John 1 ESV
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
If you’re like my church, you do some sort of candlelight service during the month of December. Many churches even pair these candlelight services with the Lord’s Supper. Unlike many churches, our church opts to do this service the Sunday evening before Christmas (or Christmas Eve if it falls on a Sunday, which it does this year). This year, our service was last night, the 17th. It’s always a special time and of course the “best part” is lighting those candles…as we hear scripture about Jesus being the light of the world and how we are to take the light of Christ into the darkness of the world.
As a young boy, I looked forward to Christmas Eve Candlelight services. Perhaps it had something to do with my fascination with fire (another story!), but the experience of passing the light of Christ and in unity celebrating that the LIGHT HAS COME and kneeling to receive the body and the bread made (and still makes) a profound impression on me. Sure, singing O Holy Night and Silent Night was great, but the kinesthetic action of experiential worship made all the difference in the world to me. Together…with my family…with multiple generations of my church family…together in unity worshiping the Christ-child.
Several years ago, I was sitting in a conference and the leader asked us to jot down the most memorable worship service/experience we’d ever had a part of in our lives thus far. Of the hundred or so participants in that workshop, ALL recalled worship services that promoted something experiential. Many recalled physical acts of worship, special musical times, and the like, as worship experiences that impacted their spiritual formation in a profound way. There is a reason Howard Gardner gained so much attention in his work on the 8 multiple intelligences. Read more about Gardner’s Theory here. We experience life through how we learn, remember, process information, and how we are “wired.” While God has created us uniquely and given us different ways in which we learn, many of our churches only promote auditory and/or possibly visual sensory experiences in worship services, which certainly doesn’t help those who aren’t auditory learners! Unfortunately, many of our younger generations experience life, learning, and communicate beyond the auditory sense. Technological advances have caused many of us to be less likely to learn by simply listening. To keep ALL generations engaged, worship services should be crafted to allow ALL of our senses to be used in worship. For instance, ever tried baking bread and having the aroma fill up the worship space during a sermon on Jesus as the “Bread of life?” Many awesome books deal with the topic of experiential worship (one of my favorites is Bob Rognlien’s Experiential Worship although many more exist).
If we want to keep ALL generations engaged in worship together, we worship planners must explore stretching ourselves to craft worship services that engage all our senses. Yes, it requires more planning and more collaborative effort, but the benefits are worth it. Try thinking out of the box beyond this Christmas season. Start with small things to engage the senses. You’ll be surprised how well received they are.