This past Sunday morning my family gathered once again in the living room, brunch in hand, ready to participate in worship, virtually.  These have been interesting days that have required a reimagining of congregational life while challenging our understanding of communal worship.  Ministers continue to show up, to plan, to lead, to worship while congregations are thirsty for guidance, for community, and for worship.

As churches have reimagined worship in these days, some have recognized trends that had already begun to emerge within the life of the Church.  It seems that what felt catastrophic to our life of worship revealed that the Holy Spirit had already been preparing the Church with fresh practices for such a time as this.  I want to suggest in this blog post that these trends that began pre-pandemic and continue to emerge in the present, can be a lifeline for any congregation to carry them well into the future instilling new energy, access, and encouragement into the lives of those who need it most.

Multi-Cultural Worship.  A theme that is emerging throughout the worship of the Christian church is the inclusion of liturgical elements that are more familiar to congregants who are not represented by the dominant church culture.  Most notably, today’s most prominent worship leaders are pursuing multicultural praise and worship.  This is not only the case in the 30% of evangelical churches in the United States with lead pastors who are African-American, Asian, or Hispanic; churches with more homogenous congregations are becoming increasingly aware of the multiculturalism which surrounds us and the importance of worshiping in a way that welcomes all who may come.

The recent emphasis on multicultural worship is evident in the popularity of songs such as “Way Maker” which was written in 2016 by Nigerian worship leader, Sinach and is now sung widely throughout North America.  It has become increasingly common for the liturgy to include scripture spoken in various languages, prayers written from within different cultural contexts, and songs to be translated even into languages that may be unfamiliar to the entire congregation. 

This is not simply a phenomenon that should be practiced because it is popular; rather, it is an attempt by the Church to more closely represent the vision of heaven depicted in Revelation 7.  Just as liturgy is the “work of the people”, the work of the church today is to continually be asking itself how that work can represent a broadening body of Christ.  If we are to be part of the larger choir then surely it is time to learn the songs and practices that come from the very depths of the diversity of Christian traditions. 

Multi-Generational Worship.  It is becoming clearer across the Christian denominational landscape that worship services that include children, young adults, the middle-aged, and older parishioners contribute to a sense of community, belonging, and depth of faith for all age groups.  According to a 2019 intergenerational, ecumenical, and international study of best worship practices, members of the church can share in a reciprocal exchange of worship traditions and practices when they share a space and a liturgy[1].   This cannot be accomplished by simply inviting various generations to the same service but rather including the influence of young voices and older ones in the planning, teaching, rehearsing, and leading of the service. 

Churches today across denominational streams are realizing how important it can be for a child to experience the liturgy through the eyes of those worshipers most mature in age.   Inversely, the wisest among us are learning again that children are wonderful guides to our Christ who called them precious.      

Multi-Faceted Worship.  According to an April 2020 Pew Research survey, 90% of church-goers reported that their churches had stopped meeting in buildings to combat the spread of the coronavirus.  The survey also revealed that the majority of these churches were still meeting in virtual settings.  Eventually churches either developed new practices or reverted to some trends that had already begun to take root prior to Spring 2020.

Over the past decade, the increasing speed of the American culture and the rise of mental illness had prompted an increase in contemplative worship experiences within the Church.  Lectio divina, for instance, has become a common tool for scriptural contemplation within the liturgy of neighborhood churches and mega-churches alike.  The inclusion of moments of silence and the slower, more deliberate reading of the full text from the lectionary had also become much more commonplace.  Therefore, when the church was faced with a moment in time when singing was discouraged, these practices were already woven into the life of the Church.  A liturgy without singing is not empty… rather, the stillness can usher in meaning that a litany of notes may have masked. 

Another practice that is becoming commonplace within the church is hosting services in spaces other than the sanctuary.  Of course, our sanctuaries are sacred spaces where people feel they can more easily block out the distractions of the world and focus on God.  However, churches are beginning to recognize and utilize outdoor areas, public venues, and virtual spaces for the purposes of congregational worship.  

As churches sought to include addicts and academics, blue-collar workers and baristas, one or two services on a Sunday morning (or even a Saturday night) was simply insufficient to bring the light of Christ to a culture characterized by busyness and mental fatigue.  Even prior to the pandemic, congregations realized the diversity of schedules, occupations, and health-issues that exist within the Church can make it improbable, if not impossible for the entire membership to ever gather in one physical space.  For these churches, online portals became a lifeline for some while regular outdoor gatherings became a more comfortable space for those outside of the church community to interface with its less-familiar culture.

Throughout the past year, I have appreciated the reminders from my colleagues and friends that the worship of God’s people has been echoing through the centuries long before these difficult days and will continue to provide a beacon of hope long after COVID is a distant memory.  I am encouraged when I look back at trends within the Christian church over the past 2-3 years.  It is almost as if the Church was preparing to worship in a new way, through a new lens even before the world changed.  Because of this, I am confident that the work of the people, all of the people, will continue on in new places with new practices all in the interest of serving the God who was, and is, and is to come.

Amen.

[1] INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CHILDREN’S SPIRITUALITY 2019, VOL. 24, NO. 2, 166–182 https://doi.org/10.1080/1364436X.2019.1619533

 

Ryan Richardson
Dr. Ryan G. Richardson currently serves as the Associate Vice President for Student Life at Abilene Christian University. Prior to his role at ACU, Ryan served as Associate Chaplain & Director of Worship at Baylor University for over 15 years. He has been a worship facilitator for conferences, retreats, statewide gatherings, and college events throughout the nation for over 25 years. Ryan has served as interim worship pastor for Harris Creek Church and Columbus Avenue Baptist (both in Waco, Tx) and most recently served as interim worship pastor for FBC-Huntsville, Alabama. Ryan holds a Bachelor's degree from Mississippi State, a Master of Divinity from Baylor, and a PhD from Azusa Pacific University. Ryan has built his career around creating space for worship in the context of higher education. He regularly consults with churches regarding ministry to college students as well as many parachurch organizations. He currently splits time between Waco, Texas and Abilene, Tx with his spouse Kristen (Associate Chaplain and Director of Pastoral Care for Baylor) and their three sons: Syler, Alden, and Mayer.