Do liturgical churches need to rethink their approach to Sunday morning worship?
I’m asking this question in part because of an essay by Lutheran pastor I wrote about on Saturday, in part because of a comment on that essay from the Rev Gary Manning (which is reprinted below) and in part because if people stop buying what you are selling, so to speak, it is sometimes helpful to reconsider the way you are selling it–and the decades’ long decline in church attendance suggest that a reconsideration might be beneficial.
I am aware that surveys suggest that people who attend Episcopal churches love the liturgy and the music. And that’s important information. But it tells us nothing about the opinions, needs and experience of people who aren’t coming.
That said, I am someone with a preference for small contemplative liturgies, who can’t imagine how to make Sunday mornings more meaningful. So I am especially interested in the opinions of people who enjoy traditional Sunday morning worship but have thoughts about how to make it more welcoming.
To get the conversation going, here is what Gary had to say:
I think the author puts us face to face with the very thing we’ve been pretending not to know around liturgical churches for quite some time. My hunch is that we have to begin to let go of our fixation with Sunday liturgy (as in “Average Sunday Attendance”) as the defining characteristic of congregational life. Yes, worship is important, primary to who we are, but it cannot carry the burden of forming followers of Jesus all on its own. Yet we church insiders tend to focus on it as a way of measuring congregational vitality. Vibrant liturgy may be a “marker” of vitality but it is not the sum total of same. But breaking our addiction to number crunching will be a long term process with plenty of fits and starts. In a culture, with its fixation on big numbers, efficient delivery systems and immediate return-on-investment, the notion that we’d invest three years worth of time and energy intensively working with say, 12 individuals to equip them to be servants of the Good News in the world (and not simply members of a church committee), would be cited as a waste of time and resources. Good thing Jesus didn’t know that.