What's Driving Today's Innovations?
If necessity is the mother of invention, what "necessities" are driving today's proliferating innovations in church life?
"Although the next church's shape is not yet obvious, the forces that give it shape are," writes Reggie McNeal in The Present Future. And while the innovations in this issue of Leadership may not suit your church, if McNeal is correct, the forces that have inspired these innovations are already shaping the people in your pews. What are these underlying forces?
We asked four cultural analysts:
Reggie McNeal is director of the Leadership Development Team for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Sally Morganthaler is founder of Sacramentis.com and a leader in worship renewal.
Lyle Schaller is a prolific author and church consultant.
Leonard Sweet is a futurist and dean of the Theological School at Drew University.
Gleaning our conversations with these cultural exegetes, four forces were clearly identified.
"The world has moved from industrialized standardization to individualized customization," Reggie McNeal told us. "People are used to ordering their Dell computer fully customized. Nineteen-year-olds raised in this world don't want the same worship done the same way every week. The major innovation that is occurring is a move from worship templates to worship expressions that fit people as individuals."
What might that look like? McNeal envisions churches with different stations for worship, so congregants can customize the Sunday morning emphasis according to their current spiritual state: "No more printed bulletins, no preset three-course meals. Churches will ask, 'Do you need to rest in the Lord? Here's a bean bag. Do you need to commune? There's prayer in this corner.'"
Sally Morganthaler described a church already doing this in Washington: "The church invited local artists to build in the gym 16 symbols of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Each symbol was described in the three prominent languages spoken in the area. For 36 hours, the community was invited to tour the gym.
"Because the church invited the artistic influence of the communitynot just the churchedthe stations reflected a cultural integrity, a recontexting of the crucifixion narrative. Instead of purple robes reflecting Christ's nobility, one artisan had set up a tuxedo with a purple sash. Instead of 'INRI,' they had an L.E.D. readout, 'The King.' Instead of a picture of a Jerusalem mob crying for Barabbas, they played a looping video of a riot in Seattle. For the people who visited, it was as if Holy Week was brought into their own lives. It was multi-sensory, with no start and finish where you have to be doing what everyone else is doing. You could linger where the presentation was speaking to you."
This trend affects preaching, too. "The use of metaphor has a 'multi-valency' to it [as contrasted to equivalency], an ambiguity, an opportunity for the Spirit to apply it in unique ways," said Morganthaler. "Too often we take that away, say when ...