I am a member of (and an intern in) a church of approximately 3000. That sounds pretty impressive, until you realize that there are half a million people who live within a 30 minute drive.
We have a lot of baby Christians at our church. Our outreach pastor goes down and chats the gangbangers up – so guess what I see in the seats? Yep! Gang tattoos, dime a dozen. Homeless folks? Yep. People who bear the marks of having made poor choices before they came to Christ? Heck yeah. We have a post-drug addiction ministry… because we need one.
As I work through my year as an intern, part of the job is to follow a selection of ministries in the church around and see what they do, see if I have a calling to participate in any of those ministries. I also get to know the people running the church. What I’m finding interesting is how much of our church is set up to be doctrinally sound (you’re welcome to watch sermons and make your own judgment, we record them) and yet not scare the newbies. (If we’re going to scare them, we want to scare them with substance, not style).
While I, churched my whole life, find it preferable to dress up slightly for church and come into a lovely, well-lit sanctuary, sing hymns and listen to pianos play… those baby Christians? They find it alienating. They feel like they don’t have the “right” clothes, and they don’t know the songs. So our pastor wears button-downs without ties, and the lyrics flash on a screen on the wall behind the stage. It’s loud, too – exactly 90 decibels. We have a little machine to measure that. I interned at the sound booth – I was told that it’s that loud so people don’t feel like the music is a performance, but that it makes them a part of it. Knowing the hymns and being able to sing properly to them without being drowned out? Hard to do if you’ve never set foot in church.
Do we force our preferences on the new kids, or do we make allowances for their style – so long as content isn’t sacrificed? Is there a “right” way to do church? (Of course I mean as long as the Bible is the first standard. Sola Scriptura all the way, baby).
The more I study as an intern, the more I’d argue NO. There is no perfect worship service. Following the needs of the congregation, you’re going to find different styles according to the different church cultures. As long as the pure Word of God is preached, as long as we get Communion distributed at some point, as long as God gets the glory… it’s church. Church won’t look the same in 100 years as it looks today, and that’s okay. We don’t worship church… we worship Jesus Christ. Church exists to teach, fellowship, worship in a group and make community.
I wish I could say that the old churches, like the church I grew up in, were doing just as well with their choirs, hymnals, and organs. I’d be lying. They’re dead, or close to it. And the people who want to feel the Spirit move? They show up at a bouncy church full of babies, stuff some cotton balls in their ears, and surrender their taste to God’s work.