Engaging Worshippers in the Age of Information Overload

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a special treat, my family stopped by McDonald’s for a lunch date with Poppop. It was a meal full of chatter, Happy Meals, a gaggle of children, French fries, and smiles. Inevitably, spills happened and a small mess ensued. A kind employee came over to help clean up some of the spilled fries, and smiled, commenting that “People are usually just on their phones.”

What an insightful comment. Wherever I go, whenever I wait in line, I usually see people staring at their phones, some smiling, and some frowning, most with thumbs flying.  Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ study on cell phone use reveals that the average cell phone user checks their phone 150 times per day.  This era of social media reveals an interesting phenomenon.  Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, to name a few, show us our craving to reach out to others, to develop relationships, to know and be known. We cry out for attention with our posts and our texts, show off our daily routines with our snaps, and yet keep each other at arm’s length by holding back anything we think is undesirable.

Further, we are constantly seeking content. Scrolling  through posts, playing YouTube clips, scouring Pinterest. We need info and we need a constant stream of it. Our social media craze has brought us into the Age of Information Overload.  Our brains can’t possibly process all of the data we pour into it all day long. It filters through, but doesn’t stick, so we seek more and more to fill up those empty spaces where our daily memories should be. The more we scroll, the more we need to scroll.

This isn’t a judgment on today’s society, but rather a challenge to examine as we work to engage worshippers in our weekly worship services. We are a consumer society. We crave a constant stream of media to entertain our minds. We have become watchers by nature. How do we turn from watchers into engagers? How do we take a 60 to 90 minute worship service and invite people to move from observing the action to fully mentally and physically participating in the worship of our Lord and Savior?

At times, it feels defeating to look out upon the congregation to see a crowd of what looks to be numb onlookers who do nothing but watch.  It’s not so much that they are not interested in worship, but that we as a society are trained to consume everything, and that includes worship. The activity is all happening on the inside. But one of the most rewarding aspects of worship leading is hearing people sing to their Creator out of an overflow of love and gratitude. So how can we help people to do this?

I don’t think there is an easy answer, no formulaic worship set guaranteed to bring about worship activity. I do think that we can strive to create a church culture of engagement where we build personal relationships with each other and with God that don’t depend on cell phones and computers. If we want our congregations to overcome our culture of consumerism and participate more physically in worship times, then we need to be teaching about worship, demonstrating worship, and actively doing worship ourselves.  The best way to keep our own worship of God fresh is to cultivate a rich, deep relationship with Him through regular times of prayer, Bible study, and private worship. Then we can experience vibrancy in our times of corporate worship which becomes an invitation for others to join in praising Him.

The Bible offers us examples of worshippers praising the Lord with all their might. In 2 Samuel 6, King David danced before the Lord with all his might – in his underwear, no less. Even his wife was embarrassed at this undignified show, but David was too busy engaging with God to worry about what others thought. In Luke 7, a woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and poured a very expensive jar of perfume on them. In Matthew 28, after Jesus had risen from the tomb and appeared to the women, they ‘clasped His feet’ and they worshipped Him. Jesus told the woman at the well to worship Him in spirit and in truth, and the book of Revelation gives us a picture of what worship will be like in eternity. How can we make our worship more like the worship we see in the Bible, where people are so overcome with God’s goodness that they couldn’t help but engage their minds, bodies, and souls?

Do you want people to raise their hands to God? Or be in a posture of prayer? As the leaders, we need to be the model and be someone that is worthy of following. But let’s not forget the most important person in this story – God! Worship is God’s party, and while it is our job to create the opportunity to worship, to teach, encourage, pray for, and help others to worship, the rest is up to Him.

We won’t change our culture overnight. But as we put into practice the activity of reaching out to others instead of becoming lost in our private world and our private phones, we might just change the way people react around us. As we create a church culture that engages in relationship with each other and with our Creator, we might just find we are transforming the culture of our community to do the same.  As we worship the Lord with all we have, with our hearts, minds, and bodies engaged, we might just encourage others to do the same.

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Amanda is a toddler-chasing, coffee drinking, fashion boot-wearing, Fit-bit addicted, Jesus-loving, wife and mom to 5 small children.  She spends her free time absorbed in fashion and tattoos, watching Pirates of the Caribbean, Googling, attempting clean eating, all while spreading autism awareness, encouraging adoption and foster care, championing the underdog, and of course, juicing.

Amanda serves the local church as a licensed American Baptist pastor, free-lance writer, and church musician. She holds a Master of Divinity from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, a Bachelor of Arts in Church Music from Eastern University, and a cosmetology license from Metro Beauty Academy.  Her favorite places to be are the local zoo, the church piano bench, Facebook, and anywhere her family is.

Catch up with Amanda at www.thebeautifulblog.com  and www.twitter.com/beautifulmanda.

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