Did We Forget to Invite God to Church?


We can't become so caught up in the atmosphere of the church that we forget about the presence of God.

I think one of the great advances the church has made in the past twenty years is to create better atmospheres in our worship services.

Let’s be honest. Years ago, when you entered a typical church, you were likely to encounter a substandard building, outdated décor, and a wearisome service. Our music was repulsive, our messages quirky and irrelevant, and our clothes—to say the least—very unfashionable. We allowed practically anything in our worship and teaching as long as it was done “in the name of the Lord.”

To put it frankly, we appeared completely inept to anyone watching us from the outside. There were exceptions of course, but for a time this was the norm.

I’m privileged to minister in churches all over the world, and I can gladly say we’ve changed this paradigm. Thanks to wise leadership, we now play remarkable, inspired music. We’ve designed comfortable church buildings with state of the art sound and lighting. Our services are tight and relevant, and we’ve built attractive, fun areas for our children and teens. Simply put, we’ve created great atmospheres in our churches.

I believe God is pleased with this. But as I’ve thought about this, there’s a question that has weighed on my heart. Could it be we’ve started to substitute atmosphere for God’s presence?

Atmospheres are good. But they’re good for creating an introduction to what’s truly important: the presence of God. Let’s not forget that if we want to be changed, we need His presence. The apostle Paul tells us:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV

Years ago we tolerated bad atmospheres, but I recall often being in services filled with the awesome presence of God. I couldn’t always articulate how it happened, but I was truly changed. And that’s what we’re after in this Christian life. It’s not about great experiences or exciting stories. It’s about being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. That doesn’t happen unless we encounter Him.

I’m not suggesting that we undo all the progress we’ve made in creating great church atmosphere. God loves innovation and excellence. And it’s important to consider the lost when we structure our services or create places for people to gather. But this isn’t an either/or. We can have both atmosphere and presence. We don’t have to choose!

Now, here’s what I ask of you. Please don’t read this post and then sit in church next Sunday judging your pastor! I’m not writing this to inspire criticism. The reality is that we can all take ownership of our passion for God’s presence.

Here’s what I’m hoping you’ll do with this. If you’re not in a position of influence in your church, start with yourself. Why do you go to services? Are you there to have your emotions stirred, or are you going to meet with the Holy God? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth, and invite Him to correct your motives where it’s needed.

Meanwhile, church leaders, I encourage you—don’t gloss over this. Think about it. Take it to prayer. Talk with your team. I know your heart is to connect people to God. How are you cultivating the atmosphere of your church as an introduction to His presence? Is there anything you want to change or try that could strengthen your congregation in this area?

I believe the church can and should be known both for creative excellence and for the undeniable presence of God’s Spirit. When we get this right, we’ll compel our cities to take note of what God is doing in their midst. We’ll connect people with the opportunity to experience their Creator so their lives can be transformed. Isn’t that our goal?


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