Contemporary Church Worship: A Liturgy of Entertainment?

Moving Away From the Weekly Show to Face One Another in Real Community

Could the numerical growth some churches experience after adopting an entertainment style of church worship be attributed to our cultural fascination with and subsequent accommodation to the entertainment industry more than anything else? If such is the case, we need to set aside time to reflect on new worship ideas and ministry alternatives. Here is one proposal.

church

An entertainment-based focus may produce larger numbers of people in our churches on any given Sunday, but a culture of entertainment will also produce a lack of depth and commitment in those people who simply want to watch the weekly Christian show Sunday after Sunday (remember, we all typically sit in seats that face the stage as we watch the show unfold).

If these same things were removed, perhaps in favor of a more people-focused, thoughtful, artistic form of worship, would we experience a decline in our church gatherings as a result of making these changes?

Furthermore, what will disciples formed around a liturgy of entertainment look and sound like longterm?

My observations suggest that as long as the band is kicking it and the preacher is bringing it, things will be fine (note the emphasis on performance). However, when these things change, people will often become quickly dissatisfied and consider moving on to another show.

There must be a better way of doing church than this.

Church in a Circle

One alternative to consider is what Kathleen Ward refers to as church in a circle. Kathleen briefly describes the model this way – From monologue to dialogue. From audience to participants. From performance to empowerment. A shift in the way we meet, the way we learn and the way we lead.

I love that.

I invite you to subscribe to her blog and stay informed about what they’re doing in their circle-styled congregation in Australia.

In the meantime, she provides an overview of what church in a circle actually is and why they chose this model for their church gatherings.

It only takes two people to form a circle. Using circles in church can be as simple as talking to the person next to you.

A circle is a two-way interaction. Both parties are given a voice, a value and an impact. God’s people are empowered to connect, learn and grow together. Adults are encouraged to be active learners, not passive listeners. The leader stops performing and starts facilitating. The congregation stops being a critical audience and becomes a connected community.

Church in a circle starts with the seating arrangement, but ultimately changes the way we meet and interact as God’s people. It changes us from consumers into participants. It changes the way we see each other. It changes the way we learn and teach others about God.

It’s time to stop filling rows and start forming circles.

One of the things I appreciate most about this style and posture of ministry is the facing one another component, rather than the traditional facing-the-back-of-a-person’s-head style we’ve grown accustomed to. Here are a few reasons why.

Face to Face

  • Facing one another creates a better awareness of who is present. We see one another, face to face, rather than stare at the back of someone’s head.
  • Facing one another fosters an environment more conducive to conversation. Something the monologue-focused, center-stage model of church ministry can never accomplish.
  • Facing one another invites real and active participation by removing the passive, watch-from-a-distance mindset inherit in traditional church structures.
  • Facing one another communicates value to each person. We are a company of equals, sitting together, face to face – listening, watching, speaking, praying.
  • Facing one another can better facilitate togetherness, commonality and a real sense of community.

While there are no doubt many other things the church in a circle model can accomplish that a traditional model simply cannot, this short list captures the primary benefits I see at work within the model.

Moving Away from a Liturgy of Entertainment

In the end, the entertainment style of church we’ve been conditioned to accept is simply incapable of producing an environment where people can grow and develop into committed, active, followers of Jesus. I realize that’s a bold statement, but it’s true.

When we all face the same direction, staring at the back of someone’s head, while watching the show on the stage, we cannot engage with one another in ways that are capable of establishing real relationships, fostering real community. And, if no real community can be created, than we are not the church. We are little more than a group of individuals watching a well-choreographed Christian show.

While the church in a circle model is only one option that can push back the broad acceptance of the liturgy of entertainment, it is a viable and functional style that actually works.

Face to face. Person to person. Voice to voice. Life to life. This is what church should be about. Not the show-based, entertainment-focused, professionals-only style we’ve come to embrace.

I believe there is a better way forward. And, I believe you believe this too.

What are your thoughts, experiences and recommendations?

Do you have any others suggestions and ideas?

Share them on my Facebook wall or on Kathleen’s blog. We would love to hear your ideas!

I also highly recommend this post as a starting point as you reflect on next steps.

Like this post? Sign up for my blog updates and never miss a post.
Check your email after signing up to confirm your subscription. Many thanks!
Privacy Guarantee: I will never share your e-mail address with anyone else.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • You’d be surprised how many folks, particularly men, are attracted to liturgical worship when they have studied the symbolism of the various parts and see how it is not based on sentimentality of any sort. It can be just as participatory as a contemporary worship service, but it is also disciplined – when approached in the proper spirit, this can lead to a real sense of spiritual growth and satisifaction.

    Frederica Matthewes-Green has some interesting thoughts about this – in particular with respect to how men respond to different forms of worship in church: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/features/men_and_orthodoxy_frederica_mathewes_green

    • Thanks for your comment and information. I agree with your conclusions on the depth and breadth of symbolism in higher forms of church liturgy. Thought I am Protestant and Evangelical in orientation, one of the most awe inspiring moments have been during various church visits in Anglican and Roman Catholic basilicas. I saw Christ everywhere present through the rich and often vivid pictures, carvings, sculptures and items of worship. I’ve never forgotten it.

