The rate of church attendance has been falling for decades in North America. The primary reason, I believe, is not that the music isn’t contemporary or the preaching doesn’t talk about real-life issues, but that there is not power in our worship. We seldom sense an authentic connection to God.
I remember one of the first times I did feel that God was present and active in a church service. It was during a Sunday service at the church where my dad was pastor. I was probably 14 years old at the time and was generally bored with church. But on this Sunday, something was different. Throughout the morning, there seemed to be a sense of urgency or expectancy among people. I could sense it in the enthusiasm with which they sang and the fervor with which Dad delivered his sermon.
At the conclusion of his sermon, my father called people who wanted to confess sin and make a fresh start with God to come forward and pray. Many people did, and others—close friends and mature Christians—knelt with them to counsel and encourage them. The service lasted much longer than usual, and people simply stayed. We all knew that God was present, and nobody wanted to leave.
Since then I’ve consistently had a sense of God’s presence in worship. Not every service ends with a spectacular moment, but I am aware that God is always present and working in people’s lives.
While no one can predict what God will do, or when, there are some things we can do to help ourselves and others experience God for themselves.
Pray for it. Days prior to Sunday, seek the Spirit’s leading for yourself and your people. Your midweek prayer service can do more to build your Sunday experience than any other thing you do in the course of the week.
Plan a God moment. No, you can’t engineer God’s activity. But you can bring yourself and others to a point of expectancy—a moment in the service when you believe something special could happen. It might be your prayer time, communion, the climax of the sermon, or even the offering. When is the one moment in this week’s service when you hope and pray God will move?
Arrive expecting to meet God. Faith is our basic currency in dealing with God. If you believe he will gather with you on Sunday, he will. (He will anyway, but he won’t say much if nobody is listening.)
Help others enter God’s presence. People come to church carrying a ton of junk in their heads, everything from the stress in their marriage to the errands they need to run in the afternoon. Call them to a place where they can sense God’s presence. Help them slow down and listen. Remind people that “God is in this place,” and when you see God working, tell them, “What you are sensing right now is the movement of the Holy Spirit.”
Let people share their experience. We used to call this testimony time, an opportunity for those who have been touched by God to share their experience—of conversion, sanctification, answered prayer, or whatever God has done for them. When we see God working in others, we are more likely to seek him ourselves.
People come to church looking for God. As a leader, you can help to make the introduction.In the next post, I’ll talk about the other primary reason people attend church—and why it is often missing.