When a company advertises its product, it is very conscious of its target audience. This means that if the target audience is seniors, an ad should not be filled with images of young people or recently married couples. Keeping in mind one’s target audience is also important in such a field as education. It makes a big difference in how you speak to a kindergarten class compared to a university class. In short, there has to be a keen awareness of your target audience as you seek to reach them.
This type of thinking has also influenced evangelism efforts. There are programs tailored to reach women, or teenagers, or people who have gone through divorce. The target audience will shape the program. It has also worked its way through to the manner of worship. The desire to attract people to the faith begins to drive talk about the manner of worship. Traditional styles of worship are seen as a hindrance. One can read of “seeker sensitive services.” The idea is that one should shape the worship service so that a complete stranger to the faith can understand what is going on. This thinking may also work its way through with respect to the youth of the church. In an effort to keep the youth, one might hear of “children” or “youth” sensitive services.
Reformed Worship Missing the Target?
We cannot just brush this off as something that is irrelevant in Reformed circles. There is much literature about this. Success stories of groups that have Seeker or Youth Sensitive services may stir up the idea that our lack of growth as Reformed churches through outreach is perhaps due the style of our worship services. Should we not become more Seeker-Sensitive to draw people in, and perhaps more Youth Sensitive to keep our youth from going to some church on the other side of town that seems to satisfy their needs? A minister may hear remarks on occasion that he should simplify his sermons because they have too many theological terms which outsiders cannot understand, and they are too long and complicated. There may also be complaints about the use of the Psalms in singing.
While we should always pray and work for the conversion of unbelievers, we need to ask ourselves whether they should be considered the target audience when deciding on the manner of worship. Indeed, what is the target audience in a worship service? This can only be answered by asking a more basic question, namely, what is a worship service.
The Target Audience of a Worship Service
The answer can be found already in the very word “worship.” The word points to someone having worth. Someone is worthy of honour and adoration. This means that those who come to worship already have a sense of whom they are going to worship. They don’t need to be persuaded to do so. Basically, a worship service is a meeting of God and his people who have been washed by the blood of Christ and are being renewed by the Holy Spirit. It is a meeting of two parties in a relationship who already know each other. It is an expression and celebration of that relationship. We can even say that a worship service is like a meeting of two dear and familiar friends.
From this we can see what could be considered the target audience of worship. In effect, the target audience is the Lord our God! When we hear a term like “seeker sensitive,” we can see that a reversal has taken place. Worship needs to be God sensitive.
At the same time, we can also look at the worshippers as a target audience. We do have to keep in mind that they are worshippers, not seekers. This shapes the manner of worship. Two things in particular come to mind that shape worship, namely, familiarity and maturity.
First there is familiarity. Worship was compared to a meeting of two dear and familiar friends. In such a relationship, interaction flows naturally, normally. When two friends meet, they don’t explain each action they intend to do beyond brief words such as, “Let’s eat.” So it is in worship. The liturgy, that is, the order of worship, flows naturally. The worship service comes across as a conversation between God and his people, and the parts move along with ease.
Second, there is the aspect of maturity. While it is true that believers will be at different stages in their knowledge and growth in grace, on the whole one can speak of a maturity in the relationship between God and the congregation. Over the years, there has come a tremendous knowledge of God as he has revealed himself in his Word. On the whole, the congregation is a long way past the stage of taking in spiritual milk. This also means it has grown into the language of Scripture. It has the benefit of clear confessions. This does not mean the language has to be out of reach for most people. God has spoken in plain language. The Confessions are written in plain language. But, it will be admitted, this is the language adults speak. The language reflects the depth and the maturity of the relationship.
But what about the Youth and Visitors?
Now the thought might arise that this last admission about adult language makes clear why something needs to be done to keep the youth. If the church is not willing to be a bit more child-sensitive in its worship, at the very least the children should be taken to a different room where they can worship in a manner suitable to their age. This, however, would undermine the two aspects just mentioned, namely, that of familiarity and maturity. The youth reach these stages by being taken along to worship as soon as possible. Even little ones soon become familiar with the pattern of worship. They will notice if a visiting minister does something a bit different. It is also by being present that they begin the process of maturing. To be sure, they don’t understand much at first, but maturing is a long process. Again, often the children pleasantly surprise their parents by what they have picked up in a worship service. Further, already at a very young age they love to sing the songs they have learned. Many children will consider it a sign of being grown up or growing up that they may sit with the parents in church. The babysit is for babies! At last, in church, is an activity where Dad and Mom don’t send you downstairs to play while the adults talk.
And what about the visitor? Of course we should rejoice whenever someone joins the congregation in worship. But, let us be realistic. The church simply does not function like a walk-in clinic. Rather, it functions more by referral. When visitors come, they usually come because someone invited them. They will have heard something about the gospel already and they will have heard something about the worship service. If it should happen that a complete stranger comes in, then someone should make a point of helping them along by finding songs and Scripture readings, if necessary. Hopefully there will be opportunity for asking questions later. In the end, however, it is a worship service of God and his people. Guests are most welcome, but they do not set the tone. He will expect to see some unusual things. The reality is that anyone touched by the Spirit will come back and over time become familiar and begin to mature. Indeed, those moved by the Spirit will be touched by the marvel of the meeting of God and his people, even though at first it may have been a strange experience.
Be God and Congregation Sensitive
When it comes to a worship service, we do well to keep in mind the target audience. In worship, God meets with his people. God is the primary target audience of our worship. We, as worshippers, are the second target audience. We are no stranger to each other. There will opportunity for occasional reminders as to why we do what we do, be it in the preaching on relevant parts of Scripture, in teaching at home, or in Catechism classes. In the end, we need to be God sensitive and congregation sensitive. Then we will be right on target in our worship.