To the extent that I knew Rich (only a bit; see previous posts), I’m confident he’d have some interesting thoughts on the state of contemporary American corporate worship. (This extended quote, like all from previous posts, is edited only for clarity.) From “Worship Buzz”:
[A] bunch of people who had been going to my church (they were in the 20-year-old group) . . . went over to visit the Vineyard . . . [and] they decided to join the Vineyard. . . . [T]he pastor said, “Why do you want to join our church?” And they said, “Because your worship is just so exciting to us.”
The pastor said, “Go back to your old church. We don’t really particularly need you in this congregation. Because this is what will happen. You used to go to [your former church] because you got a buzz out of it. So suddenly you come to visit our church, and we give you a better buzz. . . . You know what’s going to happen? You’re going to get used to the way we do our worship service here, and [eventually] you’re not going to get the buzz out of it, and you’re going to seek out another church. You’ll end up being a member of about 50-dozen churches by the time you’re 50, and you won’t have helped anybody. And you won’t have grown because you will have gone from one goose-bump feeling to another.”
It worries me that in churches the demand among people my age and younger is that we make services more exciting to us.
Stop and let that last sentence sink in. Read it again. Few these days are crass enough to admit this forthrightly, but most contemporary worship services I’ve attended in the 20+ years since Mullins died absolutely operate with an unspoken understanding of the need to put on a good show for the paying customers/tithing congregants. Even more so these days, while we are all worshiping remotely, worship-as-production is real.
You don’t go to church for excitement. That’s why you go to movies. We go to church for fellowship, we go to church to be taught the apostles’ doctrine, and we go to church for the breaking of bread. We go to church for the sake of sharing all things.
We don’t go to church for thrills, and yet, we find that part of our religious experience so boring that now you can’t have church with only a piano and an organ. You have to have an entire orchestra, or a rock combo, [and] you have to have a backbeat in order to sing a hymn–because we want a sensation.
And you know what’s very scary to me? People who come away from services where they’ve just been beat to death with a lot of sensationalism–and you know what? I enjoy those services, too. There’s something really cool about [going to a church like that]. I like to do it occasionally–where you get to clap your hands, and you get to whirl around, and you get to sing at the top of your lungs, and you get to yell “Amen” whenever you want. There’s a rhythm in it; there’s a real tribal, exciting thing. But the danger is we frequently mistake that sensationalistic, wonderful experience for being a spiritual experience. It’s not a spiritual experience. It’s a fun experience, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But if we think that’s spirituality, we miss the boat.
Please understand I’m not criticizing an exciting service. I’m merely saying that’s not the equivalent of a spiritual service. . . . We live in a world that says that if it doesn’t feel powerful, it’s probably not real. [But] I have a feeling it is real whether it feels powerful or not. I have a feeling that sound doctrine is more important than goose bumps. I have a feeling that holding all things in common is more spiritual than a lot of dancing around and clapping your hands. And if you want to dance around and clap your hands in the meantime, that’s perfectly fine, and I think God gets a big kick out of it. I just don’t think that’s the heart of spirituality.
I confess the core of Mullins’ argument touches a nerve for me, for I know worship leaders serving in small or midsized churches, without the resources available in larger congregations, who have been told, in so many words, that the corporate worship they plan and execute is a contributing reason young people (the same demographic that Mullins said concerns him, above) leave for the megachurches. Marva Dawn, in her excellent short book on Psalm 96, How Then Shall We Worship? speaks to Mullins’ initial anecdote to explain changes in corporate worship driven by the need for sensation or a good show:
[Some churches], noticing that they were forfeiting members to the “more attactive” churches, suddenly changed how they worshiped in order not to lose their share of the market. Though more and more research is demonstrating that “church growth” has been somewhat of a mirage because over 90 percent of it has simply been Christians moving from one congregation to another, many congregations still think that worship issues should be decided based on the “appeal” factor. How, then, will individuals and communities learn again that worship is for God?
I’ve got one more profound Mullins quote on the depth of grace next week, Lord willing. The Lord be with you!