Worshiping in Public Places: A New Ministry for Worship Leaders?

Writer Kevin Ott At Rocking Gods HouseThere were just four of us: two married couples with an acoustic guitar and a handful of worship songs that we knew off the top of our heads. We were standing in the middle of a bustling marketplace — a shopping/dining plaza where one could catch a movie, get some food, or sit in the lovely cobblestone square on the benches and relax in the sun. We started with “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” and at first people nearby were quick to ignore us, but as we played more songs, I could see the whites of more eyes as people glanced in our direction. A few people walking by smiled when they heard the words. I thought I caught one person secretly singing along. Afterwards, when we
were eating lunch at one of the restaurants in the plaza, a woman came to our table and thanked us profusely for the worship. It greatly encouraged her and touched her spirit.

Admittedly, the idea of bringing worship outside of the four walls of our church buildings into the public square is not a new one. Technically, every time Christians have some conference or big event in a public arena, stadium, hotel conference center, we’re bringing worship into a public space, albeit cordoned off by “the event.” In my time with CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) and Inter Varsity during college, we did many outreaches that involved worshiping in some public space, and many times it was simple as sitting down with a guitar and singing. Other times it was more elaborate, and we got the full worship band involved.

So it’s not that it’s never been done before, but I use the word “new” because there seems to be a fresh wave of it happening, a fresh revelation of its place in ministry — at least in my local area. I’ve also been seeing signs of ministries in other parts of the country embracing the concept.

In fact, the idea of placing our worship out in the open in public places is being brought forth to the West by those who are dying for these public expressions: the North Korean underground church. Through its Western contacts, it has led America (and churches around the world) in 100 days of “worshiping in the common places.”

For the North Korean Christians, they have no church buildings, and it is too dangerous for them to worship in their homes. State surveillance has eradicated all privacy, and everything done in your home is closely monitored with technology or simply by their system of having neighbors and family members spy on one another. Their only option is to worship in common places, at great risk, of course. A handful of them will discreetly meet at some public market or other common place, share communion quickly, sing a few songs, share a brief liturgy and Bible verse (all by memory), and then scatter. Many of them have been arrested and sentenced to concentration camps after getting caught.

In September of 2013, they led churches around the world to participate in “100 days of worship in the common places.” If your church wanted to participate, an organization that partnered with the North Korean church would send you a box filled with little portable communion cups and bread packets, the portable liturgy used by the North Koreans, and even instructions on how to do the worship — which, of course, also included singing songs.

The North Korean church made one thing clear: if you begin worshiping openly in public places, you will be persecuted, sooner or later — even in Western democracies.

Over the years, I’ve seen public worship provoke all kinds of reactions, and the North Koreans are right: when you bring the Name of Christ and sacred act of worshiping Him into the public square, the spiritual warfare suddenly intensifies because we’re stepping outside of our safe church buildings. Frankly, the enemy likes us staying in our buildings because our church sanctuaries sometimes function as quarantined areas that effectively cut us off from the outside world. When we bring God’s presence and the aroma of Christ into the public square through worship, we’re encroaching on the enemy’s territory. The enemy does not like that. Neither do people who have already rejected Christ and do not like feeling the prick of the Holy Spirit’s nearness that public worship often brings.

It’s a powerful thing though, and it can be a great way to remind your worship team (or the people in your church who are willing to participate) how glorious and powerful worship is. We sometimes take its power for granted by keeping our worship tightly sealed in the four walls of our church buildings. But when we bring it “out there,” we not only are reminded how much worship and the simple Name of Christ is a threat to the enemy, but we’re reminded of how badly people need it.

Sure, you will see some persecution. But you will also see some amazing things happen as people hear the Name of Christ and are wooed by the Holy Spirit to draw nearer to this spiritual fire that is suddenly burning bright and warm in the public square.