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Entertaining Worship

Got this anonymous comment on a post yesterday:

This is worthless. It absolutely does nothing to point to the truth of the text–just a big ol’ cutesy distraction. I wouldn’t care, but it is the epitome of entertainment worship that causes people to be wary of true creativity in the church. If you have any respect for church creativity and the reputation of your site, you need to remove it, or use it as a teachable “what not to do” moment.

This was on my Everything Marious video I posted a few months back. Normally I don’t worry too much with anonymous comments. (Unless they are positive…then I assume an angel wrote it to validate what I’m doing.) But this comment brought up something I think would be great for us to discuss on this site.

Obviously the comment was speaking negatively about using an entertaining Mario Brothers themed video during a worship song. I’m a firm believer that it is not the church’s job to be a vehicle for entertainment. I also believe that a musical worship service is an extremely valid and wonderful way to express our hearts to God and have Him respond to us. I don’t believe the music time is an “ice breaker” for the message or an opportunity for the late-comers to slip in without embarrassment.

However I also don’t believe songs we sing are “sacred”. They are pieces of art…they are not Scripture. They are tools based in Scripture (ideally) that we use to point people’s hearts toward God. A tool is only as powerful as your use of it. Coroplast was never intended to be used as a stage design tool, but, wow, it works well!

Most of the people who enter your church for a service have not been preparing their hearts all week to worship God. (This often includes the worship team. :)) Their minds are on the annoying co-worker they dread seeing tomorrow. On their frustration from searching for the kids’ shoes and hustling them out to the car. On the guy from the “other church” who cut them off in traffic.

Unfortunately these distractions create walls that keep them from engaging with the service. It often takes them 2 or 3 songs to begin to focus on the service (if they ever do). A worship leader’s job is to meet the congregation where they are, and take them to a place of focus on God. (This looks different for each church.) And the worship leaders in a worship service are not just on the stage. They are also the sound guys, the stage designers, the lighting/video folks…they are all working in conjunction to remove distractions to help the congregation focus on God.

So back to the video. On that note, isn’t the Mario Brothers video a huge distraction from worship? If the “Everything Glorious” song was used as a tool for “traditional worship”, yes. But that wasn’t the goal this time. Just like a pastor will use a joke before his message to break the ice and help people focus, this video was intended to remove distractions. Would I be willing to take 5 minutes of a 25 minute worship set to shift people’s focus from their frustrations and worries? To make them laugh–have a bit of fun, in order to help remind them that they are at church and they came for a purpose?

Obviously this video was used at the start of the service…not right after a gut-wrenching, tear-drenched ballad of Brooke Fraser’s “Hosanna”. Obviously we only used it once or twice (it would get lame if you used this video every time we did the song). Obviously we let all the chuckles out and brought people’s attention to worship after the fun. The two times we used this video, I noticed a level of engagement in the services that pleasantly surprised me.

So I apologize for this lengthy post in a site filled with short-and-sweeties. I’d like to hear your opinion. What do you think? I’m willing to change my mind if you bribe me enough. But please let’s keep this discussion civil and loving. :)

“In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.” – Augustine

Triple Helix Blue (Da Ba Dee)

19 responses to “Entertaining Worship”

  1. TongBlack says:

    I agree with what you've said. Stage design, videos, creative lighting – these are things that some consider frivolous. I know that for me, a stage design is a great visual way to represent a truth in a grand way that people will remember. Besides that, when people come to a worship service they shouldn't expect the status quo. If the entire stage or feeling of the room is different – which can be accomplished through stage design and/or lighting – people will automatically be expecting something different. And this allows people to be more open to God's voice. As with anything, it can be carried too far. And of course, every congregation is different, so what might be too far for my church might not be for yours. I think as church leaders we need to ask God for the appropriate level of creativity to reach our congregation where they are… and then push them a bit.

    In terms of the video specifically, I think you make a great point that pastors often use jokes or anecdotes for their introduction. There aren't many things that can make a person focus in our visual culture than a video, and not many things allow someone to open themselves up more than laughter.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. oftheson says:

    I agree with you as well. As worship leaders sometimes we forget that even though we may have been preparing our hearts for the service on Sunday morning, and the songs may have spoken to us in one way or another. The majority of people aren't coming in that way. There has to be some time to engage and focus the congregation. If we tried to jump straight in to your referenced "gut-wrenching, tear-drenched ballad of Brooke Fraser’s Hosanna" I have a feeling it would fail miserably… at least maybe until the middle/end of the song (just because it's AWESOME). Anyway, I think we miss out on being creative and even having some sense of humor in what we do in ministry because we're afraid of offending those who feel the need for everything to be as you put it "sacred". Do you think God gets bored with us playing the same songs in the same way over and over again without thinking about the meaning? Hmmmm….. Nice work on the video ;)

  3. Steven Hall says:

    We are are on the same page. I think it is ok sometimes to extend our boundaries a little to pull people out of the day to day. A lot of songs draw us into the presence of God, but only if we are willing to let go of our distractions. This may not make everyone happy, but no one will lose their salvation for it. And just maybe it will put someone in the right place to find their's.

