Is there a trend of young evangelicals seeking out liturgical churches?

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Posts on social media and the web have for several years been suggesting that many young people raised in evangelical churches have been finding their way to more liturgical traditions. Recently, prominent evangelical Rachel Held Evans, has been in the news for her journey to the Episcopal Church, seeming to typify this meme.  And now Kathleen and Kevin-Neil Ward, the Australian bloggers behind Church in a Circle have published a recent post on why young people are seeking old ways of doing church.

In it they write, concerning this shift

Today, something unexpected is happening. There is a small but distinct movement of young people abandoning the smoke machines, multi-purpose buildings and celebrity pastors of recent church models, and heading back towards traditional worship services, where sacraments are central, buildings are beautiful, and the liturgy has a historic rootedness about it. Gracey OlmsteadRachel Held EvansAaron NiequistBen Irwin and Erik Parker have written illuminating articles about why young people are embracing “un-cool” church and becoming “liturgy nerds”.

They then offer five reasons which might be driving this, such as as search for authenticity and mystery that are worth a look for church leaders seeking to connect to these people.

 

But there’s still the question of how much of a real trend this movement represents beyond the anecdotes and personal testimony of a handful of bloggers.  If this is true, and I have seen some evidence it might be, in what ways is the Episcopal Church prepared to meet the needs of these liturgical converts and to be a place where they can seek out the authenticity they desire?

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Benjamin Miller
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Benjamin Miller

This topic was covered by the Cafe many years ago in 2008: https://www.episcopalcafe.com/evangelicals_and_liturgy/

And, going further back, we see Robert Webber's talk of evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail and Ancient-Future worship in the 80s and 90s.

I notice a lack of hard statistical data backing up claims of a mass movement - we could also talk about a movement of Catholics into evangelical and Pentecostal worship - but it is enough of a recurring theme among evangelicals that we should take notice. Instead of talking about a "trend" as if it's a mass movement, maybe we should talk about how it's a "niche" in young evangelical culture, along with other "niches" like the Young, Restless, and Reformed.

I'm 22. I was someone who came to Christ through Young Life and formed in evangelicalism (and still being formed by it!), I eventually became Episcopalian because I saw in the liturgy a continuity to historic Christian orthodoxy and catholicity. It taught me how to worship in spirit and in truth, and how Scripture was dynamically "activated" in worship.

Evangelicalism's greatest strength - its zeal for the transforming power of Scripture - can also be its greatest weakness when Scripture is read outside of the context of the Creeds and other markers of catholicity and orthodoxy. We read scripture constantly, but lack the tools of tradition to learn how to read it and live it. The plain sense of Scripture, prepackaged in an NIV (or NLT) Life Application Study Bible becomes our ONLY means of continuity and it makes us ignorant and blind to history.

I think that yearning for catholic continuity is what may lie beneath this (not-so-)new trend of evangelicals and liturgy, or evangelicals and Reformation confessionals, or evangelicals learning about the Church Fathers, etc.

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Jim Friedrich
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Traditional vs. contemporary is not a useful dichotomy in the curation of worship. Liturgical/sacramental/historically rooted does not necessarily exclude multi-media, flexible spaces, a wider range of musical sources, imaginative use of visual and performing arts, Scripture lessons with theater and storytelling, etc. Liturgical worship indeed has a sacramental core, an inherited shape, and a deep awareness of times and seasons, but that does not preclude the creative, the imaginative, or the multi-sensory. The preservation of mystery, depth and substance need not mean a return to imprisoning pews or worship which is mostly verbal and unembodied. I hope that a new hunger for the virtues of sacramental, grounded, and shapely worship does not become a constricting rationale against the fertility of fresh liturgical expressions.

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Christopher Donald
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Christopher Donald

While I am heartened to hear that there is an increased appreciation for liturgical worship, I also feel that one must then be careful about updating language in the liturgy. Elements of liturgy include the poetry of the language, the form of worship, the prominence of the Eucharist... all things that many may find lacking in non liturgical worship.

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Randall Stewart
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Randall Stewart

It's a subset of people that we need to make sure we are reaching with authentic, Creedal Christianity. Don't worry about "trends."

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David Allen
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David Allen

And here I was hoping that we reach folks with authentic, Apostolic Christianity, which pre-dates Creedal. The folks in the time of Jesus and then the Apostles knew nothing about the Creeds or what they profess Christianity to be. Had we a time machine, I'm want to believe that if we put the Nicene Creed, or even the Apostles Creed, in the hands of James the Great, he would look at us rather funny.

Bro David

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Bill Ghrist
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Bill Ghrist

I wonder whether some of this might be related to the perceived dichotomy between "spiritual" and "religious." For the most part it is the liturgical churches that best value both "spiritual" and "religious." Perhaps more people are starting to recognize that both and is better than either/or.

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