Interactive Worship, Part 1


As a “worship pastor” I have had over 10 titles in the past 20 years. But, I have only been at 4 churches. Music Pastor never worked for me. Why? Worship isn’t music. Worship Arts Pastor got closer. Worship Arts Stylist even closer. My current title incorporates the word “experience” which may even be closer but still falls short.

The inertia behind the changes has been a desire to communicate something about worship beyond song—beyond sacraments—beyond preaching. The changes have also been fueled by my desire to see something incredibly special and unique happen on a Sunday morning because God is worth it, our people are worth it, the community at large is worth it, and the people who are involved in the worship planning and implementation are worth it.

We have a recurring conversation on our Experience Team that goes “we may have done these things 100 times before we get to Sunday (practice, preparation, etc.) but this will be everyone else’s 1st time! We long for a sense of freshness and vitality. Perhaps this is why scripture talks so much about singing a “new song.”

Many churches run the risk of having two or three worship elements become the tail that wags the dog. Music and preaching usually take precedence to every other element, which is somewhat understandable since those are two specific elements of corporate worship we are encouraged to engage in throughout scripture. However, neither of those two things is ever elevated in scripture to the apex of what happens in corporate worship. The apex is wherever God and humankind meet.

For four years I pastored in the Pacific Northwest. I remember one significant meeting back in the day when we looked at each other and said, “what the heck are we doing killing ourselves to write dramas every week? We have lost sight of what we are doing.”

We were driven by a model. We were parroting someone else’s design and trying to stamp it on our own people (not that drama doesn’t work or is a bad idea—it was just horrible for us and killing us slowly).

Those conversations started me on a quest and gave me a holy discontent—a longing to connect with God in corporate settings through elements with a fresh perspective, a temperature for change and variety, an indigenous authenticity, and a catalyst for stories of life change. The stuff people continue to talk about. The stuff they tell stories about. The quest is not yet over for me but I believe God is pleased with our journey and our progress.

Part of this quest has included a continually developing theory and practice of interactive worship. Fusion has become somewhat of a laboratory—or maybe more significantly a Petri dish—where we feel a freedom to experiment with worship elements in order to “culture” a people or grow them closer to God leading them in to fuller life development in Jesus.

For our purposes here, a worship interactive can be defined as: A participatory moment or segment in a corporate worship gathering wherein all present are encouraged to engage in some tactile and/or other sensory experience designed to invite one to move towards God.

Interactive worship or “worship interactives” are not new. They are not a product of the emerging church. They do not all involve candles (thought candles are great anytime if you ask me). They do not all involve tents.

When Jesus gave us the sacrament of communion, He was inviting us to move towards God as we touch, taste, and smell the elements that invoke His memory, create community, help us gain perspective and perhaps give opportunity for repentance. Communion is a worship interactive.

Baptism is a worship interactive. As one plays a role in the living metaphor of dying with Jesus and rising with Him—of cleansing and renewal—of community—of individual identity and identity with a cloud of witnesses—and obedience, there may be no greater worship interactive. Not to mention the interaction of the one baptizing and the participation of the witnesses in the celebration.

God gives us great freedom in planning the who-what-when-where-and why of our weekend programs. We have permission to participate with the creator—as sub-creators—in designing fresh and experience-rich multi-layered environments where we increase the occurrence of people interacting with God, his Word, his truth, his people, and their barriers to living the life Jesus invites.

To go one step further, we do not only have permission . . . we have a responsibility.

As pastors and creatives we can take a lesson from the many pictures throughout scripture of worship environments designed to engage, spur participation, create a sense of awe and majesty, spawn interactive worship, awaken the senses, tell a story, and point to God.

We need a resolute metaphysic (we believe in a God who does not change) but we also need a relative epistemology. The way people learn, engage, understand, grapple, wrestle, question, and worship changes constantly—not only from person to person but with a whole group of people. Our environment, culture, technology, etc. is changing rapidly and we need to read the signs. We need to learn ways to engage those who are already being engaged. We need to provide fresh experiences in order to bolster and augment the apex.

More to come. Jump in on the discussion today.


John Voelz is a worship pastor, artist, & author.