When I’m not leading worship somewhere, I’ve been visiting different churches as a research project. It’s a “blank slate” approach to learn by observation. Over the last few months I’ve visited over a dozen churches with a wide range of styles, size, denomination, and approach to worship.

What does the average person experience among different communities in the body of Christ? The range of diversity has been enlightening and fascinating.

Some take-a-ways worth noting.

1. Know Your Niche

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. There are multiple and very divergent ways to engage people in relevant, meaningful worship. The better churches did not seem to be aspiring to be something they could not be. They understood their niche, their unique identity, and led worship in a way that was meaningful to their context.

The age and personality of the leaders, combined with the cultural history and vision of the church – are huge variables  that shape the worship personality of a community.

2. Hospitality Matters

It really is the little things that make the biggest difference. One church stood out because they had a culture of welcoming strangers and making them feel at home. Another church I thought was really “on top of it” , surprisingly they never followed up on our visitor card, even though outreach and growth seemed very important to them. Yet another church felt like an exclusive country club that was not so interested in newcomers.

3. Did we experience the presence of God?

Now here’s a novel idea, did we actually experience the presence of God? I would say yes in almost every context, but in differing measures. It seems that our methods of worship are not the most important thing. Surprise!

It has become apparent to me we can say and do all the right things and still just be going through the motions. Conversely, we can have amped up musical or emotional experiences and still not be worshiping in spirit and truth.

The response of the heart is what matters most.

Only God can truly evaluate the state of one’s heart, or of the gathered hearts of the people. However, I would submit that the average observer can discern whether folks seem to be bored or engaged, timid or participating , passive or passionate, inhibited or heartfelt. This will look and sound very differently depending on context, but you can still spiritually discern it.

Challenge for leaders: Are you guiding your community in such a way that the natural response of your people is to worship wholeheartedly? What does that look like in your context?

This post is part of the Worship Community Sunday Set Lists blog http://www.theworshipcommunity.com/sunday-setlists-141/