  4. mike brown says:

    i think it comes down to not being offended at someone else's style of worship. i personally worship through video production and lighting (and through any style of music or media).
    just because i don't like someone else's style of worship, doesn't mean that god doesn't enjoy it. in fact, god has yet ask me for approval before he inhabits anyone's praises, no matter what it sounds like (or looks like) to me. I liked the mario video. as you said, it served a good purpose. it's a perfect expression of your worship, and it encouraged others to forget about themselves for a moment and engage in worship with you.

  5. jthtiger says:

    In my spiritual formation class, we were talking about the great commission. We are called to Baptize and Teach people. In order to do that, we need to reach out to people and I think we do that through media in today's culture. Our job as media directors (or any flavor of title you wish) is to get people in the doors, if you get right down to the heart of it. Yeah, we need to help in the baptizing and teaching, but everyone has their own job to do in that. There might be a pastor out there who can arrange words more beautifully and cleverly than those like C.S. Lewis, John Piper, or even Mr. Graham himself, but unless he has a way to get to the people, it's pretty much useless.

    The part we play in this great big picture, is simply bringing the people to the truth. People like seeing grand stages, and are feeling more and more comfortable in the "concert" environment. People make their judgement on anything else only on that first impression.

    If the church looked more inviting, even more like the world, on the surface, and had hard hitting truth deep down, people would come much more often than if we looked like a church on the surface and they found we were just like the world at our core.

    -Tyler Herron

  6. JCostanzo says:

    This is a really important thing to talk about because really the question is "are we creating a place for God to inhabit or is it a place God would run away from?" I think using videos and music to get people into a state that is less focused on themselves is never a bad thing, especially in an opening. We need to create an atmosphere where God is magnified and we are able to focus on him.

    If the lights are too crazy and the movies are distracting this can grieve the holy spirit but also the lack of presencedullness of the lights and stifling of any creativity can also be just as bad. So in all things its about finding a middle ground that obviously suits your church's vision and congregation.

  7. Bill Reeves says:

    It seems real "church creativity" may validly include some form of entertainment. If we are using a "big ol' cutesy distraction" to help move people's focus from themselves to God's word and it works, we have done our job. Entertainment shouldn't be our ultimate goal, but it isn't necessarily wrong to have elements of entertainment in our services. To think there are only certain ways to express church creativity is a constraint on the very activity itself.

    LIke Jonathan said, part of what we do with our services is to help people get out of their own self-centered worlds and move toward a focus on God. It sounds so simple to do, yet it really can be very difficult. Similar to how music isn't the only way of worshiping God, there isn't only one way of helping people move closer to God.

    When designing and constructing staging for my church, I try to remember to support the rest of the service and not be a distraction. There have been times when I have accomplished this better than others. This middle ground is hard to find and can change depending on the service. Our best tool to use is to work on keeping our eyes on God and allowing him lead us.

  8. I am in agreement also.
    I wrote a lot, but realized that is all boils down to
    Is God glorified? Are people’s lives being transformed?
    Beyond the assumed goal of always glorifying God; my personal design mission statement is…

    entice the skeptic, challenge the lukewarm & ignite passion in the believer (to go into the world)…

  9. Peter Hamm says:

    Some people, it seems… have no sense of humor. and no sense of what gets people to ease up, and, as a matter of fact, I hate to say it, but some, I think, would rather appear reverent than actually be that way… although I can only guess at the motives of the poster.

    I'd like a copy of this video to use before the next time I use this song. I think it would be great… downloading now. Thanks.

  10. Kjell says:

    Better to keep people engaged and entertained and thus have a voice in their lives than to bore them straight to hell. That was something I heard Perry Noble say and I really liked it. I've used it in conversations. It makes sense.

  11. Joanne says:

    In today's culture we are saturated with technology, from i pods, laptops, cellphones and even home theaters becoming more common place. I think it is important for the church to be relevant to todays society. Look at an old traditional church, there is stained galss windows, candles, altar's and so much going on visually. That's what they had years ago to attract people to their church. Today with our buildings being much more simple we need to use what is availbale to us today to draw people in to our places of worship and keep them interested. Church attendance is very low across the nation, we are in a battle for the lost.

    However, there is certainly a risk at being too focused on the visual and not on glorifying God. I like this quote I found recently:

    Just like a piano seems to be part of nearly every church’s
    worship service, stage lighting and design is begining to be just as commonplace.
    But in the end, stage lighting alone, just like the piano, does nothing for
    us in worship. It’s how we use it and combine it with all the other elements
    of a service that makes it an important part of the worship experience.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I don't agree with you on one thing; songs are sacred!!!
    look at King David and the requirements he had for the temple of God.
    Look at his Psalms; they are all songs but they are sacred, they are part of
    the Word of God. Songs, like scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. While it is
    important to draw people in, it is even more important to draw the Spirit of God in.
    Worship is not a tool!!!!! It is exactly what it's entitled…WORSHIP!! It's about Him, and Him

  13. Anonymous cotinue says:

    Oh and God does the ministering, not you. So don't worry about we don't want to bore them…God brings them to Him, not your worship or your stage or your videos. If you ever go to little churches down in Mexico, way up there in the mountains you'll see what I mean. These people risk their lives everytime they go to church, driving across mountain roads that are known to break apart. There they have no stage lighting just an on and off switch, no videos, not even tuned instruments but the Sprit of God is there and they have HUGE congregations, just a side note. Focus more on Him and not entertaining people..

