When we affirm the covenant God made with us in Holy Baptism, we also affirm our commitment to “hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper.” That is, we recognize that gathering with the community of the baptized for worship is essential to our lives of faith.
Yet statistics show that worship attendance is declining. Even more, the threshold for what is considered “regular” worship attendance has decreased to every other week or less.
As the church, we must ask, why? Our lives are busy. The stores are open. Athletic practices are scheduled at the same time as worship. Worship may seem dull and out of touch with culture. We seek meaning in any number of places, making worship attendance one choice among many.
A crisis of faith
At the heart of all of these reasons is a crisis of faith. When hearing the word and sharing in the Lord’s Supper becomes a choice among many choices rather than the way of life for the baptized, we reveal our low expectations of God’s transforming and life-giving presence in the community of Christ gathered for worship. Do we really believe that God shows up and offers transformation through the worship of our congregations?
In the covenant God makes with us at baptism, God promises that we will encounter Christ’s living and transformative presence in the gift of worship. Although we can encounter Christ anywhere, the church is uniquely gifted with means of grace shared across time and space with its proclamation of the word of God and the administration of the sacraments in worship.
In worship, we hear the word of God in the Scripture read, sung and proclaimed entwining our lives and voices with the gospel story that names us as participants in that story. The hopes of the generations of the faithful become our hopes.
The word of God becomes living and active in our lives leading us to how our lives show forth God’s baptismal call to joy, service and justice. We are transformed by the word to live lives awash with hope and purpose.
The mission to share God’s grace with the hungry, sick, outcast and hurting is named as our own as we share in the Lord’s Supper. We partake of an abundant meal of mercy taking on the righteousness and love of Christ in grace, forgiveness and new life while also sharing in the struggles and needs of the world with the compassion of Christ.
In the sharing of the Lord’s Supper, our identity is one with the whole community of Christ. We are transformed by this meal to live lives awash with compassion and mercy.
The covenant God makes with us in baptism ensures that we experience the presence of Christ by hearing the word and sharing the supper which continually recalls to us our identity as the baptized and reforms our lives into the shape of God’s love for the sake of the whole world.
Worship that reflects a living God
How does your congregation’s practice of worship proclaim with confidence that God is living and active in word and sacrament, transforming the lives of those who are gathered?
How does your worship service re-form the assembly’s identity as beloved children of God leading them to live every day bathed in the mercy and compassion of God?
How does your congregation’s decisions about music, technology and other God-given worship tools point beyond themselves to the living and active presence of God in worship?
With God-given and diverse gifts, each congregation will answer these questions differently.
In the time of the gathering, don’t just welcome people to worship. Affirm the response to God’s call to be in the presence of Christ as essential members of the body of Christ. Emphasize the participation of all generations and all education levels in worship. Plan worship services that engage all five senses. Doing so will offer places for all to participate, even those with disabilities.
Whenever the assembly participates in the proclamation or response to the word of God, leaders can remind the assembly that each member is an essential part of the proclamation of worship. Invite people to sing a hymn or song by saying, “Please stand and join your voice in proclaiming the gospel by singing (this song).” Or, before the prayers of intercession note, “We pray to God, confident that God’s love reaches into the whole world,” in the worship folder.
Connect the sharing of the Lord’s Supper to the response of the community to those who are in need in the community in preaching and music selections during the distribution of the elements. Concentrate on making the connections during the time of sending.
Worship leaders can specifically connect how the Scripture readings for the day shape our lives as the assembly is sent into the world through closing litanies, blessings and dismissals. Collections, donations or participants in specific service ministries may be blessed and sent into service from worship. Various vocations, from students to health care workers to teachers, may be affirmed in their baptismal vocations in everyday life.
For every community of faith, the forming of the body of Christ for worship is a gift of transformation and re-formation through word and sacrament promised to us in Holy Baptism. We remember our identities primarily as children of God.
Worship is a life-giving gift of God’s presence that leaves us with the desire for more, each week in worship and in our everyday lives.