Worship That Welcomes

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The church at which I work—Granite Springs Church in Lincoln, California—has approximately 40 different denominational backgrounds represented. We have people on every conceivable point of the spiritual spectrum, from spiritual novices to veterans. How does a church create space for such a diverse group of people?

The natural tendency is to go “wide,” stripping the worship service to the bare bones of singing and a message. This simplifying approach attempts to include as many people as possible, making the Christian faith approachable and helping people feel comfortable. But rather than going “wide,” Granite Springs Church, under the leadership of pastor Kevin Adams (who’s currently writing a book on this idea), has opted to go “deep.” We delve into historical practices that have sustained Christians for thousands of years across the globe—practices like preaching from the Lectionary, addressing the Trinity, following the liturgical calendar, emphasizing Scripture memory, practicing weekly communion, passing the peace, and highlighting baptismal identity as a key marker (rather than race, language, denomination, economic status or giftedness, to name a few).

Because we are exploring “deep,” we’ve stepped up our hospitality skills. Rather than shying away from certain practices or feeling embarrassed by them, we explain them in clear and accessible ways. We call this “framing,” and we see it as an act of hospitality. It puts a warm human touch on what can seem like boring tradition or cold liturgy.

For instance, we collectively recite the Apostles’ Creed as we prepare for communion. We might frame this by succinctly saying this: “Together, let’s say this ancient creed that summarizes the basics of the Christian faith...” Sometimes we’ll introduce it by giving a brief history like this: “A long time ago, people were preaching about Jesus in a way that wasn’t in sync with the Bible. So church leaders got together and prayerfully and carefully wrote a summation of the basic truths of the Christian faith. Today we know it as the Apostles’ Creed. Let’s say it now together…” We might even say something like this: “Have you ever tried on clothes that were too big for you? The Christian faith is so rich and so big that sometimes it can feel awkward. The truths in this creed are honestly too big for us, and it can feel strange saying these things. But let’s try these truths on for size and give ourselves permission to feel awkward.”

Here’s another example. Instead of encouraging people to greet one another by shaking hands and saying “good morning,” we pass the peace of Christ. One person turns to you and says, “The peace of Christ be with you,” and the other responds, “And also with you.” Truthfully, this a strange and awkward practice. So sometimes we frame it that way by saying “For thousands of years, the church has encouraged passing the peace of Christ. We do this because God in Christ extends his peace to us, and we in turn extend it to one another. This may feel awkward, but that’s OK. Let’s be awkward together and pass the peace of Christ.” Sometimes we say, “The whole gospel can be summed up in a handshake. God calls us friends, and when we pass the peace of Christ to each other we acknowledge that the person sitting next to us is not our enemy, but our brother and sister in Christ.”

Rather than shying away from these practices, we lean into them in a hospitable and sensitive way. There are so many creative avenues into the rich and historical practices of the church. At Granite Springs we’ve sought to articulate some of these practices around several themes:  

1. We recognize that our worship begins with Trinitarian grace. It works itself out in a number of different ways:

  • Worship is slow. By this, we do not refer to the pace of our music or services. Rather, we recognize that because God welcomes us as we are, and because God generally does not transform lives overnight, we are called, as leaders of worship, to be patient. We are more interested in what happens in lives over 52 services of practicing the rhythms of worship than in creating a single exciting spiritual experience (although these also have their place). We believe worship is foundational to the missional work of the church in that God forms us as we turn toward him and receive from him grace in worship, Word, and Table.
  • Worship is broad and specific. We seek to be “catholic” in the sense that we align ourselves with the church of all times and places. Where traditions and practices are helpful in faith formation, we are happy to adopt them, recognizing that our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters often have more acute memories and many riches to offer us. Even in this breadth, we also recognize that there is great value in specific movements that have been a mainstay of our Reformed tradition, which is why our services also follow Reformed patterns of worship (invocation, confession, assurance, Scripture, communion, etc.).

2. We recognize that our worship begins with Trinitarian hospitality. It works itself out in a number of different ways:

  • Worship is deep and accessible. We believe words matter and so we choose them with care. We want our language to be accessible to people at all stages on their faith journey and to people of all ages, not merely “Christian jargon.” To do this, we think carefully before using words that might only be familiar to the long-time Christian, we provide context for ideas that might be new, and we frame our actions to help our newer friends understand what we are doing.
  • Worship is for the young and for the old (and all the ages in between). We believe faith formation does not begin when everything is understood, but is often a long journey. For this reason, we delight in having children participate in worship both from the congregation and on stage, being sure that we use ideas and language they can understand. We also seek to have worship of significance for those at every stage of life, recognizing that God welcomes all of us into his presence.
  • Worship is welcoming. We believe we best show God’s generous character when our worship is welcoming. As leaders of worship, we practice this by providing framing and by addressing the audience as friends. As a congregation we practice this by passing the peace of Christ and welcoming all to join the procession to receive grace in communion.

Friends, as cultural memories of Christianity fade, denominational barriers erode, and we invite new people into the riches of God’s redemptive story in Christ, how do we create warm space for everyone to belong? One option is for the church to reduce a worship service to the bare bones. Another option is for the church to put its hospitality foot forward and to lean into the historical practices of the church that unite Christians all around the globe. One way to show hospitality is by digging deep into two thousand years of church life and worship and then find creative and contemporary ways to frame these practices so that worship is not only formative, but welcoming.

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I am curious how this works itself out in the sacraments and especially regarding children? Are children baptized as infants? What about those who have different beliefs in adult baptism? And are children allowed to take communion? Do they need to be baptized? etc. Thanks!

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