Impressive lights. Fog machine. Seamless sequence of events. Musical precision. Perfect audio quality. Large screens with images and videos. These are all elements one might expect to find in a typical entertainment production, whether a concert or simply some kind of live show…or your local Sunday morning worship service. By way of disclaimer, I will say first that I don’t have any problem with these things in general. But I do think we need to explore the purpose of them in our worship gatherings. I think perhaps they are somewhat symptomatic of a problem with the current Christian generation.
Not all churches have these various elements to “enhance” their worship time. In fact, I would venture to bet that the majority do not. They are quite expensive and most churches are less than 100 people in size, therefore limiting their budget for such things. However, when moving into the context of a “megachurch” or simply a very large one, they become more commonplace. Often, as a result, the smaller churches that seek to grow in number will attempt to mimic this model in whatever ways they can. I faced this very dilemma when I was a pastor of a small church. I believed part of what held us back from growth was the fact that our “tools” for worship were somewhat antiquated. I thought that if we could get a large screen TV so we wouldn’t have to use hymnals, or if we could get a coffee and welcome table established, or if we could get some kind of dynamic youth program in place, then we would be on our way to “mega” status. (Nevermind about the face that our church was in a very rural area with literally about 20 other churches within a 5-10 mile radius.)
I stayed frustrated when I wasn’t able to get new ways of doing things well established with the church totally buying into them. It wasn’t that they resisted change, it was that they didn’t see how these changes would make a positive difference within our context, but I had it in my head that these characteristics were the reasons we weren’t “growing.”(Note: numerical increase is not always “growth.) When someone would ask me why I believed we should make these particular changes, I would usually stumble with my answer, but words like “becoming more relevant” were the ones that came to the forefront. I had heard that phrase used a lot and I had begun to use it myself until one day I realized that I didn’t really know what I was saying. It’s not that being relevant is bad. It’s that we hear these buzzwords and we begin to use them mindlessly…almost like a mantra…or an incantation.
Upon the realization that I wasn’t really considering the reasoning behind why we do things the way we do them in church, I began to truly ponder this issue. That’s when a very sad reality hit me. While it’s true that there is nothing wrong with modernizing, or whatever we would call it, there definitely may be something wrong with why we feel the need to do so. What I began to realize is the fact that the contemporary church is capitulating to a culture that says, “entertain us, and if you don’t then we will go somewhere that will.” Too often, we give in to this attitude in order to keep people returning. We let it shape our methods, our programs, and sadly, even our messages. The end result is something quite horrible. We become a family or congregation of people that have lost our wonder with the Gospel. We lose our awe for its power. We become bored with the truth it brings. We lose our focus on the glory of the message and begin to fixate on the appearance of the packaging.
As I’ve stated already, none of this is to say that we shouldn’t use certain methods or paradigms. Those are well and good. The question we must always contemplate, however, is the “why” behind what we’re doing. The truth is that if we carry out our worship in a way that draws a crowd more than it impacts the hearts and souls of humankind, it’s indicative that we’ve lost faith in the power of the central message and Spirit that empowers it. If we are trying to entertain the crowd into staying around, it won’t be long until another “industry” grabs their attention.
May we never grow numb to the cross and never grow cold in the truth of the empty tomb. May we never grow tired of the story of redemption.
Image taken from: http://troydeshano.com/strong-odors/culture/art-design/entertain-us/