In my post entitled "The Formula for Spiritual Growth," I explained how participation is a key component in our spiritual growth.
Why do participatory church meetings work? What makes participating in church assemblies more effective than sitting silently?
What is the desired outcome of "church?"
Too infrequently do Christians pause and consider this question.
The purpose of church meetings is to help more people develop the character of Jesus.
Here are 3 benefits that I've seen consistently come from interactive, participatory church meetings.
When people apply their hearts and participate, growth happens.
I've seen this in my own life and watched it happen repeatedly in the lives of others also. There is something special about sharing your thoughts, experiences and understandings of Scripture with others in the church.
Benefit #1: What once felt old and tired feels alive and revived.
Some of what I've experienced with our house church is difficult to explain.
One such difficult-to-explain thing is that there are hymns that I'd sung thousands of times in the past—hymns that I was completely tired of singing. When the church would sing those songs, I found myself struggling mightily to be enthusiastic and focus on the words. There were songs I just grew to detest—many of them wonderful classics. I didn't like that this was true, but it was reality.
Interestingly and amazingly, when we began meeting in our homes and people were invited to bring a hymn for the church to sing, many of those same songs were suggested.
But instead of feeling irritated, discouraged or fighting a poor attitude, I discovered new, deeper meaning and found that these hymns touched my heart anew.
It has been quite amazing!
And, it wasn't just me.
Over time, we learned that others in the group consistently had a similar experience. Tears would sometimes flow over the beautiful words and notes that had previously produced frustration. Years later, this still continues to occur and amaze me.
Benefit #2: Clock-watching boredom is replaced with "time flies."
Another significant change we discovered is that, individually, we stopped watching the clock.
Many times, in less-participatory assemblies, I struggled with feelings of boredom. I enjoy participating.
I have always enjoyed interactive, good, meaty Bible studies, regardless of the setting or location.
But when it came time for the post-class church assembly (what we've frequently and unfortunately called "the worship service"), I often fought feelings of boredom. The "quality" of the assembly, in my experience, was significantly impacted by the effectiveness of the sermon/preacher.
When I found the sermon effective, I enjoyed it more, but other times I frequently watched the clock.
Someone says, "Well, that's an attitude problem you had/have! You get out of 'worship' what you put into it."
Okay, first of all, this statement reflects what I believe to be an inaccurate view of biblical worship.
Second, it is true that we have an individual responsibility to contribute to church meetings, in whatever way(s) we can.
But why take this attitude of "get out what you put in" without considering whether you're doing things as effectively as possible?
I mean, it isn't like I'm the only person who's struggled with this. And that's a major reason we encourage people to participate throughout our assemblies (under male leadership as the Scriptures teach).
In smaller groups, such as house churches, mutual participation is very effective and easy to facilitate.
Our results have been that Christians are actively engaged and feelings of bored clock-watching have been replaced with surprise at how quickly the time passes.
Benefit #3: Joyful worship has replaced stoic expressions.
It seems clear that, from GOD's perspective, worship is "judged" (acceptable or unacceptable) at the individual level, rather than the group.
GOD looks at each of us to assess whether our "bowing down" is pleasing to Him or not (see John 4:21-24).
One of the biggest differences we've seen with mutual participation is in people's expressions.
Having given my share of sermons and helped lead numerous assemblies in traditional leader-audience church settings, I would estimate that 50-75% of the expressions staring back at me were largely blasé. (The speaker might have possibly impacted this, I realize.)
Don't misunderstand me—I'm not putting people down or saying they didn't care about being there with the church. I'm merely stating that they were like an audience—they weren't actively participating.
When people have their hearts engaged and actively participate in the study or assembly, I've noticed that their expressions are often different.
In this situation, most of the time my observation—with our house church and other groups—has been that people are excited, joyful and eager to worship (bow down before GOD).
No arrangement is perfect
These are just three examples to point toward the value of participation in church meetings.
Participatory environments have their challenges too.
Any arrangement is going to have pros and cons.
In a future post, I intend to discuss some of the challenges we've experienced with meeting in homes.
Overall, though, I wouldn't trade the experience.
I wish I could share what I've seen and experienced with more people, in hopes that it could help them.
Have you been a part of participatory church meetings? Did you find a difference in their effectiveness?