Music pulsates as the band began playing, lights flashed on, television cameras were manned, and images projected on screens throughout the massive auditorium where thousands of people regularly assemble in arena-style seats every week.
One week ago today I sat with my husband and our oldest daughter in such an auditorium.
It sounds like I’m describing a typical concert in any arena in our country, a place where throngs of people convene for entertainment’s sake. But the building we were in wasn’t an amphitheatre, it wasn’t a concert hall, it wasn’t a stadium, it was a church – the church our oldest daughter now attends in her southern city.
Church has changed a lot since I was a kid. When I was growing up, I attended church every Sunday dressed in my Sunday best. Now people wear whatever they want – jeans, shorts, whatnot.
Back then, church music consisted of organ and/or piano music with a robe-dressed choir leading the hymns. Now many churches have the equivalent of a rock band – electric guitars, keyboard, drums, and vocalists to lead the praise part of the worship service. Hymnals are replaced by lyrics projected on screens via power point on computers.
I suppose much of the change in the way modern churches portray themselves and conduct worship services are efforts to become more seeker-friendly, draw those people in who would ordinarily not darken the door of a church. I totally understand that concept, what believer wouldn’t want lost souls to come to know Jesus Christ?
And obviously, it seems to be working – non-traditional style churches are pulling in people, growing in numbers, some becoming mega churches, while more traditional churches appear to be dying.
But sometimes I wonder if contemporary churches have embraced the entertainment aspect to excess? I read an article about this issue lately and in it, a church-goer declared he wished the worship service lasted longer because it was “like a good movie.”
I don’t know about you, but I would not compare worshiping the Creator of the universe and Savior of my soul to a good movie! I wonder how many attendees are in church to be entertained rather than to be edified.
So with these thoughts rambling around in my mind, hubby and I attended oldest daughter’s church, one so sizable we had to arrive really early to find a parking spot in the gargantuan parking lot. The logistics of people and cars coming and going was mind-boggling for me and frankly, I was a tad overwhelmed to see THAT MANY people in church! (But oh, what a wonderful sight to behold!) I realized quickly that I set myself up with certain expectations about what I would witness and hear and wrongfully so.
The worship band was very good (they even have their own CD available for purchase), but at no time did I feel like I was attending a Christian band concert. Instead there was an aura of reverence and awe for THE almighty God as we lifted our voices to Him. A young lady offered special music – a simple but meaningfully heartfelt song – which she lifted to the Father with just her sweet voice and her guitar.
And then one of the pastors delivered the message, straight from God’s Word. This wasn’t a “sermon light” or a good “pep talk” like my father used to say some ministers presented. I expected the scripture passage to flash onto the screen, but instead I heard pages rustling as almost every person in that huge auditorium opened his/her own Bible.
This wasn’t just a sermon to sit passively and receive, one where you think “What am I getting out of this message?” This was different – this was a sermon to reproduce. Here’s what I mean by that – everywhere in that massive space, people were taking notes. Why take notes?
From my point of view, I take notes when I really want to remember something, not just for myself, but because I want to share it with someone else. And isn’t that the purpose of us learning more about God’s Word? So we can in turn explain it, teach it, share it, remind others of it.
Something amazingly different is happening in this mega-church. The lead pastor wrote a best-selling book and I am currently in the process of reading it. It is not typical Christian fare; instead it is one that turns our version of church and americanized faith upside down and replaces it with a more biblical version.
He desires to inspire us to thoroughly examine what we call being successful in the church and get serious about spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a radical way of thinking. And I just may be getting radical.