Any close reading of the Old Testament and New Testament affirms the understanding that corporate worship has always been evolving and changing. Moses never came down from Mt. Sinai and said, thus sayeth the Lord, “this is how all people will worship from now until God comes again.”
There are a few Christian traditions that have tried to maintain a certain worship style throughout the ages, such as the Orthodox Churches, many of whom still follow a liturgy that dates to the 600-700; or a few Protestant traditions that have rejected some forms of modernity such as musical instruments or electricity. But for the vast majority of Christians, including United Methodists, worship continues to change and evolve.
Here are just a few ways worship continues to evolve and change.
- Sites for worship –When worship began to occur in “buildings” and not directly under the sky, the variety of the style of the buildings that housed worship seems endless with church plants today favoring movie theaters or schools. Many of the rural UM churches in this conference seem to have favored the “Akron Plan” in their church architecture, which was popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with its original design to facilitate the Sunday School.
- When we worship – Worship historians normally focus on the agricultural nature of early America in explaining the prevalent 11am on Sunday Protestant worship time (between milking). But the majority of Americans no longer live in rural America and many Protestant Churches are becoming more “Roman Catholic” in offering worship at a variety of times both on Sunday and throughout the week. I personally favor an earlier than 11am worship time so I can be home to watch football. How about you?
- Length of the worship service – Lyle Schaller believes that the current one hour worship length came about with the advent of the radio, as the radio introduced to listeners programming in one hour segments that television later copied. Certainly United Methodists in the USA don’t expect a two to three hour worship experience as the Orthodox Christians do.
- Sermons have also continued to change and evolve. I had the distinct pleasure in High School English class of reading Jonathan Edward’s sermon entitled “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God”, written for the congregation that had just voted to oust him as pastor. This particular sermon was probably about 45-50 minutes in length and while some preachers continue with sermons of that length today, most try for the fifteen to twenty minute time frame.
- Music – Music also continues to change and evolve as well. For the past four to five hundred years keyboards have dominate the Protestant Worship scene but lately (according to the survey of the largest churches in American Protestantism) drums and guitars have become the dominant worship instruments behind the human voice.
There are other changes in worship than those listed above especially with the changing nature of technology. Some churches are using texting in sermons as a way for pastors to get instant feedback while they are preaching. Some smaller churches, that cannot afford a pastor, are simply showing taped sermons from Willowcreek or some other mega church. Some mega churches are moving to multiple campuses and simply broadcasting their services through a variety of means including the internet. I know that many of these changes are happening too quickly or too rapidly for many of us.
What do you think? Let us know below, or Ed Trimmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he welcomes your comments.
*This article was originally published in the Tennessee Conference Review November 2010. Re-used by permission.