Recently at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, KY, I had the joy and privilege of accompanying 12k+ attendees as they worshiped God in song.
The sight and sound of praising God together with over 10,000 other believers is pretty overwhelming. But we can experience something similar with a smaller crowd. We’re often deeply affected by the singing at a conference, retreat, or worship event. So much so that gathering with your church on Sunday feels like a major letdown.
Why doesn’t the worship in song we experience at an event translate to Sunday morning?
Should we expect it to?
Can local churches learn from worship events?
Does the best musical worship occur outside of Sunday morning?
In other words, does worship need the church? I was able to discuss these and other questions with a few friends – Keith Getty, HB Charles, Jr., Matt Boswell, and Matt Westerholm – at a T4G breakout. I wanted to explore the relationship between singing together with a bunch of people you don’t know at an event and singing with your church on Sunday morning.
I’ve listed many of the points we covered (and a few we didn’t get to) below. Some of these are directed to leaders, others to those attending.
Benefits of “Worship Events”
1. New songs – Events can introduce us to songs we haven’t heard and let us know what it’s like to sing them with a group.
2. Inspiration – Seeing skilled and well-rehearsed musicians can motivate us to do what we do with the church better.
3. Evaluation – Watching others can serve as a standard to evaluate some of our own practices.
4. Anticipation – We can get a foretaste of worshiping God with people from every tribe and nation in the new heavens and new earth.
5. Evangelism – Some unbelievers who wouldn’t darken the door of a church building might show up at an event.
6. Encounter – Events are one more occasion for God’s Spirit to work in the hearts of his people.
7. Exposure – We can move beyond the narrow mindset that our church or denomination is the only one seeking to glorify God.
But with all there is to commend them, times of musical praise outside the local church can have some drawbacks.
Weaknesses of “Worship Events”
1. Liturgy – Pragmatic considerations often drive the “liturgies” of conferences and events more than pastoral or biblical concerns. It’s unwise and sometimes harmful when churches take their cues for Sunday morning from those events.
2. Brevity – An evening or weekend event, while impacting, can never replace the on-going, week-to-week, life-on-life ministry that happens over time in the context of a local church.
3. Personality – People can attend events primarily to see the band or the artist, contributing to a culture that is more fan-based than faithfulness-based.
4. Fame – For those leading, an inherent tension exists between self-promotion or self-benefit and serving others for the glory of Christ. Zealous young musicians can assume playing for a crowd is a better use of their gifts than playing for their church.
5. Unreality – We can experience emotional highs at events for various reasons that lead us to think Sundays should have the same effect.
6. Oversight – Promoters, agents, label executives, and others might have more say about the songs being sung than a pastor.
7. Scripture – Events aren’t necessarily driven by or connected to God’s Word, which is the primary means by which God engages with us when we gather (Ex. 20; Ex. 34:6-7; Dt. 27:1-8; 2 Chron. 31:2-4; Ps. 119; Mt. 15:3-9; Act 13:48-49; 1 Tim. 4:13).
So are there unique benefits to singing with the gathered church on Sunday morning? Absolutely.
Advantages to Singing Together with Your Local Church
1. Formation – Congregational worship is formative. Over time you can shape people’s view of God, themselves, and the world through an intentional liturgy. In addition, God builds local churches together so that he might dwell in them by his Spirit (Eph. 2:22)
2. Training – Local churches provide the opportunity to disciple younger musicians both in skills and attitudes.
3. Example – People get to see leaders outside of Sunday morning, and leaders get to model worship as a life, not just a song (Rom. 12:1-2; Heb. 13:15-16).
4. Engagement – Over time you can lead people from engaging hardly-at-all to meaningful interaction with gospel-driven lyrics and biblical instruction.
5. Pastoring – You can lead people pastorally week to week, month to month, and year to year, because you actually know what’s going on in their lives.
6. Sanctification – Preparing and planning weekly has a sanctifying effect on us. It forces us to pray, think about our lives, and consider our ways.
7. Community – The local church enables us to know others and be known by them. That cultivates a humility that comes from seeing God work through jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7).
Not Neglecting to Meet Together
There’s no question that worship in song outside of Sunday mornings is beneficial. God’s people singing together in any context has been a mark of revivals throughout history and can strengthen our faith in various ways.
But worshiping God in song at different events is never meant to replace singing with your congregation Sunday after Sunday. That remains a distinct joy and opportunity. As the T4G breakout went on that became more evident. We saw that passionately worshiping God in song together is preeminently something God intends for us to do not just at events or conferences, but with our local churches.
If you play a part in planning or leading those meetings, I pray God gives you renewed faith for what he’s called you to do and how to do it.
And if you’re part of a church being led by others, don’t forget to thank your leaders for all the sacrifices they make to serve you!
[We’ll be focusing on this topic at our next WorshipGod conference, “Extraordinary: The Weekly Worship of the Gathered Church,” to be held in Frisco, TX, July 25-28. It’s a conference meant to serve those who serve their local churches. We’d love for you to join us!]