      • When I first became Christian I was very interested in the ancient church, and so was the pastor at the non-denominational church that I was attending. In the course of discussion, he told me that if I wanted to see how the ancient Christians worshipped, to visit an Eastern Orthodox Church – he himself had done this. If you study the basic structure of the service first, not only do you see how the different parts correspond to the different parts of Christ’s life and ministry, but you’ll see the parts where catechumens are prayed for, then dismissed prior to revealing further mysteries of the faith (since they weren’t fully trusted – or at least incorporated – by the community until they had been fully catechized and baptized; there were spies back then!) – then the guards are summoned to watch the doors on the lookout for Roman soldiers – then the creedal beliefs, the Lord’s Prayer, and communion take place. It is interesting to see!

        Some of the objects present correspond to objects present during Jewish temple worship – and the altar still represents a tomb, with a saint’s relic incorporated in the cloth covering the altar – just as worship used to occur secretly in tombs of the faithful. More well-established churches are decked out….and even that is a throwback to the times of Byzantium, once worship was legalized and was moved out of the tombs and supported by the emperor – objects were able to outwardly reflect worship in the Heavenly Kingdom. But small mission churches are still very humble in appearance. I, for instance, was baptized in a horse trough 🙂

        But now I am off on a tangent. Thanks for the interesting morning thoughts, which is inspiring a post of my own!

  • Bev Mitchell

    Jeff,

    Good observation that will strike a note with many, and not just Pentecostals! Been there, done that, in both directions. It reminds me of the old joke of the conversation between the Baptist and the Pentecostal – Baptist says “Do you think God is deaf?” Pentecostal replies “No, and he’s not nervous either.” Of course the joke completely misses the crucial point – many (most) churches desperately need better balance in many areas but most visibly in worship. In my experience, this is very hard to find.

  • Pingback: North American Pentecostalism: A Liturgy of Entertainment? | Jeff K … – Charismatic Feeds()

  • Hi Jeff, I beleive we are in an entertainment dispensation where loud music (mostly instruments) lighting, and no time for reflection in our worship is happeing. Sure it looks great, is “exciting” and causes us to “watch” what is happening on the “stage” but I wonder where the quiet moments of reflection are. I wonder amidst the joyful clanging of symbals, where the call to enter the “holy of holies’ has gone. We are also so concerned about “time” element in our worship, that I sometimes think we leave the King of Kings standing at the side of the stage as we celebrate the great musicians’ ability to play and improvise withing the 20 minutes alotted to worship. I am a Pentecostal by choice. I used to love being in the presence of true worshippers, but as the years have gone by, I see less of the “people” involved in actually participating and more in just watching. We used to sing songs several weeks in a row, but now it is a new set of songs every week. I once had a worship leader say that it was boring to sing the same song two weeks in a row! How is it possible to sing those songs during the week if I haven’t had time to learn them. Oh well, I’m told, you’re just old fashioned. Well, I love to worship and when it is joyous music, then I can but when it is too loud, too complicated and too surfacy I just want to forget it. All I say, is come Lord Jesus, soon and show us how to worship You and not the entertainer.
    Oops, do I sound a little sad. Well, I have been privileged to worship in “free singing” for many minutes and then hear form the Lord. Is that happening now? I think we are afraid to be quiet enough to let the Lord speak to our hearts. Enough said. There is a difference between performance songs and participation in worship songs. When it is hard to tell the difference between a rock concert and the “inner courts” of praise, I do wonder. Entertainment is for the concert stage, not the worship sanctuary.

  • Mark Peters

    As a worship leader and congregant, the entertainment aspect of contemporary worship has challenged and troubled me for some time. I even have suspicions that we in Pentecostal circles may suffer from a type of category error when it comes to worship.

    Don’t get me wrong; there is a place for singing, dancing, boisterous praise, prayer and “intimate” worship, if I might call it that. Scripture is rife with exhortations to sing joyfully, make excellent music, dance, genuflect, etc. and we have many examples of people in Scripture who did so. We need to keep this, but….

    The challenge and call of true spiritual worship goes way beyond the outward displays of praise and worship into the transformation of our hearts and minds so as to make us holy and obedient and able to discern God’s perfect, pleasing will (Romans 12). I get the sense that we in Pentecostal circles have cheapened the true spiritual worship of Romans 12 by substituting shining, boisterous, “perfected,” outward displays in its place. What is more, we seem to have deluded ourselves into thinking about worship as point-in-time events at a specific locale rather than a daily undertaking of self-denial, cross carrying and obedience. This has given rise to, and perhaps strengthened, the phenomenon of the Sunday Christian, he who gets a charge out of Sunday worship enough to carry him through the week, and duly complains if the wattage isn’t strong enough to carry him through the work week.

