It is always interesting to go attend worship while on vacation. Depending on where I am, it either gives me an opportunity to worship with one of our daughters or visit a completely new church. Both are great.
This summer I was worshiping in a large, dynamic, and growing church. I have known of this church for decades and have always viewed it as a great church with wonderful people. It still is.
Recently the leadership team of the church has changed. They brought in an exciting new head of staff who is a dynamic preacher and also a charismatic, visionary leader. A part of that new vision was the complete remodel of what was once a beautiful, traditional, stained glass filled Sanctuary. The new “Worship Center” – they don’t have a Sanctuary any more – is filled with stackable chairs, wonderfully crisp flat screens, and large screens that make it possible for any number of different images and backdrops to be seen behind the unadorned stage.
Ok. I fully acknowledge that I am powerfully moved by beautiful worship that pays careful attention to creating sacred space. I like stained glass, but I don’t need to have it. I like flat screens that allow us to display text and images that get us out of our books and into worship. I recognize that there is nothing “sacred” about pews, and stackable chairs that allow you to reconfigure the worship space for any number of different events is incredibly convenient. I recognize that to livestream a service requires careful attention to lighting and so maybe a darkened space is preferable. I get all of that.
But when our space planning becomes so utilitarian, when our architecture is deliberately “warehouse light”, when our concern is non-believer accessibility at the expense of sacred space, I have to wonder what we are doing. Isn’t there some middle ground?
We entered to worship and immediately had twenty minutes of singing, a brief prayer, more singing, a sermon (excellent by the way), and we closed with singing. Okay, the praise team was good and the singing was great. But I noticed one exuberant individual who was very demonstrative in his singing. That’s fine. He was clearly caught up in the spirit of worship as he sang. As he did, it was almost as though he was praying. But when the singing was over, so was he. He quietly picked up his bulletin (really just a short newsletter) and he left. Worship was over for him.
This happened to occur at an overwhelmingly contemporary church. But it is not unique to contemporary churches. What leads us to pick and choose our worship experiences? When did worship become so much about personal choice and satisfaction that we feel free to pick up and leave at any point in the service? When did worship become about our preferences versus God’s delight? What is the trade off between newcomer accessibility and sacred space?
I have thought about that worship experience quite a bit. I still am, and I imagine I will for awhile. What do you think?