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Surrender the Queen

Reconsidering the role of Sunday-morning worship

I am an exceptionally bad chess player. I’m told I rush too quickly to bring out the queen. It’s clearly the best piece, so I can’t help myself. Despite practice, my skills have not improved.

At a recent church-planting conference the presenter suggested that all of us wishing to improve our chess games should adhere to one simple rule: surrender the queen. He proposed that one of our first moves in any chess match should be to rid ourselves of the most valuable piece on the board. “This will force you to learn how to use every other piece and how to use them together. Over time, you’ll become a much stronger player.” Then he asked, “In your church, what’s the queen? What is that piece that you overuse and probably trust way too much?”

My answer came quickly: Sunday-morning worship.

I’m a church planter in Kentwood, Mich., and as I write this, I can’t wait to start holding Sunday-morning services. On that first Sunday there may be a crowd or there may not be. Regardless, the reason we’re starting a new church is simple: to reach and disciple new people.

How? That’s a good question to ask. The diversity in any congregation can make this difficult. On any given Sunday morning, there may be some people in the worship service who’ve never been before. But there may also be middle-aged couples with a combined 100 years of Sunday-morning worship experience. After the service, a first-time guest might ask the pastor what it means to “ask Jesus into her heart.” In the meantime, someone else may be waiting to ask why we can’t learn more Greek and Hebrew in the sermon. Other people wish we could spend more time talking about marriage, while others want to hear about money and still others are asking tough questions about caring for aging parents.

It’s very difficult to reach and disciple that whole group in one hour each week. We might be wise to consider other options.

For way too long now I’ve thought that Sunday morning could be a comfortable entrance-point into church life and provide enough to effectively disciple everybody in attendance. Maybe it can, but it shouldn’t have to. Sunday morning doesn’t need to bear all that responsibility. What would happen if we surrendered the queen? I’m willing to stake our church’s late launch date on the claim that a delayed start will teach us how to use small groups more effectively.

We’ll trust small groups to carry the load of teaching people about the subjects they care most about. Patience in the short run may also encourage us to find other events to bridge that gap between sleeping in and attending worship. Hosting a community carnival or 5k fun run may be a better way to meet our neighbors anyway. As we learn to use these other pieces together, every aspect of our new church will be strengthened.

By the end of the church-planting conference, our team decided to delay the start of our worship services. We’re still starting our new church early, but without the worship service. We’re committing to learning how to reach and disciple people apart from a worship service so that when we do introduce it, we’ll know how all the pieces best work together.

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