Inviting and Inspiring Worship: Highlight on Asbury First UMC
May 23, 2018 / By Rev. Dr. Stephen Cady II, Asbury First UMC
In the United Methodist tradition, worship is ultimately about “an encounter with the living God through the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Or, so says our Book of Worship. Unfortunately, many people (including some clergy) are more likely to experience boredom in worship than God.
To our credit, we have known that there is a problem for several decades and have done our best to fix it. We have tried everything from adjusting service times and days, to hiring bands, to using new forms of technology, to taking out the pews. The problem persists.
Could it be that the deficit is not intrinsic to the worship hour? As a part of my doctoral program, I spent a year in three United Methodist congregations interviewing youth and adults about their experience of worship. I discovered that what helps people experience God is not the kind of music sung, but the kind of community that sings it. As one young person put it, “I just want to be someplace where it feels like everyone wants to be there.”
Worship is an expression of the community itself and should be a reflection of the work and mission of that community. It must have magnitude—not in terms of size, but in terms of meaning. The sermons should matter. The music should be authentic. But more than anything else, the people should be willing to share life together—in and out of worship.
The neo-gothic nave of Asbury First could be dressed up to seem more hip. We could take out the pews, stop using the organ, lose the hymnals, abandon the pulpit, but to what end? Ultimately, we are who we are, and pretending to be something we are not is not only disingenuous, it fails to make disciples. Instead, we have spent the last few years clarifying our mission, bolstering our intergenerational connections, serving the poor, and walking with one another through the highs and lows of life. As a result, our worship attendance has increased.
To be clear, we have worked on our worship as well—from preaching that addresses the issues of today to music that is varied and accessible. Do people still get bored? Probably, and we still have work to do, but at least we are in it together. The good news is that God is never boring.