A year ago, Tim Wyatt wrote an article published by The Times in the UK on the resurgence of traditional worship in the lives of what we call "millennials." He noted how the churches that were returning to using the Book of Common Prayer, rather than more contemporary language were seeing a resurgence among younger people in Britain, while the churches that were "dressing down and dumbing down" were dying out. This was a surprise, and probably remains so for many, as we enter into a new decade thinking innovation and progression are the keys to growth or connection.
Hearing from folks aged 20-35, Wyatt wrote of this millennial exodus away from more contemporary churches to the traditions of the Anglican church - 'They describe the lure of a Christianity that does not aspire to be relevant or fashionable. The Rev Fergus Butler-Gallie, a 27-year-old priest in Liverpool, said churches did not need to “pretend to be your nightclub” to appeal to the young. “It can be church and have an air of mystery.”'
This is not about the worship wars or the "right" way of doing things. What it is about is the reality of what church is supposed to be. Are we a gathering of sinner-saints welcomed around the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies, or are we just another organization among many that tries to do nice things for people? Are we being ushered into a mystery that transcends our own ability to understand, or are we trying to fill seats through the latest fads?
This sounds like an attack on contemporary worship, and it might be just that. The problem we have is we do not educate or disciple. We assume too much. We think that someone who grows up in the church should just know everything, because "they were confirmed" after all, or they attend regularly, and so whatever we do in church they should understand and know the significance. But that is not enough anymore. Instead, we run into the issue of significance all together. Regardless of how we do worship, do we ever ask why? Why do we sing what we sing and when? Why do we choose this song or that song? Why do we pray certain prayers at certain times or confess the creed, share in the Table? Or, why do we do none of those things? The question about why never comes up. We pick songs because they have a catchy tune, or it was grandma's favorite, or it preaches the sermon better than the preacher, or "we always sing this song on this particular day." We like the melodies, or the percussion line. Basically, as with most things, we look at the world and ask "what?" What do we need to do to attract younger people? What do we need to do to avoid our church failing? What do we need to do in order to be relevant? All of those things are nice, if you are opening up a restaurant or a boutique salon, but the church is none of those things.
In Detroit, one of the fastest growing Catholic parishes is St. Joseph Shrine church. They were taken over by a traditionalist brotherhood (Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest) back in 2007. With that came the Latin mass, daily prayers, benedictions, adorations, processions, and meals together. One of the things the priests eventually did was a monthly lesson on the liturgy. Taking the Latin texts used for worship, they explained the various parts, why they matter, what they say, and how they flow with the service as the culmination of everything being the celebration of the Eucharist. With all of this has come a growth in attendance and membership, to the point that they are destination for tourists and pilgrims.
Not that St. Joseph's has a proven formula, or that as a Lutheran pastor I need to brush up on my Latin, but what would happen if each of our churches (Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, etc.) stuck to what it is we do well and then taught our people why? The analogy being a hamburger joint that only does hamburgers. You focus on making the best burger you can and you do nothing else. If someone wants pasta they need to go down the street. That should be our churches. One church may do worship in a certain way and do it well, while the neighboring congregation down the road does something different. That is fine. Stick with it. Explain it. Teach the people why, and if growth comes, Praise God! If not, praise him anyways because he deserves all of it.
Our churches need to stop trying to be Denny's in a world of Denny's. We need to stop trying to be Netflix or the NFL when both of those experiences will always beat us. The church is a gathering of the people of God for worship and prayer. We gather to console one another, to have our sins forgiven and faith strengthened. However that comes about, that needs to be our focus. Contemporary or traditional, who cares. Does it connect the people to God? If so, why?