Yesterday we took a glance at the rumors surrounding the church’s – supposed – impending demise, & noticed that the decline in church attendance in the USA is almost solely taking place in historically traditional or liberal-leaning denominational churches, alone. “But wait! That can’t be right!“, I imagine quite a few of you are thinking, “I read that liturgy was making a comeback!“
I wouldn’t be encouraging any traditional, we-wear-our-denomination-on-our-sleeves, hymns-singing, choir-led churches to be adding onto their buildings any time soon, because stats can be very deceiving.
There are 2 very healthy things, & one very unhealthy thing, taking place that are leading to those numbers.
Do everything you CAN to become a church ON MISSION, or your empty building will be purchased by a thriving church plant that is willing to do what you are not. It’s that simple.
First, for a time the popular non-denominational, seeker-driven “community church” model was a mile-wide, & an inch deep. Apart from a doctrinal statement hidden deep within a website, there was no significant connection to the historic church, & even by their own confession (link ref. study by Willow Creek), they lacked effective models for discipleship. However, God – being the good God that He is – has been bringing a reformation of sorts from within their ranks. Via partnerships with ministries like 3DM & others, a great number of these mega-churches are finally implementing solidly Biblical methods of creating vital community & deep, personal growth within their congregations.
Even more interestingly – another positive & sometimes related move – many of these mega-churches are beginning to reconnect with their sense of history in implementing historic elements of liturgy. One such example is the charismatic, evangelical mega-church, New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. Over 10,000 members strong, New Life – inspired, in part, by noted songwriter/worship artist/pastor, Glen Packiam – has been relearning/exploring liturgy. In fact, one of their campuses – New Life Downtown – is fully liturgical in it’s Sunday services. That’s not to say it’s in any way “traditional”, but their worship has a depth once considered unique among evangelicals.
Another example, among many: a few years back I was blessed to worship with a few friends at Trinity Vineyard in Atlanta – now known as Trinity Anglican Mission. At the time it was like nothing I’d every experienced. The worship was deep, beautiful, historically-grounded, yet utterly modern: imagine if Radiohead led worship during a Greek Orthodox service. Sorta like that.
This re-incorporation of historic liturgy into modern, contemporary worship is quickly becoming the “norm”, rather than the exception.
Another wonderful development in the resurgence of liturgy is an upswell from within the church planting movement. Gospel-centered, modern/contemporary, liturgical churches are anything but rare, especially from within the new, missionally minded, reformed church planting movement.
Sojourn church in Louisville, KY – originally part of the Acts29Network – grew & spread so quickly that it became hard for the larger organization to manage, so they became their own church planting network. Now 23 healthy churches strong – with some of those churches now multi-site – Sojourn is at the center of the new-liturgical. Young, hip, family friendly – though liturgical in worship, stylistically, their music leans toward the alt-country/indie-rock genres, re-imagining old forgotten hymns, & also using tons of excellent, theologically rich, originals.
On mission, & passionate about spreading the Gospel in cities across the USA, these are the sorts of liturgical churches that are having an incredible impact in their communities today.
And lastly, the bad.
There is a tendency among modern “Dones” to exit through the liturgical High Church, & liberal denominational churches. I have, personally, observed several close friends do this very thing: committed to their doctorates in Philosophy, Biological Sciences, or liberal Religious Studies, they encounter so many – what is for them – irreconcilable conflicts between their academic studies & their faith, that their faith shatters. However, they are so accustomed to the beauty of “the Other”, that instead of just waving the Atheist flag & leaving wholesale, they convert to an older denominational church that is very high on liturgy & mystery, & very short on emphasizing Bible teaching, or actively holding members individually accountable. It’s an opportunity – for a short time – to retain that sense of religious mystery, & yet not be challenged face-to-face on any specific doctrine of the faith. Of course, as I said in yesterdays’ blog, people are leaving these sorts of churches in droves, so they aren’t staying, but for many “dones” it’s a temporary stopping off point as they exit the building.
As you can see, if you’re a slowly shrinking, 100 member Independent Baptist (just pulled that out of thin air as an example – you could be ANY denomination) church downtown, you shouldn’t read any articles about Millennials returning to liturgy & think “If we just hold on, new members will come pouring through our doors any moment now!” They aren’t, & they won’t.
I don’t want you to fail because I LOVE CHRIST’S CHURCH, & want to see it thrive! Do everything you CAN to become a church ON MISSION, or your building will either be razed to make room for a new Jiffy Store, or will be purchased by a thriving church plant that is willing to do what you are not. It’s that simple. They aren’t coming back.
For the next few days I will be reviewing some great new music overflowing from the “New Liturgical” movement, so please stop by & discover the “Ancient-Future”.
Until then, are you moving towards liturgy? If so, what brought about the shift?