A lot of churches started with something like this yesterday:
“Welcome! We hope you feel comfortable with us today. If it’s your first time, then let us know if we can do anything to make you feel at home. We’re really glad you’re here.”
We used to call the start of a worship service something like “Call to Worship” or “Invocation.” We now tend to call it “Welcome.”
There’s a subtle shift going on here. It’s hard to argue against making people feel welcome. But everything in a worship service communicates something. The Call to Worship emphasizes God’s invitation to us to approach and worship him. The Invocation focuses on God’s presence within the worshiping community. Both begin with God.
In contrast, beginning with a Welcome shifts the focus to us. It puts us in the driver’s seat. We subtly communicate that it’s our goal to make the guest satisfied. This may be subtle, but it’s a huge shift in focus. Rather than coming in response to God’s invitation, and focusing on his presence, we assume God’s presence and want to make sure everyone in the congregation is happy.
I’m sure I’m exaggerating, and I don’t think this shift is always intentional. It actually comes from a good desire: to welcome people. But I think we’re always in danger of shifting the focus to ourselves, and when we become the focus of corporate worship, we’re all in a heap of trouble. Big trouble.
So I’m wondering if we need to rethink glib welcomes at the start of corporate worship, and instead remind people that we have been summoned to worship a God who is present. We can do this in all kinds of creative and non-stuffy ways, but we really need to begin here.
The Call to Worship exhorts God’s people to turn from worldly distractions and to focus hearts, minds, and actions on revering him…The Call to Worship is not simply a perfunctory greeting or human cordiality but is at once a weighty responsibility and a joyful privilege. The worship leader issues God’s invitation to join the heavenly throng that already and always praises him…God does not simply invite us to a party of friends, or a lecture on religion, or a concert of sacred music – he invites us into the presence of the King of the Universe before whom all creation will bow and for whom all heaven now sings. (Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship)