Creating Worship Tourists


tourist photoIn Teaching A Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard wrote, “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, watching the radar screen, noting weather reports radioed from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things.”[1]

If we never involve our congregants as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive spectators to active participators? Aren’t we really creating worship tourists who select their destination based solely on their impression of the platform tour guide and excursion offered rather than worship travelers on a continuous journey?

Leaders must facilitate participative worship not just depending on their own strengths and abilities but also by investing in the strengths and abilities of other congregants who are willing to subordinate their individual interests to the corporate concerns of the entire congregation. The leader who promotes participative worship taps into the collective resources and talents of others by affirming publicly and privately their value to worship health.

Participatory worship is intentionally collaborative and is not guarded, territorial, defensive or competitive. Considering participatory worship leverages and trusts the creative abilities and resources of the whole in the planning, preparation and implementation. Participatory leaders are not threatened when someone else gets their way or gets the credit. And participatory worship is a culture, not a one-time event.

William Willimon wrote, “Many of the Sunday orders of worship consist of the pastor speaking, the pastor praying, the pastor reading and the choir singing, with little opportunity for the congregation to do anything but sit and listen . . . When the Sunday service is simply a time to sit quietly, hear some good music and a good sermon, sing a hymn, and then go home to eat dinner, no wonder many of our people get confused into thinking that Christ only wants passive admirers rather than active followers.”[2]


[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 52.

[2] William H. Willimon, Preaching and Leading Worship (Philadelphia PA: Westminster, 1984) 20.



2 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve Ernspiker on 17.11.13 at 2:47 pm

    I fully agree with the premise that are congregations have become (actually have been for years) primarily spectators or as stated in this blog and quoted book, tourists. Where do we start? The culture of in traditional church settings is so entrenched. Do we have to abandon those congregations and start anew? I know that what works one place is not the same solution for all. There must be some basic “must do’s” to turn a ship headed for the iceberg. Help a congregate here. So many of us have grown up in the exact pattern spelled out above. Church attendance has become just what we do every week. The staff must make the business piece work. The cash comes from those who are happy with the status quo.

  2. Posted by Brad Eberly on 17.11.13 at 2:47 pm

    Well said. Add the thought that the congregation is “us”, not “them” and the perspective not only changes, but participation becomes imperative for “our” growth and even our survival. After all, if “we” are not growing, “we” are probably dying. The contemporary culture of the church in the U.S. is so individualistic that the fact that the church is US (collective) is overlooked in the week to week grind of programming the worship services to accommodate the tastes of a vocal few. This is the call for those leading worship to maintain a pastoral perspective as they “shepherd” the congregation in their worship together.

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