The service was undeniably beautiful. Dedicated pastors and volunteers had planned it for weeks. There were banners, incense, and altar decorations. The sanctuary was packed: more than 1,000 folks overflowed the seats, latecomers standing along the sides and back. The congregation participated with gusto. But after receiving Communion, they marched out of the sanctuary. By the closing hymn, only a few folks dotted the pews that just five minutes before had been filled to bursting.
Some left to cram in work, but many in this particular group were on their way to that night’s parties. In another five hours, many would be passed out on the couches of friends or strangers, a few would be rushed by ambulance for alcohol poisoning treatment, and, most horrific, some would be sexually assaulting their peers or suffering such violence. It was the weekend, and the community in question was a Christian university. The school was by no means a place where only lip service was paid to Christian ideals: students eagerly participated in voluntary ministry, including planning that night’s service. So why were their late-night identities so disconnected from their church identities?
A growing number of evangelicals view failures of faithfulness as lapses in liturgical formation—or claim that participating in liturgical worship is key to transforming our character. Beginning with Robert Webber’s now-classic Ancient-Future series and continuing with such gems as Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells and Bells, the movement has produced much good work inspiring evangelicals to incorporate liturgical elements into their services. Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith’s multi-volume Cultural Liturgies project ...1