Sunday, August 26, 2012

Getting Buzzed at Church

A recent study from the University of Washington provided an interesting but not unexpected reflection on church worship attendance.   Old liners often anguish about meaningful, relevant worship, and find themselves wondering if worship is even necessary for faith.  Are we boring?  Are we inauthentic?  Do we need to move away from ritual?  We fret and worry at our liturgical fingernails until they're bitten to the quick.

The many Jesus MegaPlexes of AmeriChrist, Inc., on the other hand, have no such anxiety.  People...like to go to their worship.  Why?  Because it feels good.   The study found that congregants in  Large Venue Churches routinely experienced euphoric states of consciousness.   It was pleasurable.

Being social critters, human beings have a strong reaction to sharing a crowd experience.  Euphoria is common at major sporting events, as your excitement level is amplified by the thousands roaring around you.  It's also a something people at concerts experience, as thousands roar shriek and sing along and hold their lighter...er...smartphones in the air.

In the context of a faith event, that sense of collective euphoria is magnified and interpreted through the lenses of faith.

Therein lies the challenge for the little churches that make up the majority of the congregations in the United States.  We just can't give you that buzz.

That was always the challenge in my last congregation, which was young and small.  The definitive worship for that community was the Christ Omlin concert experience.  Folks would come back from Christian concerts pumped up, and psyched to play the new songs in worship.  But despite the fact that the praise they were able to pull off was really rather good, and there was a remarkable range of musical gifts in the little church, folks were never quite satisfied with the feeling in worship.  It just didn't feel right, no matter how loudly and vigorously it was played.

It couldn't.  It just wasn't the same.

That crowd-feeling just can't be replicated by smaller congregations.   Nor should we worry that we can't evoke it.  That's just not what the little church is.

What does work is intimacy, honesty, and mutual support.   Sure, it might not be the most astoundingly choreographed event, but it's real.  And real is good.  Yeah, small and intimate may reduce the social-mammal-opiate-peptide release, but it doesn't have to diminish meaning.

If anything, it can deepen it.


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