House Of Worship

Worship Disruption: Good? Bad? Unsure? Part 2

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The worship experience in 2017 is quite diverse.

Historically, leaders in the Christian faith have provided a form of worship that was steeped in tradition grounded in routine and stability. Many churches still embrace a traditional approach. Today, however, some Houses of Worship (HOWs) are moving away from that worship approach; thus, they are, in my opinion, disrupting historical forms of worship.

In Part 1 last month, I noted that disrupting the market is a technique that is used by corporations such as Apple and Facebook to frequently change the user experience for their customers. Perhaps the most prominent disrupter is President Trump. There is no question that he is disrupting the way that presidents have historically served in Washington. His way may appeal to some Americans and may not be liked by others.

In the Christian faith, I am seeing a similar type of disruption in the United States, where progressive church leaders are making an intentional effort to create a fresh worship experience every week. This means that, every week, new music, new teaching and new dramas are presented to the congregation. Nearly all types of communication technologies are used to create these experiences.

There is a lot of conversation surrounding worship disruption. I have talked with about 100 pastors and worship leaders about this topic. Their answers and concerns span the range from praise to harsh criticism. Here is a thumbnail view drawn from those conversations.

I found three primary perspectives of worship, which I have labeled as intentionalists, modernists and traditionalists. The intentionalists (disrupters) are leaders who create a unique “mini Broadway musical” or highly mediated “concert” type of worship experience every week because they believe that their congregants desire this type of experience. They employ nearly all types of audio and video technologies to create these experiences. Modernists typically sing, teach and pray. They may sing modern songs or they may sing hymns. They will adopt and use many audio and video technologies in their worship. The traditionalists follow historical forms of worship. They may sing hymns or some contemporary music. They may use some lighting and sound, but more as utilities than creative tools.

We need to understand this change in worship because it can impact our industry. We need to know if it is good or bad, or do we even have enough information to make a valid assessment? And, more so, what does this mean for our industry?

Is it good? Intentionalists seek to create fresh worship experiences each week because they feel the millennial audience demands this type of experience. I agree that most people today either demand or value a mediated “experience” in most every aspect of life. For example, how often do you sit down and watch a television program without also searching the internet or using social media? Intentionalists look at the worship experience in this light. With this mindset, you would think that a fresh, innovative worship experience would be very good. And, ideally, it is good, in my opinion. However, there are practical concerns that leaders fail to consider when taking this approach.

Is it bad? The overarching concern with disrupting worship is creating this innovative form of worship at a high-quality level each week. It is not easy. Why? Because the majority of the people who create these weekly experiences—the actors, the musicians, the audio and video technicians—are all, for the most part, volunteers who give their time to serve their HOW. To create a new experience each week requires a lot of time from these volunteers.

In the beginning, they may be excited to be part of these new and exciting presentations. However, according to some of the leaders I spoke with, the intense time demand almost always leads to burnout and drop-out. Imagine the difficulty that a musician who may not be a professional faces when trying to learn new songs each week. Imagine the time needed for actors and technicians to block and execute a flawless performance.

Leaders also claim that congregants never get to know the lyrics to the songs; thus, they are merely singing or hearing a song one time that never has time to “resonate in their spirit.” Furthermore, some of these leaders claim that millennials seek “warmth” and “authenticity” in whatever is presented to them. They seek truth, not hyperactive experiences.

What does this mean for our industry? My answer is speculation, or at best, an informed suggestion. The intentionalists are willing to purchase lighting, sound, video and nearly any type of technology they believe will help them create and present their new worship experience. Thus, at least for the short term, this is good news for our industry. In the long term, we could experience a downturn in purchases from this group if, indeed, high turnover and burnout occur.

On the surface, I like the intentionalists’ effort to create fresh content each week in order to attract new audiences. I believe that some intentionalists will succeed (many already are). However, they are situated in large markets, such as Dallas, Houston and Chicago, where there are large numbers of very talented people.

I believe that modernists will be our primary market, long term. They are purchasing many of the same technologies used by intentionalists, but they are creating worship experiences that are engaging and doable on a weekly basis without demanding large blocks of time from staff and volunteers.

Clearly, we need to learn more to truly understand this phenomenon. But I am confident that HOWs of all kinds will continue to purchase technology, regardless of what trends may come and go. This is what I believe. Please tell me what you believe.

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