    What is so fascinating yet extremely troubling about being worship connoisseurs, to borrow from Mike Pilavachi, is that we are so far removed from true spiritual worship as to draw into question whether or not we understand what worship is at all. If we approach the mere outward displays of worship from the basis of personal pleasure and satisfaction – getting it just right for me – how on earth could we ever begin to deny the self to the point where we actually pursue and achieve (by God’s amazing grace alone) true holiness and life transformation? It’s like we have the cart before the horse.

    I contend those who are true worshippers – those who hunger and thirst after righteousness and holiness and commit themselves to being transformed by the renewing of their mind, of no longer conforming to the pattern of this world – do not need perfected performances or just the right level of bass and electric lead to “get into” worship. In fact, one could safely argue that we need NONE of the contemporary vehicles of worship in order to truly worship God. True worship flows directly out of a life of holy obedience and surrender to his will. Outward displays of praise, thanksgiving and worship naturally flow out of a heart that is transformed.

    God help us to worry about the kind of worship that really matters. The Sunday stuff will take care of itself and be all but moot thereafter.

  • All great comments so far everyone. The topic obviously touched on a sensitive topic for many of you. Let’s continue to keep the conversation going and see if we can locate any ideas on how to move forward.

    I contend to utilize more symbolism. I know church buildings in our circles that have none at all; not even a cross in their sanctuaries. There is nothing there that would draw ones attention toward God, Christ and Spirit. The only common item at all, and one that really doesn’t hold any significant value to many, is the communion table. If we only use it once a month, and then only as a memory tool, with little to no sacramental value, it almost doesn’t even count as a symbol.

    As I mentioned above, I continue to be moved towards God when I visit Anglican and Roman Catholic church buildings. And, while I continue to have theological differences with them, my focus turns towards God when I enter their buildings. There is rich symbolism everywhere I look, and it draws me in to a contemplative mindset. A concert stage in many Pentecostal (and Evangelical) churches just doesn’t have the same effect.

    • The issue is sensuality (the realm of the senses) in what should be spiritual worship. If it is “of the flesh” when Charismatic denominations do it, is it not “of the flesh” when we are stirred to worship at the sight of a cathedral?

  • brianroden

    I think I would love to have a Pentecostal service in an old cathedral. Keeps the stained glass windows with their story-telling art, but remove the statues in the little alcoves, maybe replacing them with beautifully-lettered passages from the Psalms about the glory of God. Minimal sound reinforcement (primarily for the preaching), and let the sound of the congregation’s voices echo off the stone vaulted ceiling.

  • Mark Peters

    I should add that there is place for excellence in PW ministry, for well-honed musicianship, integral vocals, colourful dance, heartfelt prayers, compelling poetry, outstanding visual displays, etc. The challenge facing the contemporary church is that we focus on technique or quality of delivery instead of on the more essential component – a heart of true worship. A pastor and close friend of mine likes to say “It’s both and.” We need workmanship and heart; otherwise we run the risk of PW being hateful noise to the LORD (Amos 5). Who is more worthy of excellence than the LORD? And what good is only heart if the delivery savages the human ear and causes distraction?

    As far as PW ideas, a helpful model for me, as a worship leader, has been the Old Testament Temple with its outer and inner courts, holy place and holiest of holies, which today I equate to praise, worship, and adoration. In a corporate setting the goal is to move the congregation to the H-H, to adoration, a privilege that is ours through the atoning work of Christ. Connoisseurs rarely reach the H-H because they’re too focused on the details of the setting or on personal preferences. They obsess in the Temple courts, as it were, instead of getting lost behind the torn veil, where there is nothing between oneself and God Almighty and where the surroundings grow ever more meaningless. So while there is a place for excellence in ministry, we need to be careful that the enablers chosen for a worship setting do not lead to distraction from the LORD himself.

    Speaking of distractions, I am grieved to read of Marilyn’s experience. Introducing new songs every week and/or putting more than one new song in a service “set,” will actively work against the goal of moving a congregation forward into deep worship and adoration because the people will have to focus squarely on the mechanics of the song rather than its meaning(s). Where I am empowered to lead, I allow only one to two new songs per month and even then they are reviewed before they are introduced for theological integrity, practiced and rehearsed so they are delivered very well, and most importantly must stand a congregational test. Some songs will resonate with a congregation while others will fall flat. It is important to let the song run for a few weeks to see if the congregation owns it or not. If not, we let the song pass and select another.

    On the whole, a goal I set forth as a leader isn’t perfection of mechanics, rather the removal of distractions for the worshipers. Rehearse songs to deliver them well so that people aren’t distracted. Keep the “flare” to a minimum so that people, again, are focused on the meaning and intent and target (GOD) of the song instead of on the people delivering it. Sings songs that resonate with the congregation and introduce new songs carefully. Be sure to include praise, worship and adoration songs. Aim to find oneself lost in the H-H, not kicking the dirt in the outer courts, grumbling about the lack of bass.

    Anyway, that’s enough for now….