The faithful gathered around candle-lit tables in the darkened room. They heard a reading of Psalm 34:8. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
They then tasted–literally. They selected small cups of various flavors and condiments. Some people discovered a familiar taste and reached for a second helping. Others gasped and chuckled as they felt the pungent impact of a spicy sauce.
Then, as the musicians played softly in the background, the worshipers were urged to make a metaphorical leap. How does this taste remind you of the Lord’s goodness?
Many made the leap. One participant related the taste of peanut butter to the Lord’s “sticky love–persistent in forgiving me.”
Most went along with this playful experience to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” But some were discomforted. This did not fit their ingrained paradigm of a proper worship gathering.
The experience was part of a “future of worship” component at last week’s Future of the Church summit at Group’s Colorado headquarters and conference center. The participants had earlier heard how today’s culture is yearning for more personally engaging experiences. The population is being conditioned to expect and appreciate more interactive and sensory interfaces–everything from the internet to Starbucks environments to interactive education. Meanwhile, the prevailing passive spectator model of the American church service is losing its shine.
“The cliche has lost power for me,” the young musician and former worship leader said. The cliche is the Sunday morning worship formula employed at almost every Western church. Half singalong and half lecture. “It turns me off from wanting to follow Jesus,” he said.
Summit panelist (and editor of the new Jesus-Centered Bible) Rick Lawrence said, “Jesus wants intimacy with us. But most are afraid of intimacy.” He said he knew some would be uncomfortable with the intimate experiences incorporated into the summit’s worship time. “But discomfort is necessary sometimes.”
At that moment I remembered the example of Jesus with his congregation of 12 in the Upper Room. As he dared to amp up his intimacy with these followers, Jesus knelt before each and washed their feet. The discomfort in the room was palpable. At the risk of being accused of imposing a “contrived” activity on these men, Jesus persisted with his indelible, metaphorical experience.
Lawrence said, “We need to set an environment for people to experience Jesus.”
Summit panelist (and author of Worship Evangelism) Sally Morgenthaler urged the participants to rethink the physical environment for worship. Most existing church buildings are modeled after lecture halls or theaters, which are not conducive to a participative experience. She now consults with forward-thinking congregations to remake spaces that allow for the kind of movement around the room that encourages a more communal, relational experience. “When you move, you see each other,” she said.
Lawrence summed it up with, “People grow through relationship and experience.” With God. And with each other.
The future of worship looks less like a Sunday morning lecture room–and more like an Upper Room.