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Randy Weener on Multisensory Worship that Welcomes Neighbors

Randy Weener co-leads Wyoming Kingdom Enterprise Zone, a church multiplication initiative by Reformed and Christian Reformed churches in Wyoming, Michigan. In 2000 he planted a Reformed Church in America congregation in Allendale, Michigan. In this edited conversation, he talks about multisensory worship in that congregation that welcomes neighbors.

Randy Weener co-leads Wyoming Kingdom Enterprise Zone (WKEZ), a church multiplication initiative by Reformed and Christian Reformed churches in Wyoming, Michigan. In 2000 he planted a Reformed Church in America congregation in Allendale, Michigan. In this edited conversation, he talks about multisensory worship in that congregation that welcomes neighbors.

How can worship welcome newcomers and inspire worshipers to commit to neighbors in a particular place?

We did that at Spring Valley Community Church by focusing on five-sense worship. At the time, it was quite a shift to go beyond visual and auditory senses in worship. Sometimes our service was a worship smorgasbord. We’d start together, disperse to different rooms with learning stations, and then re-gather to end the service. The learning stations might focus on silence, confession, biblical discovery, and other senses and actions.

What examples can you share about using taste, smell, touch, and movement to help worshipers connect faith and life?

For a sermon on fruits of the Spirit, we handed out fruit-flavored candy. For an outdoor summer service on grace, we strung hoses on trees, turned to the mist setting. At the end of worship, people walked out in a mist as a sign of God’s grace. For a service on restraint, we passed around a bag of potato chips and told people they could only take one chip. We’ve bought and passed out trinket compasses to everyone for a sermon on truth.

How did you help people think about loving neighbors as themselves?

Because we had no permanent location, we had to set up chairs each week in a middle school gymnasium. One Sunday we set stacks of chairs around the perimeter. We made street signs of real-life main intersections in the Allendale area, like Pierce Street and 48th Avenue. As people walked in, we asked them to go to the intersection nearest to where they live, so they could recognize who lived near them.

When you love your neighbors you want them to know Jesus. After Andrew met Jesus, he found his brother Philip and invited him to come and see Jesus. One Sunday we created a paper chain in worship. Everyone got a piece of paper to make a link. We asked them to sign the first name of someone they’d like to know Jesus. When I did this in a church with a permanent location, we kept the chain up for a month.

Before a service with a stewardship theme, we put a quarter on every chair. At the offering time, we said, “Maybe you’ve never been able to give before. But perhaps today you were fortunate enough to come across a quarter—so today you can experience the joy of giving.”

So the quarters helped worshipers practice giving money to God to help neighbors. What other multisensory responses worked well in worship?

On one Sunday, confession and repentance was the theme. We set up sand tables (trays with beach sand) around the room. We had a sandstone baptism font, and the spout of the fountain was a replica of our visual logo, which was a spring with ripple effects. At the end of the service, we gave time and permission for people to write out a confession in sand and then wipe it clean as a sign of forgiveness. Then they’d go dip a hand in the fountain as a symbol of baptism and cleansing.

Another time we asked people to write their confession on cigarette paper and then burn it. I’ve also used this in another church. A guy in a wheelchair rolled up afterward and told me, “My relationship with my wife is not good. Doing this woke me up to my need to repent of my attitude.”

How well does confession go over with people who are new to church?

On average, 78 percent of people at a church plant come from no church background or haven’t been in church for a long time. So you’re likely to see a drastic transformation when they accept Christ. They have a higher awareness of grace and the need for repentance than you find among people who’ve grown up in the church. It’s like laying a diamond on black velvet: the darker your background, the more God’s grace stands out.

This transformation compels people to want that freedom for their friends. If confession and repentance is the same every Sunday, it loses impact. So we would do it in different ways, like have prayers of confession, words of assurance, songs about either or both. One week it might be a guided prayer, where we depend on silence to do the heavy lifting. We might say, “Let the Spirit lead you to remember something you said this week to an employee, student, or family member, something you need to confess…”

How else did you help worshipers connect confession to real life with their neighbors?

The whole Old Testament is so much about corporate confession, so it’s important not to just focus on individual confession. We need to ask, “What do we need to confess as a church that we’re not doing as a church?” In Job 31, he asks God whether he has failed to be just. Too often in our churches today we confuse justice and charity. For example, it’s charity and mercy to give someone a toothbrush and toothpaste. It’s justice to make sure that they can get dental care.

At Spring Valley, I preached a message on justice and mercy during a bitterly cold stretch of winter. I hired a friend of my son to sit along the road near church with a sign that said “will work for food.” I said nothing about this to anyone, not even during worship. But in my message I said, “You just never know when you might come across someone who needs food, shelter, or work…” I never did tell the church about this, but when I talked with the young man later, he said at least half a dozen people had stopped to talk and invite him in to church.

Watch Randy Weener’s 2012 sermon on justice at Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, Michigan. Before the sermon he describes the WKEZ church multiplication initiative. Weener preaches on Job 31 and explains how worshipers can practice justice locally.