Why Do I Dislike Contemporary Church Services? Well, I Don’t!
A reader of this blog recently asked me what it is, exactly, that caused me to begin hating contemporary church services so much.
Since I don’t dislike the concept of contemporary church services, I was surprised when someone asked why I did.
I don’t have anything against the services in “modern” churches.
In fact, I spent more than seven years as a regular member of such a church. But it was more than just attending: for about six of those years, I ran lights and helped manage the technical team that worked behind the scenes during the church services.
What I love about contemporary worship services is what often feels like a more welcoming culture from the moment one walks in. Without the pretense of “dressing up” with coats and ties, people who may not have such wardrobe options have a place to worship where khakis and polo shirts are suddenly acceptable.
I’d never be so informal as to wear shorts and a t-shirt to church, but there are those who do. Those people would never be fully “welcome” in some of the traditional churches I attended over the years. (Their members would say that’s incorrect; some of those same members would surreptitiously point and snicker when such a person walked in.)
I also like the big-screen presentation that accompanies the weekly sermon. The more creative pastors out there make use of the screen to either display Bible verse or graphics and illustrations that make the point in a more visual way.
We’re visual animals, after all. Sometimes, those visual elements help make difficult concepts that much easier to comprehend.
The screen also helps the congregation out when it comes time to sing worship songs by displaying the lyrics. Some argue this has made hymnals obsolete, but then hymns are rarely, if ever, sung in one of these churches, so hymnals there are, in a sense, obsolete.
What I came to realize, however, is that some of these contemporary church services have almost come to put the “show” as a bigger priority than God.
The reason I stopped running lights at the church was that I was essentially replaced by a computer-programmed lighting routine. Prior to that, I manually operated the stage lights, manually changing colors and patterns to match the music as if I were playing a musical instrument of my own.
I’d run lights for years without any complaints. I’d only ever received compliments, in fact. But church learned that a fellow church used a fully-computerized lighting console, and immediately, that concept became more important than anything else, including the person who’d run those lights.
When the transition to an all-computerized worship show was explained to me before it actually happened, one of the colorful animated backgrounds were displayed and the stage was lit up the way I typically did it when that background was used.
Those color choices — which matched the primary colors in the background — “weren’t particularly creative,” I was told.
That was a shock. But the more I thought about it, it wasn’t a surprise.
I was disposable. The notion that the “show” needed to be more “high-tech” was more important.
When I ran lights, I would do what the musicians did: I’d play what I felt my part was at various points during the songs to accentuate certain parts of the song. At other points, I held the lights steady, reducing the amount or intensity of changes, to let individual musicians or lyrics have their moment.
That always seemed reasonable to me.
No one complained. Including those who made the decision — years later — that it suddenly wasn’t good enough.
It’s funny how an experience like that can affect one’s perception. But whenever I set foot inside a contemporary church service these days, I pay attention to how much of a “show” it appears to be. The more complicated the “production” is, I can’t help but wonder how off the focus might just be.
It was an important lesson I learned back then: it’s easy to become so obsessed with technology that you forget to focus as much attention on people. And when you do that, you slowly begin to stop being a church.
Understand, I’m not trying to say that all contemporary church services have this problem.
But some, at different points, certainly seem to.
I think there are some traditional services that can just as easily focus on liturgy and staging more than the people who must follow those directions. Visitors to some of those services likewise can feel a bit cut off as they figure out when to stand, when to sit, when to kneel and when to read their part of a “responsive reading.”
I’ve attended “classic” services where I felt more like a robot than a worshipper.
Maybe that’s all in my head.
But I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that certain church services are done in a way that makes individual worshippers feel a bit left out.