Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The future of worship in United Methodism

I recently spent a Saturday morning presenting at a workshop geared towards helping congregations provide more meaningful worship expereinces. I lead a session on using Media with and for aged and aging congregations, which is about 80% of UM congregations btw :). The gist of my presentation was that if you are wishing to use media in your old congregation, be wise and be aware of context. The committee that provided the event and also provides these resources, is well meaning and even gifted, but only gifted in reaching the current constituency (50+). The committee, or team, to sound Post-Modern, designs sets that can be transported to churches to provide visual aids in worship, i.e Women at the well set, Renewing you Baptism Set, The burning Bush Set, etc. The sets are beautiful, but they're also old, stuffy and dull....at least if you're under 50. I don't mean to be rude or discouraging, but critical...in a positive way.

The sets offer more of the same things, lace, wreathes, fountains, pics of white Jesus and more. These things are great when you're trying to attract old people, but young folks, which I myself would be considered at least in my denomination (I'm under 35), don't like lace, wreathes, fountains, and pics of white Jesus. Our denomination needs to work with churches to exposes them to worship sets that attract and inspire young people. So whats that look like?  Well it does not include lace, wreathes, fountains, and pics of white Jesus.

There's various schools of though of course. Some believe that an "ancient-futre" form of worship is more appealing to young people. Nadia Boltz-Weber at the House for All Sinners and Saints, in Denver, CO uses this model and she does very well with it. The more ancient the better in her case. She attracts and reaches a very specific group of people that the church has allowed to slip though the cracks for years. Her church is not "big" so to speak, only about 75-100 a week, so it's the size of most Main-line Protestant churches in America. Size, in this case, really doesn't matter. What we are looking for in a worship experience is vitality and her church is just that....it's vital. She also manages to pack about 10,000 words worth of info into a 15 minute sermon. She is gifted beyond most clergy and the form of worship she uses and she is successful at, is very skill oriented. Most churches that are thriving, that are reaching the un-churced and young families are using media, lights, video, even social media, i.e twitter and Facebook in worship services. They provide music that young people can identify with and that they like. In the UMC most of our churches provide a very poor quality of music. Old, nearly deaf and blind ladies playing the organ with hymns at a meter that can only be described as "funeral drudge", pastor who speak at length in a monotone voice,  about topics that have no relevance in anyones practical life, and worship structures that provide very little sustained "worship: just simply are not making the cut with young people. So what's a church to do?

As United Methodist a good place to start is to engage denominations and professionals who do worship well and who engage young people and families on a weekly basis. We ought to be asking worship ministry professionals and pastors from denominations who regularly reach young people, "how do you do it?" I recently came across a worship professional named Kurt Johnson who is on staff at First Assembly of God Kalamazoo, a.k.a "Kfirst." He does worship and worship set design at a very high level of professionalism. I hope to engage him in my own ministry and in the ministry of the district and even our conference. We can learn a lot from people like him and we can grow as a denomination in worship effectiveness if you listen to them. I know having trendy and multi-media focused worship will not automatically fix all our UM woes, but it's a good start and since it's hard to find people within our own denomination who create worship environments that are geared towards young people at a high level of professionalism we need to be willing to partner with those who can.

Below is a link to Kurt' blog entitled "stage design". It's a step-by-step  process as he prepares to design worship within his ministry setting.



  1. Josh-I agree with you on so many of these points. As a young pastor in the UMC (who didn't grow up in the UMC) I get frustrated about many of the same things.

    What I don't understand is the reluctance to look outside of our tradition for ideas and other forms of inspiration. Many things that haven't had a place in UMC worship are kept out of the church with the phrase "methodists don't do that".

  2. My congregation is largely the "young retired" group. We are pretty informal. Our accompanist is a gifted 25-year old. The choir doesn't do "old hymns" and is well trained. And we use a screen, carefully. Still, our format is pretty traditional. And there's resistance to doing much that's radically different. The thing is, we have virtually no young adults or young families. We're struggling with the chicken or the egg thing. How do we attract them? Do we offer worship more suitable to the 20-40 crowd, when there aren't any among us? Answers?

  3. very interesting/good/important. Went to the URL of Kfirst-- super creative. But then I noticed the demographics of the congregation/audience.. guess what??? over 60 crowd! :-(