There’s a story from American folklore that Henry Ford, after launching the Model T, declared consumers could pick any color they wanted…so long as it was black. To me this sounds like the same approach Christian worship has taken. It comes in basically one color. There are two main versions: sing songs and listen to a preacher, or follow some liturgy and listen to a preacher.
The old adage, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” could apply here, if the typical Sunday service model wasn’t broken, that is. As a whole Christianity that remains rooted in traditional ways of gathering and worship run the risk of being rote tradition. There is unmitigated decline in virtually every denomination as America moves forward from a culture that had the church at the centre.
It seems to me the church has been slow to respond or innovate.
Maybe it’s time to consider some drastic measures for the sake of mission? There’s perhaps no greater “sacred cow” to reconsider than the Sunday service. What would it look like, and should we even bother, to cancel services in an age that wants little to do with worship? I’ve tried it, and here’s what I encountered.
Cancelling 75% of Services
My church plant called Cypher Church, turned three in 2020. That’s no small achievement given it launched in two months on a whim and a prayer (literally). Despite the odds, coupled with low yet healthy expectations, we continue ministering to the “dones” and the “nones”. We rely on rooting community around relationships (discipleship). However, another key characteristic that’s attracted newcomers is found in our value, “faith in a fresh vibe”.
You’re probably thinking, “that sounds like an attractional church planting approach.” You’d be right except for one thing, our worship isn’t the centre, nor does it take the bulk of our resources. From the start we decided we would meet once a month rather than weekly. We still meet which is vital, but not as often. In an age of disconnection, gathering and community remain vital. How we do those things changes, but we all still want to belong to something.In an age of disconnection, gathering and community remain vital. How we do those things changes, but we all still want to belong to something. ~ Rohadi Click To Tweet
At Cypher Church we craft gatherings outside of common worship paradigms. We acknowledge there are more ways to connect spiritually than the typical Christian experience.
For evangelicals that looks like 5 songs, announcements, and someone preaches for 30 minutes 51 weeks a year. The other week is reserved for a Fall launch when the church has a BBQ outside complete with bouncy castles. There’s nothing wrong with this approach it just seems that everyone has some iteration of the same thing. There are few alternatives.
To put it plainly, Christianity in the West lacks new (or old) ways of worship that connect with a growing spiritual but not religious demographic.
Christian culture is not built to accommodate change or facilitate innovation. That became evident to me as word spread about our unique format. It was churchgoers who invariably asked one of two questions: “what does it look like”, or “where can I come check it out?” Typically, I would try to change the subject. The questions are deeply rooted in a formation of consumer Christianity that we are trying to avoid. As a low resourced church we have limited time to spend doing one of the most time consuming aspects of ministry–deconstructing lifelong consumer Christians. We don’t want to attract “switching” Christians looking for the next cool weekly service.
The Church Lens
The way many Christians seem to understand each other is by affiliation on Sunday morning. Generations use a consumers eye to measure the community by its service. Through this lens is how many understand the Body of Christ. “Church” is the Sunday service or the building. Even leaders succumb to this lazy language habit, interchanging Sunday service with the church body. Of course, we all believe in theory that the church is the people. But in practice we want those people (the church) to come to–“church” (the service). We ask “where do you go to church” referring to the building.
How does our value, “faith in a fresh vibe,” counteract this consumerist formation?
As I mentioned, we cancelled services. Actually, that’s not true, we simply never had them to begin with. You may want to consider cancelling services. Second, by seeking out “fresh” ways to gather and worship, we are in fact dismantling the proverbial golden calf. We demonstrate that the most important feature is no longer how we gather, but the celebration and relationships of that community when they gather.
Deeper Helps Mission
One reason why the church has lost its mission identity is because we assume outsiders will magically fit into the offerings of Sunday morning. Even if that was true in the past, it’s not anymore. No, casual churchgoer, you cannot come “check us out”, but you can connect into our weekly meals and commit to going deeper in relationship with those in the community.
The call into deeper community versus casual attendance is an effective way to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
Having said this, the lynch-pin to belonging is still presence. Anyone can draw into our community, which our monthly services are a part of that rhythm, but it will never be the main part, and we make that abundantly clear.
There’s something more important, and we want that to be our core.
In my next post, I will share some of the pragmatic ways how we have re-imagined gathering.
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