Alternative Worship

Yoga, spin class and worship

Diana Butler Bass noted in a podcast that when she attended a yoga class she thought this is how church should be. Not the poses or the spandex or the mats or the music so much but the way the teacher moved in that class and how the class operated.

Her thought had me thinking that in yoga class there is a community that gathers together to take a different posture than normal. They all self-correct and hold one another accountable to the poses and encourage each other in the class. There is a teacher who walks among them and physically touches them and poses people while giving instruction to the class and guiding everyone together. There even is different clothes you use to assist your formation and you have tools to assist you. And in physical yoga class you are learning to breath, be flexible and nimble. Yoga is a way to get your body moving but it is a way of being in the world.

That sounds like a worship I would like to be in.

What Bass did not mention is that while worship is not set up like a yoga class it is set up like a spin class.

There is a community who come together to get pumped up. There is one posture you are to take and you take that posture the entire time you are there. You have movement but you do not stand up much and are rarely physically touched by anyone except a handshake. The instructor is up front and has a microphone as they then get the community energized to "attack the hill" or "get movin'". The irony of spin class is that you do a lot of work and don't go anywhere. You do not learn a way of living in spin class. The point of spin class is to feel better, get into physical shape, and get your heart rate pumping up. Once you leave spin class the class has little residual effects.

I wonder if we as a Church are addicted to spin class worship?

Unique worship does not dismiss tradition

It might be assumed that if you create new worship experiences then they will dismiss tradition.  This happened with the "seeker-sensitive/contemporary" worship movement.  There was a strong effort to remove a lot of Christian language and make it easy on the ears for those who might be seeking Christianity as a faith to live into.  So contemporary worship, generally, does not have things like creeds or liturgies or litanies or the like.  As such when people think of new worship many people think that this new worship will be anti-tradition.

And when you value being efficient over being unique then that may happen.

This is not the case when you value unique over efficient.

The worship services that are truly unique are those who are able to root themselves in the past while introducing something new.  Unique worship services are difficult to replicate and in many ways are often "one and done" worship experiences.

If you have ever seen "Glee" then you know what I am talking about.  This show takes the words from common songs but puts them to new music and then you can instantly sing along.  You can instantly join in a tradition while at the same time that tradition is brought to life in a different way.

Take this clip for instance.  Notice that they build on the tradition of the song and yet bring it a new breath.

If you like it or not this is not the point.  Not everyone likes Glee (I do not), Glee is a community (Gleeks) and the music that is created speaks to the Gleek community.  Yet, this community, while creating unique music, it is rooted in a tradition that is much bigger than the community.  They do not betray the tradition, rather they take the tradition (in this case a Christmas song) and "Gleek it up" to be an unique expression of that tradition in the Gleek community.  

Notice that a worship community does not have to be original to be unique.  In fact, it is a bit arrogant to think that you can be original in a world of 7 billion people.  Rather, worship that values unique over efficient identifies where their community fits into the larger whole while at the same time striving for uniqueness.  

In all the efforts to make worship attractive to people, faith communities across the nation have created tract worship experiences that appeal to a broad audience but are ubiquitous and generic.  So back to the original question, "What would worship look like if it were driven by millennials and the creative class?"  

It would look unique but not original.  
It would be ancient and future.  
It would be remix and mash up.  
It would be culturally located and not difficult to replicate in other locations.
It would connect with a tribe or community but not everyone who encounters it.

It would be something that I could not wait to participate each week.  

Unique/Efficient tension

Last post ended by asking, "Should we not instead look to create a local, homemade, authentic, unique worship expression for this context?  What would a worship revival look like if the Millennials fueled it?"

I hinted at in the last post that many "contemporary worship" services look similar to one another. I used the metaphor of tract homes to describe the amount of variety among "contemporary worship" services.  There is some, but they all have very similar structure.

Millennials and the creative class are people who value the unique over the efficient.  Tract homes and contemporary worship are efficient but rarely unique.

Take music for instance.  Contemporary worship will take a tune that is common and write new words to the song.  Much like what Charles Wesley did in his attempt to take pub songs and change they words to be more "godly".  This is an efficient way to make that which is old new again because it is easier to rewrite the words than to rewrite the musical score.

In contrast, the music in a worship that values unique over efficient will sound differently.  It will sound different but you can sing along almost instantly.  How?  By changing the tune and using common lyrics.  This gives rise to the mash-up and the remix.

Notice in this mash up that many people can begin singing right away even if you have never heard this song before.  Yes, it is not the best song that will appeal to the masses - but that is not the point.  The point is the uniqueness is values more than the repeatably.  You may think the scarf your friend knitted is less quality than the nice store bought one, but you might just treasure it more because it is unique.  Likewise, mash ups are generally deemed as less quality but unique.

Take the remix as another example of unique over efficient.  Remixes are usually take a good amount of time to put together but are not really able to be used for long periods of time.  Remixes are current, culturally relevant and quickly fade.  Remember this little gem?

Sure you do, but it is no longer what at the level of relevance it once was.  It was great for a period of time but now is kinda annoying.

In worship, when we value unique over efficient then worship looks different but not that different.  It changes yet there is always something that stays behind to connect or root us in the past (tradition).

The next post will have concluding remarks on this topic.

Contemporary worship and tract homes

Recently I have been asked about the difference in the contemporary worship and what might be called "ancient/future".  I will take a couple of posts to tackle this.

There are a great number of faith communities in our area (and in the U.S.A) that "do" contemporary worship and "do it well".  The flow is unique in each setting but generally it has these elements more or less in this order:
  • Open with 2-4 "praise and worship" songs that are upbeat.  One song must be a "slow down" song.
  • What I call the opening "Salad prayer" - this is the prayer in which the worship leader prays something like, "Father God, just 'let us' give thanks to you. Father God, 'let us' be center our lives upon you and just 'let us'..."
  • Community announcements given in a casual/comical way 
  • Stand and greet your neighbor time
  • Scripture reading
  • Sermon
  • Offering (with a song sung by band at the front)
  • 1-2 closing songs
  • Benediction 
This is not a "bad" order of worship, it can however feel generic.  If you attend a contemporary worship Mississippi then the next week you attend contemporary worship in Washington, then they feel very similar.  This sort of "removal" of uniqueness is much like tract homes.  They are quick to build and they are great homes, but they all look the same.  There is little room for character or local charm.  Efficient yes, but not very original.  

Please hear me I have nothing against tract homes they are great in that they empower many people to have a home of their own.  Likewise, contemporary worship is great for many people to feel empowered to connect with a faith community.  The rub is that the "creative class" and the "Millennials" are people who value uniqueness, local and grassroots more than big box, conglomerate, and generic.  For instance, the Millennial lifestyle is more inclined to fuel the knitting revival than the generation before them (Gen X).  

If we are interested in creating worship opportunities for these growing demographics, then why would we look to create another 'tract worship' in our area?  Should we not instead look to create a local, homemade, authentic, unique worship expression for this context?  What would a worship revival look like if the Millennials fueled it? 

The next post will explore that question more.