Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New GenerationsEmerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations
Dan Kimball
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Is there a missing generation in your church? Offer worship services that meet the unique needs of 18- to 35-year-olds---and watch the seats fill up! Using real-life examples, Kimball shows you how to develop prayer teams, evaluate local mission fields, select leaders, use youth pastors, recognize congregational differences, and ask critical questions beforehand. 272 pages, softcover from Zondervan.

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Dan Kimball is pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz California, a missional church designed for the emerging post-Christian culture. Dan is the author of the 2004 Christianity Today award-winning book, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations and is also a contributor to numerous titles and periodicals. Dan also serves on the Emergent Youth Specialties board and is a frequent speaker at Youth Specialties' training events.

In his previous book, The Emerging Church Dan discussed the holistic changes needed in our Christian communities as the new millennium unfolds. His most recent effort, Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations, Kimball focuses specifically on the steps church leaders can take when creating multi-sensory worship gatherings to reach these young generations. Kimball also offers several distinct approaches churches have successfully employed in birthing new worship gatherings, as well as effective ways congregations like yours can structure their leadership and rethink church and worship altogether.

Christianbook.com: In the opening chapter of Emerging Worship you make a point of distinguishing between a “worship service” and a “worship gathering”. Could you briefly explain the difference between the two?

Dan Kimball: I am more and more convinced that words do shape how we view things, and I am personally trying to not use the term "worship service" anymore. When the church first started using the term, it meant what it said. A "worship service" was when the church gathered to offer their "service" to God in worship. It was us serving God and serving others in the community.

However, in recent years many of our churches have become more self-serving and internally focused. We go to a church meeting to personally get "serviced" like we would if we were a car going to a gas station for our weekly service and filling. We pull in, get a quick "filling" from a sermon, or children's program, even get a coffee like in a gas station mini-mart - then off we go. We complain when the "service" wasn't good. This is totally backwards. We don't go to church to get serviced - we are the church offering our service. Thus, I am using the term "worship gathering" as means to communicate that our meetings are a time for the church (or the people) to come together and "gather" to worship God - thus, a worship gathering.

Christianbook.com: Regarding younger generations of Christians you note, "Emerging generations in our churches today desire a different kind and form of worship experience to express their worship to God (pg. 26)" To some it may seem you are suggesting that we change our traditional style of worship in order to satisfy the desires of men rather than enabling them to more adequately worship and serve God. How would you respond to this criticism?

Dan Kimball: Well, I think to some degree you are accurate in saying that emerging generations desire change to satisfy their desire to worship God - but what they desire here is to express worship in a way they best feel can express their love and worship to God. If the criticism is that emerging generations are wanting to make change in order to satisfy the desires to more holistically worship God, then to me, this is a good criticism!

Christianbook.com: I appreciated your discussion of the foundations upon which we tend to build our churches. You suggest that churches should not be built upon the weekend worship service, but upon the foundation of disciple making. Can you briefly explain how you came to adopt this perspective and how this model has played out in the Vintage Faith Church?

Dan Kimball: I came to adopt this concept by reading the New Testament and noting that nowhere does it ever state, "they went to church". One can't "go to church" because we are the church. But because we have taught people that they are to come to church, they then "go to church". Most people think that they "go to church" and define "church" as the meeting on Sunday they attend. They go to it, and then they leave. This creates consumerism and a false sense of what church is.

No wonder we aren't seeing major life change overall in most churches in America! When we look at where most pastors and leaders spend the bulk of their time, it is all about the weekend worship gathering. Yet, when you talk with people, the weekend worship gathering generally is not where their lives are changed the most. It is through relationships and smaller meetings that occur outside of the weekend gathering. I am still in favor of having a large weekend gathering, but I don't view it as the primary way to see the Spirit change people, as most people are changed in settings other than the weekend gathering.

At Vintage Faith we are trying our best to retrain our thinking regarding this. Each week our large worship gathering is "hosted" by a different home community group (a house church) who shares what is happening in their group. This group is then responsible for reading the Scriptures that evening for the weekend gathering, and also for the prayers, etc. In doing this there exists a strong presence of individual and community growth through these house churches. This in turn is communicated during these larger gatherings and it is reiterated that discipleship is met in smaller churches who meet in homes during the week.

