Attendance sagging? Experiencing the “graying out” of the local flock? The Rev. Paige Blair can take care of your woes by rejuvenating the worship service where you attend! Her worship format will have the parishioners dancing by the altar! She has done “wonders” for some Episcopal congregations in the United States and the same revival could benefit your church!
Recent news stories have detailed a new strategy being used to re-invigorate stagnating congregations of the Episcopal denomination in this nation. Paige Blair, an Episcopal parish priest, has created a worship format which weaves songs by the rock band U2 into the liturgy. The objective of this strategy is to attract young people and social activists to congregations dwindling in size and aging in their demographics. U2 was probably selected as the rock band of choice for a couple of reasons. First, the lyrics of many U2 songs make references to the Bible and religion. Second, U2’s lead singer Bono is an advocate of efforts to alleviate global poverty and thus the band appeals to social activists.
If judged by increased attendance to eucharist services, these rock-n-roll worship services are a resounding success. Worshippers bothered by the volume of the music are offered ear plugs. Plasma-screen televisions, streamers in the “sanctuaries” and fluorescent glow sticks wielded by worshippers complete the ambiance of the worship service.
Not everyone is totally thrilled with these changes. Some of U2’s song lyrics apparently express doubt and anger about the fact that God allows human suffering. Some worshippers are puzzled by the use of U2, an Irish rock bank described as “traditional rock’n’rollers – they swear, drink and sing about sex.”
The Episcopalians are only doing on a small scale what mega-churches are doing on a larger scale. Find out what “un-churched” people want and give it to them in religious packaging. The Episcopalians are clearly amateurs in this arena. Think of the possibilities! Churches on the “go” could integrate some connection to current entertainment interests into “worship” services. We’ve missed “March Madness,” the recent college basketball tournament, but the NBA finals would work just as well. Surely we could find some basketball player with an emotionally-evoking religious experience to highlight each week in the sermon. The congregation could post game results in the bulletin and playoff stats on a large bulletin board in the auditorium. Worshippers could even develop closer relationships to one another as they speculate about which team will be eliminated this week. Just think about what could be done with NASCAR (instead of the twelve apostles, the young people could memorize the top twelve drivers on the circuit this week)! Don’t forget the “Football in the Fall” evangelism campaign! I wonder if we could get Hank Williams, Jr. to do a rendition of “Are you ready for worship?” that could be played before each worship service? Did I mention “American Idol”?
The marketing strategy of “give them what they want” employed by some churches is a far cry from the reverent, God-centered worship offered by early Christians. There is a complete paradigm shift from offering praise according to divine instructions to the entertainment and gratification of worldly “worshippers.” For many churches, it’s not about honoring God, but “packing the pews.” In the rush to fill church buildings, people forget to listen to what God has to say about acceptable worship (Colossians 3:17; John 4:24).
The church of the New Testament was not concerned with “marketing strategies.” The early Christians “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). The apostle Paul identified the gospel of Christ as the “power of God to salvation” and wrote of his determination to appeal to the Corinthians on that basis only (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Apparently he did not understand the effectiveness of presenting biblical truths in the lyrics of rock and roll, but instead instructed early Christians to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19). The “give them what they want” strategy will fill church buildings with bodies, but won’t produce spiritually-minded disciples of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
By Allen Dvorak