The Union Recorder

November 20, 2013

HODGES: What should worship look like?

Dr. Jay Hodges
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — There are several different kinds of worship experiences ranging from Pentecostal to high church liturgical. That has something to do with why there are so many denominations, and it would be foolish to suggest that there ought to be just one worship style for everyone.

Even in the Catholic church there are variations on the Mass. While they have a standard form for Mass, nevertheless there are some different ways of doing it.

I mentioned in my last article that there are nearly 40,000 people in Baldwin County and less than half that population belongs to any church. Of those who are members, less than half those will be anywhere near regular in attending worship.

If we churches were a business, we might ask ourselves, “If we have a product that everyone needs, a product that would make this an amazing community, but only about 20 percent of the people are shopping with us, what do we need to do to make ourselves more attractive to the community?”

I have had an opportunity to visit several of our churches in the county, both big churches and very small churches, and I have seen that we are doing worship the way we have been doing it for at least 50 years. This does not take into account the contemporary worship services, but even there we are very similar in our approach to worship. Basically, worship is inviting people to sing a few songs, usually listen to the preacher offer a long prayer, take an offering and hear a sermon ranging from 15 minutes to 30 or more minutes. Keep in mind that there are still variations on this theme.

What I have not seen is a particular church that draws more and more people, and what I know is that most of our churches have not grown substantially in years. Most of our churches are about the same size as they were 25 years ago.

I have heard it said that any business operating the same way it did 25 years ago will probably have gone out of business long ago or will shortly.

Now the church is not a business, to be sure, but we need to pay attention to the questions businesses ask about themselves. They would ask, “Are our surroundings attractive, and when someone comes in, are they treated like they are someone special?” They would ask, “Are the products we are offering up to date, modern and useful?” “Are people interested in what we have?”

We could respond, “Well, the church’s message is 2,000 years old, and people ought to be interested,” but that becomes a dangerous assumption in a world that is as rapidly changing as ours.

Here is what I would like to ask: “Do we sing songs that the people can easily learn, and is there substance to those songs?” I have some problems with contemporary music in that there seems to be a lack of real substance, and some of them just do not speak to our condition in clear terms. For older hymns, they might recall some fond memories from long ago, but too many do not speak to us in terms we can understand today. It has frightened me that there are not very many good hymns being written today.

“Is worship fast-paced enough?” In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s a subtle change developed that made more of a difference than we knew. “Sesame Street” was one of the instigators of that change when it had segments that lasted only two or three minutes at the most. Our attention span shortened, and we moved quickly from one venue to another. Is a 20-minute sermon going to hold the attention of people today?

Do we pray effectively? I know of few people who can keep focused on a long prayer; their attention wanders to other things and then they begin to feel guilty about that. And we might want to pay attention to the language of our prayers. Anyone still using “thee” and “thou” should update their language.

I am not offering a style of worship we should adopt, but I think it might be time we began a conversation in our churches about what our worship looks like now and maybe what it should look like so that those who need to worship with us will want to come.

Dr. Jay Hodges can be reached at