“Newcomers [here] won’t find a youth-oriented alternative service or pop-style music performed by a rock band. In other words, we haven’t really followed the high-tech, culturally accommodating formula that is said to have produced the megachurch phenomenon.” (1)
I’ve heard this sentiment in several places, stated several different ways, and I think it needs to be addressed. Perhaps I am mishearing the underlying message, but what comes through to me is “we don’t have to ‘dumb down’ our message with that pop culture stuff. It’s beneath us.”
The term “culturally accommodating” comes across to me as loaded with value judgments about the sanctity of Our Traditions and about the low worth of popular culture.
Does that sound smug? Condescending? Self-satisfied? It does to me. That’s because it puts forth whatever it is that goes on in that congregation as the One True Way, from which no deviation is needed or wanted.
But people are different – we have different tastes, backgrounds, eye colors, emotional and intellectual needs – and that’s one of the things that makes the world beautiful. So, when we say “we know the One True Way”, we also say “if you don’t find this fulfilling, you don’t belong here”.
Some people need the warm familiarity of tradition. Some people need a quiet hour of refuge from the roar of the world. For those people, the quiet, contemplative, intellectual worship is just the thing.
Other people want a place to rejoice at the beauty of the world, the beauty of community, the beauty of people making joyful sounds together. They want worship that connects directly to the heart more of the time. Those are the people for whom a “contemporary” worship is intended.
Both are valid, both are needed, each fills some worshipers with what they need. But one style doesn’t fit all. And to assume that it does is to dismiss the inherent worth and dignity of those who want an alternative. This, I believe, is a sentiment that keeps us from reaching all those who hunger for our message, but can’t get the package open.
1. Schuler, Michael. “Transformation”, in Belote, Thom (ed.), The Growing Church. Keys to Congregational Vitality, p. 2. (Boston: Skinner House Books. 2010.)