I visited a church this Sunday and had a weird reaction. I should first say that everything at this church was first rate in quality. The band, sound system, the preparation of the speaker, the building, the parking attendants were all pretty much as high of quality as you can get. Their hospitality and greeting was first rate. Their printed materials looked awesome. The ushers showed us to our seat in the crowded auditorium very ably.
I can only guess at the numbers, but there were probably about 1000-1200 in the room, maybe more. It was obvious that the things that they wanted to be done well, were really being done extremely well. It was also obvious that people were attracted to this approach. So I should say “Kudos” for them. The band played a couple of songs that I’m sure are the hottest new worship songs, not one missed note, all of the singers were perfectly on pitch, smiling with perfect smiles, wearing matching clothes, attractive.
It’s a funny side note to me that I didn’t react positively or negatively to any of this when I saw it. It was 100% exactly what I expected. I knew that this was a growing mega church, and this is exactly what I expected to see. I just walked in thinking: “where am I going to sit?” and “when is the music going to be over?” (I’m not too sure why this is, but I am really getting more and more bored with worship music. It is so ‘me’ focused, loud, and unsingable in high modern registers that it actually distracts me from worship and frustrates me greatly.)
Anyway, I opened up my “Worship Folder” and read the inside page. It was beautiful and glossy, well designed and “simple” to read and look at. On the inside page, the entire page was devoted to one list called: “What to expect today:”
It said that you can expect 5 things: “1. the band will play 3 loud songs, 2. someone will come up to pray and say hi, 3. a pastor will do a talk, 4. we’ll put connection cards and offerings in the buckets, 5. somebody will say bye… after 70 minutes is over.”
That’s all the inside page said, in huge letters. This was a glossy and nicely printed folder that is handed out every week of the year.
The person who gave the announcements told the congregation that the service and small groups is all this church does. The small group materials are in a bag in the back that you can pick up for free. It’s a small group in a bag.
Now, obviously the leaders at this church have read: “Simple Church.” and have taken it to heart. This was as simple as it gets. I will clarify that the music was first rate and the speaker was not only well prepared, but also gave a strong message about money and giving. (Which is a message that I am always glad to hear when I am visiting a church. Because I need better perspective on how to speak effectively about money issues.) It was all well done, perfectly polished.
Here is my gripe though. The only people on the stage were the musicians and the speaker. No one else was highlighted from the congregation. There was exactly zero art or inspiration that was a part of the service. To me this is the equivalent of going to see a good choir and watching them sing only tv show themes with little harmony, all in unison. It’s like going to an art class and leaving with only the knowledge of how to draw that turtle that is on the back of matchbooks and magazines. It’s like buying a new best-seller and realizing that it is a rehash of the “sixth sense” movie and you already know all of the plot twists and intricacies. It’s like going to a great burger place and being offered a McDonalds cheeseburger. All of it is easily palatable for the masses. It’s all been proven to work once, so it is being repeated over and over.
Taking away the art, taking away the flavor, taking away the mystery, taking away the gifts of the non musically or theologically trained, is this what church should be? It seems to me that if we take away the substance, we are claiming EITHER that substance is not an integral part of real faith, OR that real people are too dumb or too simple or are unworthy of substance. It’s like inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner and then seating them at the kids’ table. By doing this, are we insulting the Gospel or the People or both?
It’s crazy to me that people seem to be so OK with this. There’s part of me that wants to tell them to feel insulted. I want to tell them to go somewhere where their intellect and artistic senses are valued.
That’s part of what I want to create.