So here I am ... sitting in a church service (I won't name the church because I don't want to defame the church), and I'm hit by various disappointments. Those of you that are 30+ years old and raised in the church (particularly in Baptist/conservative churches) probably remember what I grew up in when it comes to church services. When I was young, we always sang with the hymnal. In fact, it was a big deal when we started adding praise songs to the service. Even then, when we started adding praise songs, they were still in a book. Then it was another huge step to add slides (bring back the nostalgia, the slides were transparencies on an overhead projector). The praise song books were still available and most of the songs were still sung out of the hymnal. Don't get me wrong, modern praise and worship music can be rather beautiful, and I love the integration of my old favorite hymns into newer songs (and one of the songs this morning did just that). Really, I don't think it's the music that bothers me; it's more that the spectacle of it all that makes me feel uncomfortable. It's a stage (not an altar) and the stage is lit like a concert stage. The words are on two giant screens with cool, moving backgrounds. The ambience is more like a really tame rock concert, not that of a church.
Then, it got worse ... Well, I wouldn't say "worse," just not the atmosphere I want or really think of when I think "church." I knew this was a multi-location church, their website says as much. But I went to, what I thought was, the main church building. But no, the music was live, and there was announcements, but then a screen dropped on stage, the lights dimmed and the pastor appeared on a giant screen on stage. Why? I understand that the pastor is only one guy (and the message was good, a hard-hitting application of James 3), and he can't be in multiple locations at the same time. But, could this be done better? It's confusing, because it looks like he was videotaped giving the message on a similar stage, but where is he? I feel so disconnected. When a church gets so big it can't fit in one building, why not split up and make multiple churches!? If a church gets too big for two buildings (this particular church has, I think, four or five buildings), why not make many churches. Surely the huge congregation can afford to pay multiple pastors. This church is so large it not only has multiple locations, but it has multiple services!
The overall feel, because of the stage-performance-style praise and worship session, the video-broadcasted sermon, the drive-by-style communion, and just how it seemed like everyone left immediately after the service, was that of a shopping mall church. Stop in, get your deals, buy your Christianity for the week (not that they emphasized the offering, on the contrary, they just had a box in the back of the auditorium). It doesn't feel like anyone knows anyone else or that they want to get to know newcomers, though the pastor encouraged visitors to go to the visitors' desk to get a free gift (a t-shirt) multiple times. It's almost like they relegated interpersonal relationships to a specific welcome-table. The service didn't feel like people coming together to worship God and get to know one another.
One last thing that bothers me about many (not just this church) Sunday morning services. When I was young Sunday morning services consisted of Sunday School (for adults and kids, separately), then regular worship services. I don't know, but there's just something special about a church that seeks to educate its congregation. When did we go from churches that seek to educate in small group settings, then worship corporately, then engage with each other in person? Maybe that's boring? I'm not trying to say that the "old way" is better. Rather, I want to draw attention to things I don't like about the "new way" and see if we can have the best of both ways. Can we educate and have authentic relationships in a fun, creative environment?