Christianbook.com: As you present reasons for creating new worship gatherings, you carefully identify issues and potential problems that must be considered before engaging in new worship gatherings. Are there certain types of churches you would not recommend undertaking the formation of new worship gatherings?

Dan Kimball: The two potential problems which come to mind are:

1) Churches that jump to the concept of launching a new worship gathering to reach and engage emerging generations, but only focus on the surface issues such as adding candles, doing prayer stations etc. Those are great, but there needs to be a holistic look at spiritual formation and also the definition of "church" before one starts something new.

2) That the senior pastor or senior leadership (elders, board, etc.) sincerely believe in what you are doing. It is also important that they are not threatened by it, nor merely dismiss it as a glorified youth group which will one day "grow up" and in turn begin to attend the more traditional and ongoing church gathering. It really needs to be understood that the birthing of these new worship gatherings is more than just a generational gap occurring. If not there will eventually be tension and heartache, and unfortunately a power struggle could potentially ensure and things could get very ugly.

This unfortunately happens all the time in churches who start new worship gatherings, and most of the time it is because of poor communication and a poor understanding of what the emerging worship gathering is for, and why it is being created. When this vision has not been communicated properly to the whole elder board, the deacons, and all those in power in the church, the senior pastor may decide not to approve it any more. Should this happen, things go sour fairly quickly, because without communication no one really understands what you are doing, and you have no backing to defend the need to engage this new vision. So, educating all levels of church leadership on alternative worship gatherings is critical from the beginning, should you seek to begin these new gatherings.

Christianbook.com: In the creation of our worship gatherings you note that it is important to avoid the appearance of “putting on a show.” What suggestions might you offer to help emerging churches create gatherings which avoid the characteristics of a spectator type gathering?

Dan Kimball: At Vintage Faith Church the worship band is positioned over to the side of the room so they don't come across as pop-concert performers. We put a large cross dead center as the focal point of the room, to have the symbol of a the risen Jesus the centerpiece, not people looking at you singing and doing guitar solos with colored lights on them. I speak from a platform which is almost at the same level as the people are sitting (even with several hundred people in the room). I stand off-center, so the cross still remains the dominant object of the room.

We also have a bulk of time in our gathering, where people are allowed to roam around the room, pray at prayer stations, express worship to God that does not involve another person up front. We give people the opportunity to participate as much as possible, so it is not just a one-way presentation. We have several hundred people in a worship gathering, so it is not always easy. But, if you understand the value of this contribution to the gathering you can more readily think of ways. Our musical worship leader weekly has a time where he allows people to call out songs or begin them, so they aren't all pre-selected. We have times of open prayers, open Scripture readings etc. As previously mentioned one of our home community groups hosts the night and they are the ones reading the Scriptures for the evening, and telling about what God is doing in their home community. We do as much as possible to ensure the gathering does not end up looking like a presentation with just one or two people always in the spotlight.

Christianbook.com: Throughout, Emerging Worship you mention the benefit of creating a multi-sensory worship gathering. Would you briefly (if possible) describe what this type of worship gathering means, what it involves, and how it can ultimately benefit our worship experience?

Dan Kimball: For so long in most contemporary evangelical churches we have only emphasized the cognitive, in terms of worship, which typically involves preaching and the singing of a few songs. When I read the Bible I see all forms of worship happening. In the Old Testament, for example, when the Hebrews created symbols to express faith, and made wonderful descriptions of the stone pillars of the temple, and even described the sheer beauty of the Temple itself - to the New Testament in the comfort and symbolic nature of the Christian home, to the wonders of what worship looks like in the book of Revelation, various forms of worship are taking places. So, why have we made our worship gatherings only talking and singing? Moving to a multi-sensory approach is much more engaging to all the senses in our worship to God; using art, using interactive prayer stations, using visuals and symbols. However, as mentioned in Emerging Worship, it actually ends up using more of the Scriptures, not less.

