Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury -- http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .


Many of us were raised on what we believed to be poorly planned second-rate worship services. When we took over we determined to improve them, and we did. We decided that people wouldn't accept second rate worship services, so we would do everything first class. Along with the rest of our culture, we too went off 'In Search of Excellence.'

So, we installed first rate soundboards, excellent lighting, bought a half dozen mikes, deployed a quality praise team to use them. We sidelined 'Sister Agnes,' our local accompanist, in favor of perfectly crafted orchestra sound tracks for our soloists. They now sounded almost as good as the best singers in the country, (so long as we played the sound track loud enough.

We avoided like AIDS the #1 enemy of production worship -- DEAD SPACE! Things whipped along nicely with our minute-by-minute schedule , with nary a moment of silence. We banished anything second rate and the resulting quality performances in some churches (especially our living Christmas trees) competed favorably with many secular performances. You didn't have to be afraid to invite your rich neighbors any more to these productions. In fact, a few churches even named 'producers' for their services, to coordinate all the setup, sound, lights, drama, music, soundtracks, and most of all... the 'flow.' We searched for excellence and found it. In the last 15 years, worship services in most churches -- and all the growing ones -- have gotten to be first class. These churches now offer a fast-paced production that snaps along as quickly as a TV special, and almost as interesting.

One thing you've got to give us Boomers credit for -- we do things well. We do not always see the implications of our revolutions, but the revolution itself is always done well. However, in this move to production worship, what we did not count on was the eventual effect of our fast-paced excellence-production-spectator orientation.

It took several years for our 'customers' to notice it. But they eventually started to sense there was something missing. Our music now only expressed the 'top half' of human religious emotion -- the happy half. Our preaching eventually focused only on the sunny half of the Gospel, and people increasingly sensed there was part of truth they weren't getting in their diet. But most of all, our fast-paced snappy services eventually left people feeling frantic and hurried, much like they feel on a busy freeway. And this is where an increasing number of lay worshipers are today. They think their worship service feels somehow 'contrived' or unnatural, and even 'fake.' They are tired of being spectators and worship watchers. They are weary of being shouted at -- they want conversational preaching, and more subdued tone from the singers too. (You can shout at people in either music or preaching.) They are weary of being whipped up, and yearn for a more peaceful, relaxed, worship experience. "Mellow" may be the term. They are even willing to (EEEEEEK!) have times of 'silence' (of the Quaker variety) as a part of the service. They are even falling in love with the mournful pensive saxophone sound in worship (thank you, Kenny). An increasing number of laity now want a worship service to reflect the 'bottom half' of the full range of emotions too... the half where mourning, brokeness, grieving, sorrow, pain, and sadness are expressed.

How disappointing! Now that we've finally got it right, they aren't happy. What do they want? They want something more 'real.' 'I wish it was more authentic.' What do they mean? They feel that what we have produced is 'contrived.' Less perfect. Whaaaaat? Less perfect? How can that be? We have always assumed that the future is where a more perfect worship could be produced.

Consider Mariah Carey for example. Excellence-bent Boomers can not comprehend the news that background 'hash' was fed into her new CD 'Music Box.' (I have not met one Boomer yet who understands this... they just wag their head and treat the news like purple hair -- now why would they want to do that?') Why make anything less perfect? We were delighted to toss out our scratchy old LP records. Why feed background 'hash' into a perfectly good CD recording? Because it sounds more 'real' to a generation overdosed on perfect production. Increasingly, 'authentic' is becoming more important than 'perfection.'

I saw this illustrated last month in a church featuring a trumpet solo by a mildly retarded young man. Along the way, he missed his tune and started playing several notes off. Boomers squirmed. You could tell they were worried about how visitors might perceive this imperfect performance. However, at lunch with several generation X people, the remarks were totally different, 'Wasn't that trumpet solo great... that's exactly what the real church should be!' The solo was 'real.' The 'hash' didn't bother them, so long as it was 'authentic.' Now, I am not suggesting we need to add more second-rate music. I'm a Boomer and I've had my share of it. The story however illustrates this growing desire out there for something more 'real' in worship. We might call it 'acoustic worship.'

MTV has swept the market with their 'unplugged' series. Why? Because it sounds so 'real.' Sure, there still is plenty of technical work in the background, but the acoustic sound itself is the real thing. This is the hunger I see among laymen I talk to and get Email from. They are hungry for a fresh revolution in worship. They want a more 'real' tone to worship. They thirst for the 'real presence' of God, not just hype.

New trends begin with a hunger or desire. I wonder if this hunger will lead to a new movement toward 'acoustic worship.' I already see the beginnings of this revolution. Will it continue? Will we have worship that feels less contrived, less performance oriented, less 'put on' for the audience. Will we see the end of the spectator church? Some are even predicting a resurgence of classical liturgy, pageantry, and creeds. Will we find a way to make worship feel more 'real' and less performed? Is there a fresh way to re-introduce testimonies, silence, and brokeness seeking elements. And perhaps the most disturbing question of all might be, 'Will today's production churches be able to adapt to this trend?' Or will they stay stuck in their 1980's format forever?

Have you seen this hunger for a change in worship styles?

So what do you think?

To contribute to the thinking on this issue e-mail your response to Tuesday@indwes.edu

By Keith Drury, 1997. You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.