This should be welcome news to those congregations that continue on with their historically-rooted worship in the shadows of the mighty megachurches. Here are some words of encouragement, tempered with a few sentiments of caution, for those carrying on outside the performance worship culture.
Don’t expect crowds to suddenly burst through your doors. A few may, but the inevitable decline of the performance church won’t mean an influx back into the traditional church. Some may disagree, but I think this is a good thing. It means cultural Christianity is waning. It means the church will have the opportunity to refocus its mission, the culmination of its worship, into the surrounding community. And it means the church will rediscover its identity as an asylum, a safe place, a contrast to the ugly world around us.
Don’t be afraid to be small. Performance worship says that it’s successful because it gets butts in the seats. Performance worship hooks them in, but worship sends them out. Jesus himself chose twelve followers to work with him in changing the world. Worship feeds and sustains the church through Word and Sacrament, so that we can be sent out as Christ’s hands and feet into the world.
Don’t use music to attract a crowd, use it to express your faith. Proclamation is not only the pastor’s job. It belongs to all of us. Use music to deepen your sacred storytelling.
Don’t be afraid of the new. Performance worship culture has spread the lie that to be against them is to be against anything new. The Spirit still gifts men and women to strengthen the church through their creative talents, so choose from the best of current generations, and be sure to look outside the worship industry and performance culture.
Don’t be desperate. It’s easy to be overcome by delusions of grandeur, by attendance envy, by hunger for the fame, power, and prestige offered by the performance worship culture. Don’t be so desperate for the crowds that you compromise your liturgical identity.
Don’t be lukewarm. Performance culture what happens even in the most committed liturgical worship settings. The urge to loaf through Sunday after Sunday is stronger than ever. Don’t let that win. Pray, sing, listen, and serve with your whole hearts, your full attention, and your best efforts.
Don’t idolize your traditions. Tradition for the sake of tradition alone is toxic. Embrace the meaning behind the symbols, the liturgy, the sacraments. Allow the rituals (not a bad word, whatever anyone says) to anchor and center your lives around the gracious acts of God in Jesus Christ, so that we are able to more fully live out Paul’s admonition to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, which is the greatest and ultimate act of worship.
We are not the performers in worship. God is the performer. We tell God’s story, and God pours out God’s gifts on us, renewing us, restoring us, and reshaping us into the likeness of Jesus.The show must not go on any longer.
Let TV win, already.
It’s time to stop acting.
It’s time to stop entertaining.