Thursday, May 25, 2006

Epic Churches for Epic Times


In the midst of one of the greatest transitions in history—from dodern to postmodern—Christian churches are owned lock, stock and barrel by modernity. They havae clung to modern modes of thought and action, their ways of embodying and enacting the Christian tradition frozen in patterns of high modernity.

Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 28.

The postmodern economy is an “experience economy.” Some call this immersion living.” Others call it “The Emotile Era.” But whatever you call it, experience is the currency of postmodern economics. I the last half century much of the world has transitioned from an industrial economy (driven by things) to a knowledge economy (driven by bits) to an experience economy (which traffics in experiences.

Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 32.

Total Experience” is the new watchword in postmodern worship. New World preachers don’t “write sermons.” They create total experiences.

Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 43.

The degree to which we are captives of print and page was made clear at a gathering of Washington Presbyterians. I watched in amazement as the entire congregation of seven hundred people obediently followed the instructions in the bulletin, turned to the page for the black spiritual “Amen, Amen,” and read from their hymnbooks, with heads bowed and legs braced, the one-word song; “A-men, A-men, A-men, A-men.

Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 45.

Just the other day, my daughter commented on the “Sunday” worship at Evergreen Presbyterian Church (the church I pastor). She loves me, but she doesn’t love our worship. We have a bulletin, a printed (responsive reading) call to worship, a printed prayer of confession (read in unison), a printed assurance of forgiveness (responsive reading), a pastoral prayer that is concluded with the Lord’s Prayer and we sing the Doxology as the offering plates come forward. We have all the elements of “Presbyterian” worship. Guess what? We have almost no people attending that are between the ages of 16 and 30. Some students from the youth group are there (all but three are there because the have to be in order to go on the Mission Trip!).

Reading what I just wrote you would get the impression that we are your “typical” Presbyterian church—we’re not! Our worship has the best of contemporary and traditional music (slightly heavier on the contemporary side but without a drum set). I never wear a robe! Typically I wear a suit and tie once a month, a sport coat with or without a tie once a month and no coat or tie the rest of the Sundays. We have people in Sunday worship in jeans, shorts, suits and ties, dresses, pant suits—you name it. We use two projection units at the front of the sanctuary and one in the back (for the worship team and pastor).

We are a modern church trying to create an experience for the worshippers. Let me correct that—that is what I am trying to do with the blessing of the leadership of the church. Some people are enjoying the “experience” that is being created. Many (maybe most) don’t understand, “Why?” Our worship has been enhanced but there is still a problem—we are still a modern church!

So… what should we do? It is time for some “love-inspired audacity.” It is time to think outside the box—maybe we should blow up the box. Our Sunday morning is never going to reach the post-modern culture. We should create the best worship experience we can for those who do show up. THEN… we need to create new worship experiences for those who are a part of the post-modern generation. Our Saturday night service is closer to what would speak to a post-modern person. It is still not there yet. We need to keep evolving that service. THEN… we need to create worship experience (that may or may not be at our current location) that will TARGET a different culture. What will it look like? I haven’t the faintest clue!

How are you and your church confronting the post-modern culture? What suggestions do you have for what our church could/should do?


At 5:41 AM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

I suggest you use a worship screen. We use this in both our contemporary and our traditional services.

In the contemporary service, the flow of the service is projected on the screen and there is no printed bulletin. All the lyrics to the songs, words to responses and prayers etc are put up there. This forces everyone to look up and frees their hands to clap along with the praise songs. OK--happy clappy, I know.

We do the same thing in the traditional service but we use a printed order of worship as well. After a couple of years of this even the folks in the traditional service no longer are buried in the bulletin. The words to the hymns, responses, prayers etc are projected just as in the contemporary service.

We do have an "announcements" sheet that the ushers distribute at both services for information about what's happening that week in the church.

Interestingly we find that the contemporary/traditional worship divide in the congregation is not entirely a difference in age. There are a number of younger (thirtyish) families and some of our youth (including my two daughters) who prefer the traditional worship and a significant number of seniors who prefer the contemporary service.

At a recent presbytery meeting I saw the best use of a worship screen yet--a powerpoint of scripture set to music instead of a traditional reading. It was really well done and effective in creating a worshipful moment in the service.

At 7:38 AM , Blogger islandpreacha said...

I haven't yet read this book but did enjoy an alphabetical anthology on emerging church culture called A IS FOR ABUDUCTIVE by Mclaren and I think Sweet, et al. They used this idea of EPIC and had a number of "EPICtivities" throughout the book. I used some of them with my session to help us think out of the box a bit. If you haven't seen this it's a good read and might have some good processes for your leaders to work through.

We occasionally use a screen in worhsip but not much. I was at a workshop on evangelism recently with Steve Haynor from Columbia seminary. He used a lot of powerpoint, etc during his teachings. We talked some about it and he told me that he was moving away from a lot of text and into having more images. An image as a static backdrop for a reading or particular theme can be very real and experiential.

There is no doubt that for the majority of us if we don't continue to evolve we will be irrelevant. And perhaps that in itself is irreverant.

At 2:25 PM , Blogger Bill said...

I appreciate Sweets EPIC, but I am most interested in the moment in the Connected part.

The challenge of adding a service that folks of this age will attend is that it appears you're offering a product to them. Tough sell. The consumeristic aspect of the church is one that appears in-authentic.

I don't have the answers to these challenges. I do believe, though, that reaching out to folks has to begin with community. The worship service should grow as an expression of that community, rather than as a means of attracting folks who will then enter community.

I may be wrong. Those are my musings. (I ended up here by the way through Tyler's site.)

At 8:24 AM , Blogger jledmiston said...

QG is right about the screens, but just installing screens would split our congregation. I feel for you, FCP because I'm there too. Sometimes I wonder why people are attending "Sunday worship" at all. Not sure I would if I didn't "have to."

Nevertheless ...
there is increased interest in moving toward new things. It takes a long, long time to move a congregation away from the 1950s. Like turning an ocean liner (while praying you don't sink due to one of those pesky ice berg collisions.) Hang in there. I believe we are in a new day. Everywhere I turn, there are people who want something different for the PCUSA in worship and beyond.

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