Here we are now, entertain us

Shocking. Heartbreaking. This. Believe. Surprising.

These are a few of the common clickbait words used in Internet headlines to lure you into reading. So, it shouldn’t have “surprised” me to “believe” that I would have clicked on “this”: “Survey shocker: music dead last, sermons first, as worship draws.”

The story got my attention, especially because I like empirical reinforcement about how important my sermons are. There, I said it. I wasn’t as happy to read the low esteem for music. My sympathies were roused for worship leaders — ministers, choirs and instrumentalists. Then I realized people who took the survey probably don’t go to my church, so they can’t be blamed. Of course, I figure they all do go to my church about the sermon part.

The Gallup people who did this recent survey found that fully three-quarters of respondents cited sermons that illuminate the scripture and apply it to daily life as the top reason people attend a particular church. This comes in just ahead of spiritual programs for children and youth, and engagement in community outreach. Last on the list was music, whether a good choir or praise band.

But think about what worship would be without music that raises our praises to God. And imagine a church with great preaching and dreadfully poor music. I suspect excellence in one is tied to excellence in the other. And that’s true across the board, whether education or community involvement.

Sometimes surveys like this try too hard. My biggest complaint is how they play into the consumer mentality of why people go to church. We have too much “à la carte religion” today: people picking and choosing according to their tastes and preferences. Next thing you know, we’ll be installing Facebook-like buttons in the pews with emoji choices of like, love, haha, wow, sad or angry.

If there is a positive aspect of the results of the survey, it may be counter to the point I just made: Maybe people are looking for depth after all. And that’s worth celebrating.

As one survey commentator put it: “Churches feel they need to keep entertaining people in the pews to keep them coming. We’re a culture that likes to be entertained. … It can be a part of our lives but it shouldn’t be what we live for. I think churches are probably responding to modern man’s need to be entertained all the time … It can feel like we’re watching a talent competition instead of answering deep meaningful questions about our God.”

It used to be that we went to the movies to be entertained and to church to wrestle with life’s questions about meaning and purpose. Sometimes now it seems to have switched. Faith communities should remember their reason for being.

Church aims to call us out of a self-centered living and invites us to participate in the story of what God is doing in the world. In other words, it’s about God, not us. Only God is worthy of our worship.

George Mason is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church. The Worship section is underwritten by Advocate Publishing and the neighborhood businesses and churches listed here. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.

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