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What is the relationship between worship and evangelism?

Most church leaders readily recognize that God has tasked churches with several different purposes, yet how those purposes work together has equally mystified them. One of the most potentially difficult ministry relationships to reconcile has been that between worship and evangelism.

In Inside Out: Worship in an Age of Mission (1999),1 Thomas H. Schattauer presents three possible views concerning the relationship between worship and mission.

Inside & Out

The first is what he calls “Inside & Out,” the view that worship serves the end of mission; it is what fuels and motivates worshipers to take their message outside the walls of the church building. In this sense, “Mission is what takes place on the outside when the gospel is proclaimed to those who have not heard or received it” (2).

Alan and Eleanor Kreider penned Worship and Mission After Christendom in order to articulate a vision for the relationship between worship and mission post-Christendom. They take an “Inside & Out” perspective, suggesting that “worship affects the church’s growth by building up members so they will participate effectively in God’s mission.” They argue that during the Christendom period, “worship was unavoidable” and “mission was unnecessary” (24). As a remedy to this problem, the authors insist that churches must understand the missio Dei and root themselves in this mission. They argue that the pre-Christendom church operated in this way, and they use 1 Corinthians 11­–14 as the outline of what truly missional worship will look like, offering practical suggestions in the second half of the book for how worship can equip believers for mission.

Other missional writers claim legitimacy for this first view, such as Guder, who suggests that “the public worship of the mission community always leads to the pivotal act of sending.”2 Van Gelder also seems to emphasize the “Inside & Out” role of worship when he claims, “The Sunday morning service is the place where the people who worship God become equipped and prepared to do the work of mission that extends that worship into the world.”3

Outside In

Schattauer calls the second approach “Outside In,” in which the central purpose of worship is to evangelize unbelievers.

This, many suggest (like the Kreiders above), was the situation during the period of Christendom. Some would argue that churches today have failed to recognize that the Christendom era has ended. They no longer enjoy the level of influence and status they once did, but their structures, ministries, philosophies, and methods nevertheless remain the same.

The church growth movement is the prime example of this model by insisting that a church’s primary service should be an evangelistic meeting designed to attract and meet the needs of “seekers.” This perspective has drawn fire from some who argued that this ignores worship altogether, others who complain that believers are not discipled, and still others who claim that this “attractional” model of evangelism just does not work.

Inside Out

Schattauer’s final category is “Inside Out.” Worship in this view is not a means toward the end of evangelism, as with the other two, but rather fits within the larger purpose of mission. In fact, Schattauer does not see worship and mission as two separate categories, but rather “the assembly for worship is mission” (3).

Those advocating this view understand worship to be primarily about believers worshiping God, but they see this event as necessarily public and evangelistically potent, and therefore they are concerned that the worship service be accessible and intelligible to believers and unbelievers alike. For example, Mark Driscoll stresses the need to “make the church culturally accessible,”4 and Tim Keller insists that a church must “adapt its worship because of the presence of unbelievers.”5

As a leader of the conservative evangelical missional movement, Timothy Keller wrote what has become a fairly influential paper called “Evangelistic Worship,” in which he argues for worship that is truly an end in itself as that which will be most potently evangelistic. For this to take place, however, the worship must be intentionally explained to unbelievers in attendance and must be “comprehensible” and “intelligible” to them. Keller’s argument is rooted in his definition of “missional,” which he defines as “adapting and reformulating everything in worship, discipleship, community, and service so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around [the church].” Thus, he argues, “almost everyone in the missional church movement, no matter how you define that, believes that worship ought to be inclusive of Christians and non-Christians.”

Which is the biblical model?

Now it’s your turn. Which of these models has the best biblical support?

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999 []
  2. Guder, Missional Church, 243. []
  3. Van Gelder, The Missional Church and Leadership Formation, 101. []
  4. Driscoll and Breshears, Vintage Church, 289. []
  5. Keller, “Evangelistic Worship.” []