the church coffee shop and bookstore, I see a great deal of value in moving in the opposite direction of the “mall church” trend and instead designing a friction-free worship environment. This would be one which leads a worshipper directly from the narthex to the chancel (or in modern language, from the doorway to the altar) with as few obstacles as possible. Consider this passage from Isaiah as we reflect on the intentional design of our celebration event;

A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. (Isa 40:3)

and this one

And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people. (Isa 57:14)

image Each of these verses serves the larger context of the passage in describing the movement of the Lord to the holy place in which He meets with His people. Because He is the King, his people’s desire is to smooth the way for their meeting by removing obstacles and straightening the path so that there is as little friction as possible in His movement toward the destination.

I’m getting the feeling that the ‘all-in-one’ church design is beginning to deter from the core reason for the Sunday celebration. We may not all agree but from the perspective of a pastor, my understanding of the Sunday (or Saturday or Tuesday as it applies) gathering is the corporate worship of God. With this objective placed properly in the hierarchy we can then clearly examine the effect that other activities might have on accomplishing this goal. For example, an issue I raised in an earlier post has to do with the distraction caused by the church coffee shop. It has a certain stickiness, an attractiveness that introduces friction on the path to worship. I am tempted to stop and enjoy a cup of coffee on my way to sanctuary, perhaps justifying it as fellowship, rather than moving deliberately toward the altar, physically and mentally.

When we introduce friction in this manner, we are placing obstacles in our people’s preparation and attendance to worship. Their minds can become distracted from the purpose of the gathering and thus, they become not fully present to God. Our task as the called leaders of the Church is reduce rather than increase any friction between God and His people. Must we do away with the coffee shop or the bookstore? No, they serve a purpose in the community of the church and the lives of the congregation. Perhaps we might consider closing them before and during the worship gathering and opening them afterwards to contribute to the fellowship and growth of the family of God. In doing so we accomplish two things. One, we establish the priority of the corporate worship event and practice in the life of the Christian and two, we make straight the path for the worshipper’s heart so that there is a frictionless path from the door to the altar. What do you think?

Digg This

The Church Cafe and Shallow Worship

imageThe incongruity of the scene doesn’t affect you as you sweep past on the way to the sanctuary so that you might find a seat a least a few moments before the praise team takes their places. The rich, bittersweet smell of the daily roast caught you as you entered the lobby of the church and you wind through the clusters and knots of people surrounding the cafe. The brisk pace that you set for the family belies the fact that the Nine O’clock hour is moments away, but you can’t help but notice the number of people sitting at the little tables sipping coffee and the number of people still waiting in line to purchase a steaming cup of their own. Taking your seat with a minute or two to spare you glance around at the sanctuary which is barely one quarter full. Your eyes close and your head bows and you focus on the process of quieting your heart and bringing yourself fully present to the community worship of God.

As people trickle into the room for the next twenty or thirty minutes, you can’t help but wonder how many of them were sitting outside enjoying their latte as the praise leader skillfully attempted to lead the congregation into the immediate presence of God. Sure, many of the latecomers have no sense of urgency in being present while prayers are lifted up and voices raised in praise; to some it is simply a prelude to the sermon and it serves no purpose other than ritual. Do those same notions fill the hearts of the coffee drinkers? Have we gone too far in attempting to create an inviting environment, so much so that we have abandoned our primary mission as the Church – the worship of God?

I believe we have. I believe that in some instances the Church has leaned so far into the venues of the world in an attempt to be relevant or attractive that we have done so to the detriment of the Church itself. We would do well to contemplate again and again our purpose in convening on Sunday mornings. Is it to meet our needs for fellowship and only incidentally about worship? Or, do we gather at an appointed hour and place specifically to give corporate expression of our love and worship to God? With our answer in hand, we should then strive to ‘cleanse the temple’ of everything that distracts from that purpose, stripping away things that do not direct the people of God in the appropriate direction.

What do you think? Do you think that the cafe/bookstore/etc. contributes to preparing the hearts of the people of God for worship? Or, should these venues be closed and the hospitality ministry be directed to remove any friction between the front door and the chapel wherein people can quiet themselves, put the world aside, and prayerfully seek to know the presence of the Father?

Digg This