    • I appreciate your input. Being a missionary in Guatemala for 6 years I can see your point. And I can't agree with you more…it is God who does the ministering to His people…though we do minister to God as seen in Psalm 103.

      I think you're on shaky ground when you say songs are sacred. You are essentially placing them on the same level as the Word of God. That's dangerous. I seriously doubt Chris Tomlin or David Crowder want to be on the same level as the Bible…though they make great use of the truths they read. Unfortunately, many of the worship songs out there are not very good doctrinally. So then you'd have to say SOME songs are sacred…and that gets to be a slippery slope.

      If you think that this post is about entertaining people…please read it again…you missed the point.

      I'd really be interested in talking to you when you aren't anonymous. Because I have no idea who you are…it's really hard to take you seriously. So please…let's talk…but next time post who you are. :)

      • anonymous says:

        My post wasn't meant towards the video, I probably should have been more specific however, I agree, it's a very useful tool. And you're right, not all songs are sacred, but maybe we need to reevaluate what we're singing in church. My post was more in regards to the title "Entertaining Worship." I just think we need to bring our worship to where it belongs, The Cross. In the end, everything we do should come back to this and I really do think we've shifted our focus from where it should be (I'll include myself in this). I've grown a deep passionate love for the Cross and the significance of it; I want to see Him worshiped as He is in heaven. Everything up there is about Jesus, sadly, not everything down here is the same, including churches. Maybe we've all been focused on entertaining rather than worshiping, just a thought. :)

  14. Chad Crowley says:

    I totally agree with this post. Using a fun video or a secular song to break the ice is a great tool…if your church is reaching the lost. If your church exists for it’s members and the found, then you might fin it offensive. But think about when you were NOT a Christian. Did you just stumble into a church one day by accident or was there something that drew you? For a large portion of our culture (US) most people come to Christ as a teenager or young adult. This means the youth ministry drew them. That means the crazy games, loud music, off the wall youth minister or even the cute girl from English class got them there. Yes the Bible says that God will draw all men near, but are you going to out a limit on what God can use them to draw them. Our church focuses on the lost. We use an opener song/video/game to break the ice and make non church people feel welcome and at ease. It is much easier for them to hear God’s voice when they don’t have walls up about what they “think” church should be or not be. Recently our pastor did a series titled “Love Shack” and guess what song we opened up with? You got it… And everyone loved it. Non church people immediately felt welcome and that they could belong. It was a familiar tune that they did know the words too. Not some song that only is sung in this place they had never been. So I agree. God can and use any song or video if you use it with His guidance. Don’t use them for the shock factor or just to push the envelope. Use them for a purpose and God will do the rest.

  15. M Jones says:

    Ha! I saw the video, and I used it as a pre-service ice-breaker.
    I left the intro credits on it so the author would get their props.

    I never even had a twinge of anxiety over whether it was inappropriate or not. Granted, ‘the blue hairs’ didn’t get it… but then again, they are glad to occasionally not get it for the sake of others who do. I’ve learned that anything anyone ever does will always, always receive a mixed response. I just happened to love it! We ignore anonymous comments

    I try to visit and seek out content on all of your blogs.
    You are a talented writer and gifted designer.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Jonathan Malm says:

      Thanks! Glad you were able to use it. :)

      And it sounds like you guy have some pretty exceptional “blue hairs” at your church :)

  16. Brad says:

    We must all remember, The MESSAGE is what is sacred, NOT the METHOD! We cannot continue to expect the “unchurched” to except what is not natural. I’m a young Pastor from Florida, and the one thing that we discuss in our meetings is whether or not we ever cross the line into entertainment, our goal is not to be seeker friendly, but Christ centered! HOWEVER, I would say that usually the ones that are skeptical, or are “hating” (sorry had to throw that in lol) on the creativity that is being introduced are usually part of a church that not impacting a younger generation. Many of the adults from the generation before us think of people as they were 30 years ago, when EVERYONE was raised in church, and rededicating your heart to Jesus Christ was something you could connect with, because church was familiar. ITS NOT THAT WAY ANYMORE! As a matter of fact, over 40% of our congregation had NEVER been in a church service before they came to visit Hearts of Love Ministry! With that said, stop focusing on the method, focus on the message, if it breaks the ice for some to feel comfortable, go for it! Get them in the door! THEN Teach them what worship is! But you can’t clean a fish before you catch it…
    We are blessed at our church to have EVERY age group, and each one excepts the other because they understand the MESSAGE>method formula if you will…

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