Do new expressions of worship create consumer congregations?

One of my roles as a developmental editor is to help craft an author’s thoughts, and to ensure that arguments are well-rounded. I recently read a characterization of worship in a manuscript that I questioned:

Many megachurches and other, smaller churches are focused on reaching the “seekers” of our culture.  Many congregations hold “seeker services” – worship services that attract and encourage seekers to attend.  While definitions vary, most understand that seekers are either persons who are “unchurched,” as in never attending church regularly, or “dechurched”, as persons who used to be churchgoers but who have been hurt or neglected by the church.  Either way, they are persons seeking a new start with God, exploring the possibility of a congregation which is hospitable, and then moving forward – albeit slowly – toward a new or fresh understanding of the Christian faith.  While many assume seekers are young adults, actually there are seeking persons in every age group. Given that many church experts now estimate active churchgoers are an increasingly small percentage of the population (perhaps as low as 15% in some parts of the US), one can understand the need for the church to find ways to include such seekers.

What do seekers want?  Opinions vary, but most suggest that seekers are looking for welcome, love, and meaning.  Congregations respond with worship services and facilities and programs to meet these needs.  Often this includes secular or familiar music, relevant messages that deal with real life situations, and a lessening of traditional symbols, liturgy, and doctrine.  Seekers, it is presumed, are like customers shopping at the mall that must be attracted and catered to, lest we lose them to the next seeker-friendly congregation down the street or across town. Seeker-friendly pastors and congregations have moved services into auditoriums without any religious symbols, included videos to reach an audience used to learning more from images than from wordy propositions, and developed fast-paced worship events modeled after the Sesame Street children’s television show in terms of repeated learning, short lessons, and attractive personalities.  Such seeker-sensitive congregations have their critics of course, who ask questions about lack of depth, the absence of calls to discipleship, and the danger of being entertainment-oriented and consumer-driven.

The author writes in an objective, detached style, which is fine, but made some characterizations of worship that may not be accurate, in both style and intent. The question he asks is, Should churches concern themselves with those who seek God in worship by actually going so far as to change their methodologies in worship? I felt by conflating an unchurched person with a consumer, the author set up a straw man to perhaps unintentionally knock down the need for effective communication. I don’t think the author dislikes new expressions of worship – I am just not sure his argument was completely developed. (I see this quite often in discussions of worship, art and communication.) It drove me to write a comment in the margin:

The paradox of Jesus’ interaction with seekers is to both engage them and challenge them. His use of parables as an exclusive public teaching style (Mark 4:33) seems to support methodologies of the congregation that makes efforts to communicate to seekers. The challenge for these churches is to use cultural practices not to pander but to lead seekers to a counter-cultural commitment to follow Christ. A healthy congregation both invites seekers to ask questions and makes clear the path of discipleship.

The author was gracious, agreed with my comment, and included portions of it in his manuscript.

What do you think?

5 Comments on “Do new expressions of worship create consumer congregations?”

  1. Len,

    Good stuff. I agree with your comment back to the author, but I also mostly agree with his initial thoughts. But like you said, “I am just not sure his argument was completely developed.”

    So I guess you get an A for a job well done in helping your author clarify and expand. Thanks for sharing.

    Ryan

  2. I agree with your comment that you need both engagement and challenge to be honest about who Jesus is and what following Him means… the seeker-friendly churches that I have been in, both to visit and that we attended for a while, were heavy on the engagement and fairly non-existent on the challenge. Traditional churches may be a little heavy on the challenge and light on the engagement…

  3. Len,

    First of all, your comments to the author are right on & exactly the same explanation I’ve used when defending my church (NewSpring). At first I thought the author was being objective in his description, but toward the end I felt he was showing his own personal opinion toward the seeker friendly church. My bet is he attends a traditional church or at most, a blended style church.

    Anyway, thank you for your leadership & insight,

    Scott

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *