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Traditional churches and non-traditional worship

Traditional churches and non-traditional worship

David Murrow likes his mega church and really appreciates the depth and quality of the small traditional church he sometimes attends. So it was a shock when he found the traditional church trying to do what a mega-church does but not very successfully.

His advice: do what you do best.


He writes in the Patheos.com blog A Few Grown Men:

I’m a member of Alaska’s largest church. It’s a lot like every other megachurch. We meet in a cavernous, windowless room with stage lighting and two huge projection screens. We’re led by a rock band and a casually dressed pastor. The service lasts exactly 75 minutes. Our church draws a large crowd that attends sporadically. There’s a relatively small, highly committed core of members that keeps the machine going.

I like my church. But it’s in Anchorage, 26 miles from my house. So my wife and I occasionally worship at a small traditional church in our little town of Chugiak. (Let’s call it St. Mark’s)

We’ve been enjoying our Sundays at St. Mark’s. The richness and rigor of the liturgy is refreshing after years of seeker-sensitive services. It’s an eight-course meal, carefully measured out for us by church fathers – confession, forgiveness, praise, instruction, communion, giving, fellowship and benediction. It’s like a spiritual multivitamin in an easy-to-swallow, hour-long pill.

St. Mark’s has a lot going for it. The people are friendly, but not overly so. There is a healthy number of kids and young adults. The facility is well kept. The sermons are insightful. We love the depth of the hymns – and the people sing robustly (as opposed to most megachurches where very few people sing). It takes my wife back to the 100-member churches of her youth.

But last Sunday was different. Once a month, this little church does a contemporary service. Gina and I were surprised – unpleasantly so.

We arrived to find the pastor without his clerical robe. A projection screen had been lowered in front of the organ pipes. We sang praise choruses instead of hymns, led by a solo guitarist who had trouble keeping the beat. The congregation did not seem to know the songs, so they sang tentatively. On a positive note, the sermon was good as usual, and the pastor skillfully used PowerPoint slides to reinforce his message.

But on balance, the overall quality of the service was not up to par. Had this been our first Sunday at St. Mark’s it’s unlikely we would have returned.

So what went wrong? This little church was trying to be something it’s not.

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Jonathan Galliher

It might be more accurate to say that visitors will judge your church on the quality of your services, so make sure that, however you've got things set up, the music feels robust, the images are good, and the sermon is engaging (and hopefully insightful). If you're a little church with poor singing, poorly maintained facilities, and low quality preaching it doesn't much matter whether you try to imitate a megachurch or stick with more traditional worship, visitors will be unimpressed either way.

Jonathan Galliher

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