At the clergy learning conference I went to a few weeks ago, I attended the seminar that I thought was on creating worship and preaching for the future church. I felt as if I was in a marketing seminar. I wanted to shout out, “where’s the beef?” It felt so much like the story of the emperor who wore no clothes. Are people really so shallow that their spiritual and religious needs of meaning making are satisfied with pyrotechnics, theatrics, flashing screens and stand up comics who preach?
As one colleague said, “people want high quality worship.” It’s not about the packaging, it’s about the breadth and depth of the worship experience. High quality worship can be delivered with or without technology or theatrics. And I get that we live in a hyper-connected world of heads bent over screens everywhere you go. I truly have no problem with folk’s texting or tweeting or Facebooking during worship about the worship service. But I get confused as I try to think not only about the church of the present but the church of the future: what content and form do we carry forward or let go of? What is the “meat” of church that crosses generations so that our faith will remain alive and vibrant? Or must it be injected with something that is still not known to us?
There is a huge part of me that thinks as Rob Katz once said, that we come to church “to breathe” amidst the whirlwind of our lives. There are 167 other hours of the week to live in the whirlwind. Maybe church is the place where we can finally exhale once a week. Maybe it is more radical to maintain a place of worship that does not rely on the technologies that serve or assault us (you get to choose which word works best describes your experience) elsewhere in our lives. What if we tuned out those devices and tuned into ourselves in silence, in song, in spoken word, in community, in reflection, in movement or prayer? What have we lost by filling every second of our lives with external stimulation? What is gained by immersion in quiet, stillness- worship?
I think we have done the next generations a disservice by assuming that they only want the trappings of worship. But that is not what I read about them and from them. They want “the meat.” They want authenticity. They want to be inspired. They want to be relational and connected, a part of. They want to do good for the world. They want to go deep. They want to know and be known. They want an evocative experience of worship. Really? Sounds just like what I want and am looking for.
I have no idea what the church of 10 years from now will look like much less the “church of the future.” I may be a dinosaur who is reaching the end of her ability to evolve to survive in church. And if so, so be it. But I will mourn the one institution-Religious institutions-in this world that allows persons to be engaged in asking and exploring Life’s Big Questions of meaning. I know of no other place where we humans get to work together in community to live into the question of “how shall we live?”
What do you think? And what do you want from your church worship experience?