The Secret: The 5 Surprising Signs Your Church Might Be Getting Worship Wrong

The Secret: The 5 Surprising Signs Your Church Might Be Getting Worship Wrong

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Think of the word “worship.” Usually, what comes to mind is a state of reverence and honor, with someone bowing down in homage and deference. Worship is a verb, a state of being when we actively exhibit our love and adoration for the one we adore. For Christians, the one we worship is clear: It’s the Lord. Yet there’s an increasing problem with many churches as our services and styles grow and evolve to fit or embrace a changing culture. The problem is that some churches are getting worship wrong on a fundamental level.

What is “wrong worship”? It’s when it’s missing the critical aspect of worship: adoration, reverence, and respect for the Lord of Lords and King of Kings—the Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Instead, many churches fill that void with entertaining music or complicated rituals that seem on track until they’re not. At its core, worship is meant to adore, revere, bow down, and serve in utter love and submission. When we worship the Lord, we usually express joy and hope through praises. Many times, this can involve music, but it also involves a number of other things, from teaching to prayer to service.

Worship is something we’re supposed to do every day, all day long. It is not confined to a church service. We worship the Lord in our actions and our words, alone or in fellowship with others. It can be silent or loud, motionless or animated. But the most important aspect is that it must be, foremost, about God and our reverence for him. And that’s where, sometimes, churches get worship wrong, whether it’s a contemporary megachurch or a quiet sanctuary nestled in a centuries-old space.

Here are five surprising signs your church might be getting worship wrong.

1. Has Worship at Your Church Become Too Centered on Performance?

Many of us have been to large churches with stellar traditional choirs or talented praise bands, and it can be a tremendous honor to join our voices with theirs as we all, together, praise the Lord. Or perhaps our pastor is so gifted with sermon skills, humor, or practical insight that every message feels like it was handcrafted for us. I’ve even been to churches with light shows and fog machines that infuse drama into the message and experience. Certainly, not many people want to show up to a church where the service is disorganized, the preacher doesn’t know what topic they’ll preach on for that day, the songs haven’t been selected or practiced, and it feels like a slapped-together disaster.

There is an effort most churches put into creating a worship service each week, with planning, rehearsals, and other preparations. This is not a bad thing. We honor God when we try to do our best for him. But sometimes, churches get so focused on planning and preparation, on picking the best singer or preacher, the most vibrant set list, or decorations for the altar, that they seem to forget the whole point—it’s all about God.

It’s not about wowing the crowd, getting people excited, or having the lighting just right. It’s about coming together with all our talents, gifts, and love and lifting our hearts to the Lord.  It’s fine if your church band pastor or decorations are phenomenal. Just make sure that, at its core, it’s about the Lord and not about how good the experience was for you. Otherwise, it’s missing the whole point.

2. Is Worship Centered around God or the Music?

And speaking of music, let’s remember: Music is not the only way we can worship God. Yet some churches put so much emphasis on music that they ignore the plethora of other ways we can honor him.

At some churches, from the time you walk in until the time you leave, your ears are filled with music… background music while the pastor speaks, loud music performed for you, music during prayer or communion, and on and on. There’s so much noise and emphasis on music that other worship aspects are largely ignored or relegated to second-tier status. I am a huge music lover, but even I have experienced a time when there seemed like too much music in a service.

Some churches include music that’s not theologically accurate, too, which is also a problem.

Sometimes, it might be more appropriate or reverent to honor the Lord in silence, or whispered prayer, or through reciting a passage of Scripture together. Some churches have offered services in candlelight as a way to worship God or focus on dance or other group movements, such as the laying on of hands in an effort to bring God’s healing upon a fellow believer.

If a church service feels like a musical theater production or a concert from start to finish, and it feels like something important is missing, maybe this is what’s going on. Maybe the church is more focused on music than on worshipping God. You can worship the Lord in silence just as much as you can worship the Lord with music. Just make sure the Lord is the focus, not the music.

3. Is Worship Segregated by Age?

I’m not talking about racial or gender segregation, which is thankfully absent in most churches today, but rather age. This is usually a problem in larger churches, but it can happen in smaller churches, too. As an example, a family might come into the church building together, and the infants are whisked off to the baby room, the elementary-age children head to the “Kids Room” for a fun and specially crafted experience just for them, the high schoolers dash to the “Student Ministry” hall for their own service (sometimes with pizza and other snacks!), and the adults go to the main “regular” service.

Even then, the adults are sometimes divided even further. The older adults might get steered to the sanctuary for organ music and traditional hymns, while the Millennials and Gen X crowd heads to the auditorium for guitar-heavy contemporary praise. Everyone is relegated to their own little corner of the church “experience,” where they are spoon-fed the style of service and teaching that is supposed to appeal to them.

What’s missing? Sometimes, God is missing. What’s missing also is the beautiful experience that happens when different people come together in all their differences to worship God together. Little kids with the wiggles might get shushed by grandparents, and babies might cry. But together, the body adapts. And together, godly, authentic, true worship happens. Sometimes, it’s great for different age groups to gather. But to be segregated every single week, week after week, in this manner isn’t healthy in the long term.

4. Does Worship Catered to Attracting New Attendees?

Church isn’t a place but a people. But when a church service consistently caters to the unchurched and teeters on the edge of saying anything biblical but too “culturally controversial” (out of fear they might chase someone away), this is a church in danger of worshipping the people, not the Lord.

It’s important to share the Good News and invite all people to the body of Christ. It’s also important to help existing members of the body of Christ stay connected and grow in their faith. It’s a both/and situation, not an either/or one.

While some people new to a church might feel strange worshipping the Lord, that doesn’t mean the church shouldn’t dedicate its service to worship. After all, we gather in church to worship the Lord and to be part of the Christian community. Worship is about reverence for God, whether through music, prayer, or preaching.

All of what happens during worship must center on God and God alone.

In the early church, the Bible doesn’t say people became new believers because Peter played the flute well or John pandered to the people’s feelings. It says the apostles taught the Good News and praised God, and those who accepted the message were saved (Acts 2).

I’d be willing to argue that no one becomes a believer because of an exciting, self-centered worship experience but rather because of worship rooted in authenticity and relationship with God and with each other.

Worship should center on God, not the people. The rest will fall into place.

5. Where Is Prayer Included?

Prayer is a critical part of worship. When we’re alone, one of the most important ways we can worship the Lord is to spend uninterrupted, devoted time with him in loving, surrendered prayer. Yet when it comes to church, many services fail to incorporate prayer much, if at all. The pastor might say a prayer or ask for prayer requests to be sent to them during the week, or there might be the standard recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, but other than that, the service does little to emphasize or promote personal or group prayer.

Yet the healthiest, strongest churches are typically those that are committed to prayer. They infuse prayer throughout the service, with ample time for silent prayer. The pastor might pray aloud before beginning the sermon, asking for wisdom or clarity, and after the message, the body might be invited to pray about the lesson discussed. People are urged to pray throughout the week.

Churches that skip or gloss over the importance of prayer are not only doing their members a disservice by robbing them of a beautiful opportunity together, but they are failing to honor the Lord in a manner he repeatedly urges us to practice.

God commands us to pray (Philippians 4:6-7). Christ urged us to pray and modeled this himself. As Ephesians 6:18 says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” At its core, prayer is worship, for during prayer, we are in communion and connection with God.

If you notice these things happening in your church, consider what’s going on and why. Does God want you to talk with your church staff about this? Is God asking you to step up and help in this area? The church must put God first.

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