A criticism from those who have never experienced this is typically to say we are becoming experiential and not in the Word. However, I believe we teach and use more Scripture than most churches today, by our use of the multi-sensory worship approach. The Scriptures are used in all we do, and employed in every multi-sensory worship expression. I could talk a lot about this, but I have carefully touched upon numerous examples in the book and covered the theology of multi-sensory worship in The Emerging Church. All to say however, is that I believe emerging generations are resonating with this expression of their worship to God.

Christianbook.com: You also emphasize the important role community plays in developing the worship gathering. You suggest designating a community of teams, such as a prayer team or an artistic team, which will ultimately contribute to the larger worship gathering. Does this collaborative structure remove some of the authority and responsibility of the lead pastor?

Dan Kimball: Yes, it moves the pastor to function as part of the team, and not as a single controller. In the setting of the Vintage Faith, after prayer and in talking to those in the church, I do end up selecting the Scriptures we teach. However, I then bring the selection to a team we call the "Palette" (which consists of people on fine arts, spoken word, video and music teams etc.) and together we shape how best to teach and express worship using various multi-sensory elements. Using this approach, the expression of worship is really a community one, not simply based on the personality and preference of the pastor.

Christianbook.com: You devote a few chapters to the process of developing multi-congregational worship gatherings. More specifically, you describe the emergence of smaller worship gatherings within existing, larger worship gatherings in order to serve the differing age groups represented in the congregation. How would you respond to those who feel this may divide congregations rather than unify them?

Dan Kimball: Well, to some degree it does separate people based on how they desire to express worship. But, so does having a 9am and an 11:00am morning service. This essentially creates two congregations. I feel it is better to have people in your church separated in which gathering they choose to attend, than not seeing any emerging generations in your church at all. But, if you're church isn't comfortable with this, I would consider not doing it. But then again, you need to do something! The churches I know of which have started multi-congregations have put various efforts (mentoring, men's retreats, prayer meetings etc.) into finding ways to see the various worship gatherings come to together.

Christianbook.com: You also devote a chapter to the starting of new kinds of worship gatherings, including house churches. How would you differentiate between house church gatherings and the small group meetings that many of us are more familiar with?

Dan Kimball: Small groups in most churches resemble something added as an extra means for growth, in addition to the worship gathering. Generally, there is a rather strong control held over these small groups at the hand of the senior pastor, and the groups are usually based around the weekend service and teaching of the senior pastor. House churches (we call them Community Groups) on the other hand are in fact "the church", and these community groups all gather collectively for a larger worship gathering. At the Vintage Faith this is what we are moving towards. There are, however, a growing contingent of distinct and autonomous house churches, which are self-governed and aren't part of any larger church. SO, technically these are more distinct.

I personally like having the home churches connected to a larger network of other home churches, because it creates a larger sense of identity as a church. The benefits also include a more rounded sense of community due to the diversity involved. Also there exists an easier ability to multiply new home churches, and there are many opportunities to impact the Kingdom in this type of community by seeing them collectively work together.

Christianbook.com: In the last chapter of “Emerging Worship” you suggest that those who are considering new worship gatherings ask themselves the following question: “Do the emerging worship gatherings we create produce disciples or consumers?” How can well-intentioned Christian worship services produce consumers instead of disciples? How can emerging churches steer clear of this error?

Dan Kimball: Defining the term "success" is a good place to start, and how you choose look for success is essential as well. How will you measure it? I think it is critical not to measure success by numbers, but by the stories we hear from the people. What do people say when they leave? What types of written comments are people leaving? How you measure the actions of the people in your home churches or small groups in addition to the larger gathering is pertinent as well. Are you seeing people serving? Do you see people having their hearts broken for those who don't know Jesus? Do you see people volunteering in local community service and social justice projects? These are the types of things to be looking for, not just how many people come to the weekend gathering.

Christianbook.com: Thank you for taking this opportunity to speak with us, Dan! And thank you for sharing some groundbreaking thoughts on how to better serve our new and emerging generations!