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