Should Christian worship take place in a “concert atmosphere?” “
Recently, someone who was looking for a church to attend asked me to review a church’s website and give them advice about the church, from their website, before visiting. I have reviewed many church websites in this city and visited many churches there.
So, the website of this church revealed the following. And I have to say that after reviewing the websites of many churches and visiting many churches in this metro area, this one was just “upfront and honest” about it. I respect that. I will not visit it. (But I encouraged the person who asked me about the church to visit it because everyone’s tastes in worship are not the same.)
The first thing that jumped out at me about the church website is a very strong assertion of absolute independence. (The church has a name in a nutshell, like so many newer churches.) Like so many newly founded churches that intend to become mega-churches in the long term, this one has loudly proclaimed that ‘it is “non-denominational”. However, her statement of faith was quite detailed and revealed to me that she is Baptist in her belief and practice and perhaps at least semi-charismatic. I suspect he is very conservative (if not fundamentalist) theologically. Or maybe “renewal” is the newer and better term. Absoutely not cessationist with regard to the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Second, all of the pastoral staff, in fact all of the staff pictured, are white, young, and look (from their photos) like hipsters. Well, this is especially true for the many male members of the staff. The female staff members are all young and beautiful, as in almost every American television show.
Third, the church website places a strong emphasis on “come as you are” hospitality. Clothes? You just have to wear it. That’s all it says to people who are planning to visit. Atheist? You are also welcome. No restriction on the absolute reception of everyone. This does not seem to quite agree with the church’s very conservative statement of faith which includes “without error” in the description of the Bible.
Fourth, and most disturbing to me, the website describes the worship atmosphere as a “concert”. He says church worship has a concert atmosphere. Truly? What does it mean? Well I’m pretty sure I know what this means because I’ve been through it so many times. Loud music played and sung by a worship team with songs clearly written for performance and not for congregation singing.
* Box: The opinions expressed here are mine (or those of the guest author); I am not speaking on behalf of any other person, group or organization; I also do not imply that the views expressed herein reflect those of any other person, group or organization, unless I specifically say so. Before commenting, read the entire post and the “Note to Commentators” at the end. *
Illustration: In one of these churches, I visited the worship team who sang (the congregation did not) an old gospel hymn that I grew up singing in church. But the arrangement was such that most people couldn’t sing it. But the worship team was clearly having a good time up there on the platform singing it. After the worship service has ended (no blessing or altar call or real ending other than the worship team laying down their instruments and huddling, talking to each other on the platform), i dared to go upstairs and ask the leader of the worship team if I could chat with him. He agreed a little reluctantly. I asked him what was better about the old hymn version than his traditional arrangement. He didn’t even know it was an old church hymn. His only response to me was “Ask Casting Crowns, not me.” Apparently the praise team was just trying to cover a Casting Crowns version of the old anthem. It was horrible because no one in the congregation could sing it. The same was true of all songs “led” by the worship team. Almost no one in the congregation sang them. They were pretty much unfathomable by most people.
Illustration: At another church in the same metro area, I visited a large church (maybe a thousand in the congregation or audience) where the platform was filled with mist and colored strobe lights as the worship team sang “contemporary songs of praise and worship” that were clearly written for the performance and not for the congregational song.
In most of these services there are no announcements, no pastoral prayer, no scripture reading, no reactive reading, no Our Father, no Doxology, no invocation, no blessing. . And in most of them, some people in the congregation wear extremely casual clothes (extremely short shorts that show full thighs if not a little more, flip flops, etc.), and sip coffee and sometimes look at their phones. laptop during worship service. In one of these churches, I observed a man leaving the worship space during worship. I assumed he was going to the men’s bathroom. Nope. He returned with a cup of coffee from the cafe bar in the lobby.
I spoke with pastors of these new type churches with worship services in a concert atmosphere. They defend worship by saying that it makes young people come to church and that it attracts new young people. When I ask questions about the elderly, they have nothing to say. They take us for granted or simply expect us to continue to attend our old, dying churches. They certainly don’t do anything to attract us.
Why is this even important to me? Well, in a few years, not a lot really, I’ll be retiring and probably moving to a new metro area that has some personal (family-related) appeal. Whenever I visit there (which is quite often and for long periods of time) I visit churches. So far, anyway, I’ve visited almost only evangelical churches – the ones that I can tell are somehow evangelical “flavor” from their websites. Here is the thing. In this particular metropolitan area, all of the vital and growing churches worship in exactly the same way – “concert style”. No real congregation participation except for a few very young people sitting near the front singing with the worship band (as they listen to Christian music radio) and sometimes jumping up and down (a little). The vast majority of the congregation simply watches and listens, often with a cup of drink in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Sometimes the sermon is good; sometimes (most often) it’s catastrophic. The stories I could tell. Often times, the “senior pastor” doesn’t really have a higher education in Bible or theology, but has simply decided to start a church or “leave” because he (rarely she) has talent and charisma.
I am well aware that I look like a cranky old man, someone who lives in the past, unable to “go with the flow” of “what is happening now” in church life in America. . Yeah; it’s me. But, as a theologian, I also think there is something wrong with the “concert atmosphere” in Christian worship services. In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul prescribed that when the Christians of Corinth gathered for worship, everyone should participate. Now, I’ve never been to a church where it was actually every Sunday. But I am a member of a church where lay people on the pews actually pray, lead appropriate reading, offer a pulpit song gift, give a testimony, read the scripture “lessons” of the day, and sing familiar songs. newer songs or songs that can be sung (because they have an easy to learn melody). The woman worship leader takes the time to talk about each song, explaining very briefly her role in the worship service (perhaps how this relates to the sermon). The woman pastor preaches sermons that challenge and condemn while inspiring and encouraging. Sometimes someone in the congregation will say a “word” when he or she feels guided (never interrupt). Usually there are pulpit “discussions” about the church’s involvement with a local organization that accommodates homeless families overnight in churches. Church members volunteer to spend the night with the families, feed them, and play with the children. There is an invocation and a blessing and an invitation to pray with the pastor after the worship service is over — about anything. There is pastoral prayer during worship service focusing particularly on the needs of the congregation and the community.
I have not found anything like it in the greater metropolitan area where I will probably be relocating when I retire. Even small evangelical churches have turned to the “concert atmosphere” to attract or retain their young people. I sympathize with the motive, but wonder if it’s the same thing Paul described as Christian worship in 1 Corinthians.
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