Last Sunday my husband and I attended an Assemblies of God church that was started specifically to reach the postmodern generation/mindset, etc. It is in a relatively large town, and another thriving AG church exists there, but one with a very different style. They are about the same size as our church. Most similarities end there, but not all.
Church is in an elementary school gym, so everything has to be set up and then removed each week, though they hope this situation will change fairly soon. The expected donuts, coffee and juice were available along the side. Folding chairs were set up in the front half of the worship space; the back half included tables and chairs complete with a candle and a tablecloth. The back filled up first and people continued sipping coffee as the service began. Children were with the grownups for the worship time and then left for children's church. The bulletin was very well done, easy to read, informative and eye catching. The pastor opened the service with the announcements which were quick, and also projected on the screen. He wore jeans and a casual shirt.
Song words were projected on a screen, and the worship was led by a praise band. The songs were what someone I know calls, "weeping for Jesus" songs. That sounds disrespectful, huh? What he means is that they all tend to be very introspective and about Jesus and love and ME. They were all very similar in style and all sounded much the same, both words and tune. I knew one, as did my husband. I was not inspired, and my thoughts did not turn godward. I had a difficult time worshipping, because I was trying to sing the song tune correctly.
The young pastor perched on a stool for the message, which was the last in a six-part series about the Book of Ruth. The bulletin contained an extensive page of further information about the cultural background, history, etc.
The sermon was accompanied by a very nicely done set of graphics with music and reading of the scripture passage. The pastor is engaging, likable, very funny, and did a reasonably good job of relating the passage to our lives. The sermon was too long, in my opinion, but that is very subjective. I suspect many people think mine are too long as well. I left feeling...odd and rather incomplete. Perhaps it was partly in contrast to my Anglican experience the week before. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum!
My own church is very casual. Our music is mostly "contemporary" and is led by a praise band. We use video projection. Okay, there were similarities. And yet it was quite different as well. I asked myself, "What makes this more acceptable to the mostly college-age people I saw? What is different that is working, and what is missing?" I'm still thinking this over.
Meantime, I'll just tell you that I liked the pastor's friendly and casual style. I liked the technical stuff he had chosen--the visuals and beautiful music behind the voice reading scripture added a lot. And I liked the bulletin insert--which went much deeper than the actual sermon. I liked the awareness that, unlike the week before, the order of service did not seem almost like an end in itself, and that it could be altered as needed. I mean, if the Holy Spirit chose to do something unusual that day it would have been welcomed and there would have been room for flexibility.
I was less impressed by the music. It is much harder to do church music than used to be the case in our churches. We used to have an organ on one side, a piano on the other, and we sang hymns along with a few simple choruses. What AG folks in California were singing was pretty much the same as those in Washington DC. No longer is this the case in most AG churches, and certainly not in those who are trying to find a niche that is not the same as their mainline church friends, or even their other evangelical friends. Maranatha music tends to be simple and harmonic, and that's what we used to sing. Now we have a plethora of companies, lots of radio stations playing contemporary praise music, and music that is much more difficult for the amateur praise band to play.
Do I want to return to an organ and piano? No. Not unless it is a pipe organ. (Smiling.) But this is a challenging area.
I'm not opposed to donuts and coffee, but I was not thrilled that some people were drinking coffee and munching donuts while others were singing. Call me old fashioned. I also wasn't sure I liked the stool and the jeans. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that we wear our jeans and tee shirts everywhere, including church? Partly good, since no one has to feel that they can't come in to a church service because they are not properly dressed. Partly maybe not so good...? There was something very good about the sense (last week) that church was a sacred, holy experience, and even though it was much more formal than I'd want to do every week, I saw that the vestments and cassocks it added to the "experience"-- the sense that we were coming away from the ordinary to meet with God.
I also was surprised that they were not particularly friendly. As casual as the entire service was, I expected several people to approach us. The pastor did, and he did a good job of being warm and genuine. No one else spoke to us until after I had stood awkwardly for a long time in one spot after service. When someone approached me it was not one of the several young people in attendance. It was a woman about my age. My husband helped clear tables and move chairs. No one thanked him, even though as a visitor this was probably more than expected.
Thoughts: Shorter sermons. No matter how much I want to share more. Welcome people, even those who are different than me. Good audio visuals can work well. In the Episcopal chapel the audio visuals were different, but they were there.The postmodern church needs to be a multi sensory experience. When it comes to praise bands, less may be more. Keep it simple and do it well. And it is okay to be HAPPY! Aren't we Pentecostals supposed to be known for that? Some joy is good, as well as worship and introspection. Vary the style, PLEASE.
Do I need to wear jeans to church and sit on a stool? ;-)
In spite of a comment to the previous post below (which made me laugh out loud) some things do not mix. Or if they do the result is not pleasing.
But a little formality along with a casual approach would be lovely....can we do it? Don't know, but I would sure like to try. I may be "a woman of a cetain age" but I don't want to do things in a way that makes me comfortable. I want to share the gospel.
Help me out here, if you can! All comments welcome!
Then we went to Minneapolis for a couple of days. Pictures below. Trinity is nine months old.