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Dear Church, Can We Please Stop Calling it an “Experience”?

WorshipWhile I have no way of going back to discover when church services began being called “experiences”, I can start a lobby suggesting that we stop calling them experiences.

The more that I’ve thought about this the more I am convinced that we are incapable of creating an experience for one simple reason: Experiences are far too subjective for anyone to take credit for manufacturing them.

  • You and I could go on a roller coaster together and have completely different experiences.
  • We could sit and watch the same movie and have different experiences.
  • We could witness the same car accident and yet give differing reports to a police officer.

For good or for bad, we all experience things differently. Why would our time together in a church service not fit that category?

I think we are in great danger of missing something when we can boil our services down to a compiled list of things that we hope will elicit a response from those in attendance, as if we can contrive that response on our own. I believe that these people aren’t looking for just another experience, they are hurting, broken, and looking for an encounter with something bigger than themselves… something tangible that offers them some hope for all that they are dealing with.

If we’re doing nothing more than sawing through a linear pile of songs, sermons and other elements, supposing that we can make people feel or react a certain way, we are missing the real awe and wonder that God offers. We can program the service elements, but not the response. We can, however, intentionally build atmospheres and environments where people can encounter God at their own pace and in their own way, unforced. We cannot assume that everyone showing up is just going to play along with whatever we’ve drawn up.

Our time in church can be a thrill ride. It can be uniquely inspiring and entertaining. It can be gut wrenching. It can be whatever God wants it to be. We should be incredibly prayerful and intentional about what we plan, program, and execute, but we should always leave margin for people to flow in and out of them.

I’m always up for discussion on topics like this; drop your thoughts in the comments and let’s keep the conversation going.

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One comment on “Dear Church, Can We Please Stop Calling it an “Experience”?

  1. experience |ikˈspi(ə)rēəns|
    noun
    + practical contact with and observation of facts or events
    + an event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone: for the younger players it has been a learning experience .

    While I think I have a healthy grasp of where you’re coming from and am in agreement that we ought not superimpose our expectations of each experience on others in a church “service”, I cannot imagine a situation where a church “experience” is really a bad thing.

    Moses both encountered and experienced God through the form of a burning bush (Ex. 3).

    Daniel experienced God’s faithfulness in light of the circumstances of this world and his impending death sentence (Dn. 6).

    Bartimaeus experienced healing and restoration of sight through faith in Christ (Mk. 10).

    The woman caught in adultery experienced forgiveness and restoration through Jesus (Jn. 8).

    You and I have the opportunity to experience a new life in Christ where we are no longer held captive by sin (2 Cor. 5:17).

    I think you get where I’m going with this…

    While I agree with you that perception becomes reality in the minds of men: i.e., witnessing a car wreck, seeing a movie, etc., I don’t think that we can take away the fact that each one of us in our own individual way has the opportunity to experience Jesus in every situation, not merely confined to a church service or worship experience.

    What I do appreciate about a worship experience is that many, many churches and faith gatherings will intentionally offer various ways for people of varying walks of life and faith journeys to not only encounter the Living God of the universe, but to also have an experience that will impact their lives in tangible ways, whether through music or a relevant biblical message, artistic expressions to communion and more, I value and appreciate the variety and diversity of worship experiences that enable and help to create a platform where I can experience God in that place and in that time and in that way.

    If I were to sum up my sentiments in one phrase or thought or idea it would simply be this: I desire to experience God in all things.

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