Consensus and Those Who Matter

To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.  If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.  Margaret Thatcher

Our new programming process and team has done an excellent job of raising the bar for what happens during our worship times, and especially so when it comes to how we kick off the service.  Two Sundays ago we opened the service with a candlelight choral processional on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” to set up the Hope Advent candle lighting, and last Sunday we opened with a sketch of a couple in conflict paired with the spiritual “Give Me Jesus” to set up the Peace Advent candle lighting.  Our teams have worked hard producing these moments, and have done well.

The kicker is that a significant number of worship attendees at _______ are happy to enter the auditorium on their schedule and wrap up their conversation similiarly.  It’s not unusual for people to continue their conversation in the aisle throughout the first congregational song, and the noise from the lobby is distracting at best and disruptive at worst.

The solution I’ve landed on is to have the ushers close the doors at the agreed-upon start time and bar admittance until the congregation is standing and well into the first song.  It works wonderfully, as the absence of lobby noise functions as yet another sensory cue (along with a house lighting change, the big “zero” on the countdown video, and the guy on the stage praying out loud in the microphone) to congregants that “we’re starting now.”  We don’t do it all the time, just when we have an element like a processional or a drama or a solo that requires it.

And so this past Sunday we got some significant pushback and advice from people whose laudable goal is to not cause distress to anyone.  Loud, animated pushback and advice as if we disagreed with them because we couldn’t hear or understand what they were saying.

It’s easy to build consensus around the idea that anyone should be able to enter a worship service whenever they want to, because the value behind that practice is “we want to see more people in worship.”  Who would oppose that?

It’s not easy to sell the idea that

  • sometimes better worship is more important than more worshipers.
  • congregational worship is to be a transformational experience that costs the worshiper instead of a product to be consumed by the worshiper for the worshiper’s pleasure and gratification.
  • boundaries make us better people, that a “no” is an opportunity for personal growth.
  • congregational worship is not the prelude to the sermon, to be missed at whim.  It is itself a mode of discipleship that does not require a sermon for legitimacy.
  • how one comes to worship is more important than whether one comes to worship.

The person who is caught on the wrong side of a closed auditorium door can react in one of two ways:

  1. “Well, dang it.  I was late and missed it.  My bad.  I’ll make some adjustments and get here early next time,” or
  2. “Well, dang them.  Who do they think they are, shutting me out?”

A disciple is a learner, open not only to change but to being changed.  A consumer is a critic, willing to withhold participation if the product doesn’t suit.  If our mission is to make disciples, we will program for the disciple, not the consumer.

Or as Dr. Seuss said, “…those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

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3 Responses to “Consensus and Those Who Matter”


  1. 1 April December 13, 2006 at 11:16 pm

    My question is if they are upset about not being able to participate in the beginning of whatever is going on in the worship service, wouldn’t they have cared enough to make sure to get there when it started in the first place? I know that I’m thinking with a different logic than most of these folks, but I totally agree with you. Boundaries are good for us (not that we always like them, but good for us, none the less). I think we have too many people from Missouri (the “show me” state) in our midst! Oh well, I say we keep plugging ahead…
    Any feedback on the change in size of the lyrics?

  2. 2 byron December 14, 2006 at 7:15 am

    April–one of the problems is that Sunday School classes are habitualy starting late and consequently ending late. It takes a person with some emotional fortitude to walk out of a sunday school class that’s going too long so he or she won’t be late for worship. I’m hoping that applying a solid boundary with the service start time will result in cascading boundaries for the rest of the morning: a solid service start time means we have to have a solid sunday school end time which means we have to have a solid sunday school start time which means nursery and children workers need to arrive on time which means…

    I haven’t heard anything on the lyric format change, other than a “I wondered why you did that” from a college student (Jason T has an eye for that kind of detail). I didn’t really expect to get a lot of reaction to that, and would bet most people didn’t consciously notice.

  3. 3 ML December 18, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    Ok. Seriously, how discouraging is it to finish the amazing drama or the amazing video or the amazing solo only to have the ushers open the doors at the end and watch the other half of the congregation file in like a parade. I’m super sensitive and probably over dramatic, but I think that that is so disrespectful. Lately, I have heard some members who were there on time tell late-comers how much they missed by being late. I pretty much smile from ear to ear on the inside. Hopefully the continuing of amazing openers will make the half of the church, that must run on Pacific time, get in the sanctuary on time.


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