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Worship: not boring and not awesome

Synod Mission Consultant Rev Dr Graham Beattie

That those attending Uniting Church worship services in Queensland are not bored is the good news story from the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) results from 2006.

Questions on the impact of worship on the lives of people show that fewer than 2% of Uniting Church worshippers always experience boredom.

None of those over 65-years of age report being consistently bored at church.

Less encouraging is that fewer than 6% of people regularly experience awe or mystery in their Sunday worship experience, and the results suggest that while congregations are not bored, neither are they inspired.

Synod Mission Consultant Rev Dr Graham Beattie said that there was a higher reporting of “a sense of God’s presence” particularly among older church worshippers, and that this may represent a traditional liturgical understanding.

“Perhaps they feel that if we are doing worship in a way that is theologically correct then God will be present,” he said.

“But the kind of awe that the NCLS seeks to assess is the kind we see with Isaiah’s vision of the holiness of God in the temple, or in Peter at the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5 when he fell on his knees before Jesus and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’

“People are looking for an overwhelming revelation that they are standing before the living God.”

UK evangelical leader and founder of the Oasis Trust and the Faithworks Movement Rev Steve Chalke, who visited Brisbane in August, was dismissive of those who think that God is only present when worship is “good”.

“Omnipresence does have its downside. God is the only one who has to turn up, however bad the service is and however long it goes, for he cannot leave.”

The NCLS 2006 results do suggest that there are significant age differences in how people find the sense of awe or mystery in worship. As people age they are more likely to value the sense of awe or presence in Holy Communion.

For the 65-years and older members of the church, more than half find the sharing in the Lord’s Supper a “most valued” aspect of church, while the younger the members are, the more likely it is that they will value contemporary styles of worship or music.

Worship was in the top two “core qualities” identified as relative strengths by Uniting Church members in Queensland in every age group. While older members valued traditional music styles, to a slightly lesser extent they also valued contemporary music styles. Younger people valued the contemporary style of music and worship but seem to be less tolerant of traditional styles.

Minister of the Bayside congregation Rev Ian Lord believes that the greatest source of strength in the Uniting Church is the strength of meaningful community.

“Smaller congregations are more relational and can take a long time to die. They are very enduring,” Mr Lord said.

Dr Beattie said while ‘family’ is not a boring place it can sometimes lack excitement.

Referring to the importance of church space and buildings he added, “There is a strong feeling of belonging and identity centred around the ‘place’ and it becomes highly symbolic for a group of people with all their history and all that they’ve gone through.”

Dr Beattie strongly encourages congregations to take a look at the NCLS Age Profiles to explore how worship can encourage a sense of awe and mystery for the various age groups.
NCLS 2006 was the largest national survey of church attenders ever to take place in Australia.

Between June and November last year, hundreds of thousands of attenders and leaders in Australia’s Christian Churches completed questionnaires on church life.

Tables from the NCLS research on worship together with some questions for discussion by worship teams, Church Councils and Elders are available in
UC Information

Photo : Synod Mission Consultant Rev Dr Graham Beattie