One of the key shifts in worship over the last 75 years has been the move to make worship services primarily about evangelism. For most of church history worship was an offering to God by Christians and a place where the faithful were taught by God through the Word, prayer, and fellowship. It was about Christians and getting those Christians to grow. Evangelism was something different. Evangelism was telling the lost the good news that Christ came, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to save us from our sins. Evangelism aimed at the non-believer. Worship aimed at God and the believer. With the advent of tent meetings, the seeker sensitive movement, church as therapy, and other aspects of the church growth movement worship services became more and more evangelistic.
Jim Jordan was one of the first men I read who helped me understand the difference between the two. Here are some quotes from his book Theses on Worship.
If worship is turned into evangelism, then it is no longer prayer. Jesus said His house was to be a house of prayer.
[Here he comments on I Corinthians 14:24-25.] To the marginal extent that worship is evangelistic, it is precisely when it is completely uncompromised. We don’t worship to be seen by men, but if men are going to watch us anyway, we should not compromise for them. The more uncompromisedly Biblical we are, the better the ‘witness’ is.
When we turn worship into an open evangelistic meeting, or try to accommodate worship to evangelistic purposes, we lose the purpose of worship. Worship and evangelism are two different things. The one is directed toward God, the other toward unconverted sinners. The Church will be much healthier when these two things are kept separate. We need to do both; but we don’t need to confuse them.
What are the practical differences between these two types of services?
A worship service is created by asking this question: How can we glorify God by helping Christians become more like Christ. The focus is on the second part of the Great Commission, teaching Christians to obey everything Christ commanded as well as offering to God an acceptable sacrifice. A worship service will involve clear preaching and teaching that helps Christians grow in their understanding of God’s Word, trust in Christ, and obedience to the Scriptures. The focus is on depth and maturity. A worship service will have a lot of prayer. The pastor will pray, but the people will as well either through corporate prayers or songs. The people can pray to God because they have Christ as their High Priest. Like the teaching the singing will focus on the deeper things of God. The Lord’s Supper will be important as a means of Christ feeding his people, just as he does through the Word. This does not mean there is no evangelistic element to a normal worship service. Call to repentance should be a regular part of a worship service. But the focus is on God maturing his people and his people offering to him acceptable worship through Christ’s blood.
In contrast, an evangelistic service is created by asking this question: How can we get non-Christians to hear the gospel, repent, and turn to Christ for salvation. The goal is not maturity or growth, but introduction to the Gospel and conversion. The preaching will be different. The content will focus on the basics of the faith, the cross, and salvation and will have a call to repent and follow Christ. A preacher will not get into the deep things of God. The minister might pray for the people, but the people cannot pray in an acceptable way yet. These people are not worshiping because they are not Christians. Until they are covered in Christ’s blood their worship is unacceptable. And of course, the Lord’s Supper will be absent since non-Christians should not eat and drink the body and blood of Christ.
One final difference between the two. Evangelism can be done by individual Christians in their day to day life. Worship however, is a corporate event. Christians, no matter what you might hear, do not worship God throughout the week in the same way they do on Sundays. Sunday worship is a unique event that cannot be replicated throughout the week by individual Christians. Sunday worship and other types of “worship” we do are different in kind. Evangelistic services however are not different in kind from what we do throughout the week. They are different in quality. Evangelistic services are basically an amped up version of personal evangelism.
A worship service is there to teach the sons and daughters of God what to believe and how to act as members of Christ’s Church and to offer to God the worship due His great name. A worship service is primarily directed towards those who already belong and are part of God’s people. An evangelistic service is there to offer people who are not sons and daughters of God, who are not part of God’s people to become part by trusting in Christ. One is for those who are primarily inside. The other is for those outside. One is a family dinner. The other is not.
The point is not who is there. There will be non-Christians in worship services and Christians in evangelistic services. I encourage my congregation to invite non-Christians to church and I encourage them to show up when a campus preacher is evangelizing the students. Non-Christians benefit from worship and Christians benefit from evangelistic services. The point is not who is there, but rather what is the purpose of the event. Worship and evangelism are two different things with different purposes.
For a church to be healthy, worship services must form the core of what she does. Sunday morning or whenever a church’s primary service is for the saints. It is to mature them, teach them the Word, call them to repent of their sins, help them sing the Psalms, pray, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Evangelistic services do not have this aim. Trying to make a worship service more evangelistic will make both our worship and evangelism weak.