Discovering and Escaping Liturgy
Worship trends among the young are more complicated than you realize.

For years I served on the staff of a megachurch with a very contemporary style of worship. We had a state-of-the-art sound system, large video projection screens, pop-rock music, and a sophisticated lighting system. The worship services were programmed to the minute: predetermined transitions, upbeat intro songs, announcements backed with PowerPoint slides, sermons crafted with felt-need application points, and abundant video clips.

The church was growing as several thousand people connected with the presentations each week. But at the same time the church was thriving with one generation, I began to notice that younger adults were not engaging as well as their parents. So I began listening to these young people to discover why they were not resonating with this way of doing church.

I repeatedly heard that they were longing for something less "programmed." At the same time, I began hearing questions about "liturgy," a word I'd never heard before. I was not raised in the church, and my only church experiences at the time had been at an organ-led Baptist church and the megachurch where I was on staff. Even in seminary, I had never been taught about liturgy (literally, the "work of the people") or ancient forms of worship. And ministry conferences I attended only seemed concerned with the newest, cutting-edge trends.

One young man left our church to become part of a small Orthodox congregation. I was curious enough that I decided to visit. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. From the quietness and sense of history to the use of incense and chanting - I was intrigued.

All of this led me to study the history of worship. I was suddenly made aware of the myriad ways the church has worshipped throughout history, and I decided to experiment with some of these forms in the young adult ministry I led. It sounds clich? now, but we started by darkening the room and lighting candles and incense. We began singing some hymns and the Doxology. We also recited readings and prayers from The Book of Common Prayer. One of the elders at the church was concerned. He asked me, "Are you going Roman Catholic on us?"

The older generation may have been confused, but the younger adults found the changes refreshing. All they had known in church was pop bands and video screens. The introduction of ancient practices helped them feel grounded and rooted to something bigger than themselves.

Then I spoke at a conference about our rediscovery of liturgy and tradition. The room was packed - by that time liturgy had become a very hot topic. During my presentation, a leader raised his hand and commented in a very disappointed tone.

April 03, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 15 comments

AJ

April 17, 2009  1:49am

Dan... Thanks for the article. As if we can escape 'liturgy'. There is no such thing as not having liturgy, but there is such a thing as shallow, useless, and clueless liturgy. I agree, I think with your notion, that for those of us not close to Social Security, that the best liturgy isn't new. The best liturgy doesn't need to be invented but re-found. The best remedy for bad liturgy will never be no liturgy, but a good liturgy. I happen to agree liturgy is a lot like U2, the best has already happened.

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AJ

April 17, 2009  1:47am

Dan... Thanks for the article. As if we can escape 'liturgy'. There is no such thing as not having liturgy, but there is such a thing as shallow, useless, and clueless liturgy. I agree, I think with your notion, that for those of us not close to Social Security, that the best liturgy isn't new. The best liturgy doesn't need to be invented but re-found. The best remedy for bad liturgy will never be no liturgy, but a good liturgy. I happen to agree liturgy is a lot like U2, the best has already happened.

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Tammy

April 07, 2009  2:57pm

We are separating our congregation and I don't see it as a good move. We could definately consider a remix of tradition and modern day life. Your article is rich in inspiration...Thanks

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Olivia

April 06, 2009  6:24pm

Dan– Thanks for this article. I am 21 and am currently attending a satellite plant off of North Point Ministries and have learned a lot about the whole 'rock-band-church-experience' and I can't say that I love it. I agree with what you said in this article and think it needs to be said more often than it is been said currently amongst the "mega" churches that want to be a church for the unchurched. Thanks for your thoughts, -Olivia

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Joan Ball

April 06, 2009  9:39am

Perhaps this a not only a question of method, but also a question of planning versus following. I think that we as Americans are very used to programming everything we do, which leaves very little space for the Holy Spirit to guide our approach. What if we wore these "approaches" to worship loosely and left more room for the "right" expression to emerge. Of course this kind of a less programmed approach would require us to be vulnerable, teachable, humble and trusting - of the Spirit to guide and one another to work together - which is much more difficult than having it all figured out before we start.

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Matt @ The Church of No People

April 04, 2009  8:03am

I've been on a similar mission - with using ancient worship forms, awakening people to their legitimacy, while staying in the 21st century. I attended a large Episcopal church for a few years, and it was strange how by the time I left, worship felt rote and routine. But I attended their Ash Wednesday service this year, first time in that church in a decade, and everything felt so fresh and amazing. I was touched by the depth of the worship!

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Melody

April 03, 2009  5:40pm

Good article. Matthew 5:6 "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled." Folks wha are filled with righteousness will worship correctly.

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sheerahkahn

April 03, 2009  4:54pm

"Not one word about re-examining God's Word it's self to discover what God has asked us to do when we gather." uh...what? Are you referring to James 4:6 and John 4:23-24? I think the object of this effort is to prevent creeping traditionalism from stifling creativity, but also not to let the whiz-bang glamour of modern hoo-ahh glitz blind us to the richness of our forebears who taught quiet reflection in our worship. Anyway, I think this is what Dan had in mind when he concluded... We have found that the goal shouldn't be to maintain the past or to always be on the cutting edge. Our goal is to worship in a way that represents our community to God and God to our community. That means contextualizing worship for today, but not forgetting the family of God throughout history to which we belong. Contexualizing doesn't redefine the message, rather it allows broad expression of the same message that encompasses the past, the present, while at the same time presenting a wonderous work of art that future generations can draw on as a source of inspiration. think about it... songs like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1BvicNNKBs&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUp7oxOLans&feature=PlayList&p=9ACFEB1CBCC65D92&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=5 These are the very things that will last because this is how G-d wants it. It will be okay.

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Tim

April 03, 2009  3:52pm

This all very interesting. This talk about returning to our history and recognizing current trends and on and on. Not one word about re-examining God's Word it's self to discover what God has asked us to do when we gather. There is no difference between the videos-power point approach and the candles-chanting approach when they are both driven by experts from a platform and not one believer sitting in the pew has any understanding that God has designed him to come prepared to offer spirit and truth from his own mouth and heart and deliver it to his fellow priests. This outsourcing approach to "worship" is very popular in wealthy unrestricted countries like ours. It is very difficult for anyone who has only experienced this or who gets paid by this to examine these routines with the Word. The warning to "not forsake assembling" specifically mentions "considering how" believers can "spur one another on to love and good works" and "encourage one another", and "all the more as the day is approaching". This is highly communal / relational and radically different than styles old or new. What is more important - to give this generation or that generation what they prefer and call it worship or to help believes learn to love what God has asked for and learn to offer that to Him as worship? A very well known deceiver has been subtly warping the notion of worship for the household of faith and keeping it warped generation after generation.

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Ken

April 03, 2009  12:40pm

This whole thing is so very, very true, and can be heart-breaking to some. I grew up Lutheran, liturgical. After joining the military, I got involved in general Protestant worship, moving more and more contemporary, part of the independent Bible-church movement. I visited some of the larger churches in the Dallas area to learn about how they do things. As a minister, I found myself missing something, though. There was a lack of connection to the history of the church, to God's people over the last 2000 years. Too often, it seems as though we look at church history in 3 times only - the New Testament times, the Reformation, and today, forgetting the rest of the rich history. Today, I am an Anglican priest, having found a place in that rich history that really speaks to me and enables my growth, while pushing me to reach out to others. May each person out there find their own place to fit in, hopefully pulling from all of the church's history.

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