G&P: HOW HAS YOUR CHURCH’S WORSHIP CHANGED OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS?
LAUGHLIN: Five years ago, Marysville was a very different church. The worship was hymn- and piano-based with a choir. The dress code was suits, ties, and dresses. The service itself was formal and hushed. We had few people under age 50, and the majority were in their 60s and up. Our community, however, is largely made up of young families with children. The congregation knew they were looking at a change-or-die scenario.
So, we made a conscious if not easy decision to refocus the church on reaching the people who were moving in. We radically broadened the cultural appeal of the worship service. Music is now a guitar-driven style and is a mix of hymns—often rearranged—contemporary stuff from Christian radio, and original compositions. We are beginning to introduce some of the most contemporary music available today. We introduced the Lord’s Table as a monthly practice and changed the format from passing the elements to intinction (i.e., dipping the consecrated bread). We have introduced much of the Christian Church calendar as a part of our worship rhythm, including Advent, Lent and Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, and Pentecost. We also radically changed the dress code and changed the feel of the service to very informal. While some might say this is all stylistic change, I would offer that expanding who feels comfortable in worship is a substantive change in how we approach God. Five years ago, it was all about a narrow and diminishing segment of our community. Today, we are blessed with lots of grandparents, children and grandchildren, and we are starting to reach across racial and cultural barriers as well.
G&P: WHAT HAS CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR WORSHIP EFFECTIVENESS?
LAUGHLIN: I think broadening our focus has helped a great deal. The first point of our plan for doing church is to encounter God. We want to facilitate worship for old and young, rich and poor, black and white. We try to avoid a stylistically narrow-focused approach. An important part of worship is that it isn’t about “me,” and we try to live that out in a culture of generosity about style. The very act of celebrating another’s style is itself a worshipful exercise that sets the tone for an authentic encounter with the living God.
I also think the regular practice of the sacraments in a family format has been extremely powerful and helps us cut across potential barriers. We often celebrate the Lord’s Table just before we dismiss the children. We actively encourage families to come to the table together. It is not uncommon for small children to dip their wafer into the juice at the same moment as mom and dad . . . The blood of Christ which was shed for you. This is a powerful God encounter for parents and children alike.
G&P: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS CENTRAL TO WORSHIP AND WHY?
LAUGHLIN: I think encountering God is the center of worship. I tend to resist breaking worship down into atomistic parts and trying to decide which is most important. People connect to God through various ways: music, the Lord’s Table, prayer, preaching— all are important. Each of the elements has a solid foundation in Scripture, and I think none can be diminished if we are to form healthy followers of Christ.
What is central to worship is God’s presence. Whatever the style or element that connects one to God, we all need to get connected. It is in the God encounter that we are made aware that it is not about us, our style, or our preferences. It is all about God. God is the great King who is exulted and lifted up, and God is the gentle Shepherd who is near and comforting. Only God can pull that off all in one glorious, mysterious event we call worship of the living God.
CRAIG LAUGHLIN is lead pastor of Marysville (WA) Church of the Nazarene.