Today let’s talk about the case for church services designed for church members; we’ll look at the other side tomorrow.
In the Old Testament, worship was very much insider focused. Outsiders could participate in some parts of worship, but they had to conform themselves to the norms of the Israelite community. And many parts of Jewish worship were off limits to Gentiles.
So what happened in the early church? From what we could tell, services were open to all. There’s some debate as to the Lord’s Supper, whether it was an open or closed event. One of the oldest extra-biblical sources, the Didache, affirms the closed nature of communion.
But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”
In 1 Corinthians 14, when Paul is talking about spiritual gifts in the assembly, he emphasizes that prophecy is superior to speaking in tongues, for tongues are directed at outsiders while prophecy is for the edification of believers. It would seem that Paul’s priority for the church assembly was the edification of the members, not the evangelizing of outsiders.
In practice, a church with a heavy seeker focus runs the risk of starving the faithful by continually feeding them spiritual baby food. No congregation can thrive with a constant diet of first principles. (This raises the question as to whether or not the assembly should be the principal teaching time for the church… we’ll save that one!)
We should also remember that, to some degree, visitors come to see what church will be like if they are members. They want something accessible to them, but not directed at them. In fact, many visitors feel threatened if they perceive that too much of the service has been tailored for them. It almost makes the church assembly feel like a sales event.
I’ll go ahead and say that I believe an assembly can be too member-focused; in fact, I think that’s a more common problem than the over-emphasis on visitor awareness. But a strong case can be made that the primary focus of our church gatherings should be the community of the faithful and not those who are there as outsiders.