These are turbulent times. And the church is swirling in the maelstrom.

I was reminded of this turbulence as I reviewed Holy Soup’s top blog posts over the past year. Three topics catapulted to the top, fueled by viral sharing across the country and around the world. Here they are, with a few thoughts about what caused these topics to explode:

3. “The Church’s Frightful Kodak Moment.”  People seemed captivated by examining the similarities between the demise of the Eastman Kodak Company and decline of the American church. Two big institutions. Each struggling to adapt (or not) to the changes around them.

The big response to this article prompted me to hunt down Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer who tried to get his company to embrace digital photography in the 1970s. I eventually found Sasson and interviewed him for our documentary film “When God Left the Building.” He provided some additional insights about the Kodak story that have significant relevance to the church’s current challenges.

Sasson explained how Kodak muddled its mission. “We got confused as to what business we were in. Are we a chemical company, are we a film company, are we an imaging company. What are we?” I’m afraid the church today suffers from a similar confusion. Are we here to build attendance? to make the pew-sitters comfortable? to reach the lost? to keep our ministry jobs?

And Sasson talked about misreading the customer as digital photography emerged. “They didn’t care that the pictures were horrible, that the video was distorted. That didn’t matter to them at all. I was struck by the fact that quality was lost on them, but immediacy was everything. They used (photos) to instantaneously share their environment with their friends. They were using pictures differently.” Many church leaders today seem to believe that Sunday production quality trumps everything else, including addressing people’s longing for a relational approach to spiritual growth.

2. “The Rise of the Dones.” This post named a large and growing segment of the population–highly active, spiritually mature people, who are simply done with the structured church. The blog response largely divided into two camps: the church establishment and the Dones themselves.

Many current church leaders chastised those who have left the established church. They assumed the Dones either abandoned their faith or discounted the biblical concept of community. But many Dones responded that they are now more engaged than ever–in a more organic definition of church, the Body of Christ.

I continue to be struck by the number of pastors and other ministry leaders who now count themselves among the Dones. One wrote: “Yes, I am DONE! Now I am ministering outside the established church, healing, and at peace.”

1. “Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore.” This one topped them all–and continues to flourish. In this article I explained how, from the pew perspective, current practices are causing so many church attendees to refrain from singing. My perspectives ignited a storm of response, including from worship leaders and musicians who  defended their status quo.

Last week I received a question from a worship pastor who honestly wondered what I would advocate for a more inviting worship atmosphere. Here’s what I shared with him:

  1. Eliminate the theater/spectator feel. Set up seating in the round, or in a U-shape–so the community of believers can see one another.
  2. Put the band/musicians out of sight sometimes. Help people visually focus on God or scripture or lyrics or images or one another–rather than on performers.
  3. Set musicians’ volume so that congregational singing is decidedly more pronounced than the performers’.
  4. Avoid sending the message that worship means music–only. Start by refraining from always asking the congregation to stand during music sets.
  5. For at least some of the songs, invite whomever would like to step forward and help lead the congregation in song. The more the merrier, especially children.

It’s been a stimulating year in the Holy Soup world. Thanks for reading–and commenting. Keep it up. We’re all enriched by the conversation as we strive to BE the church in these turbulent times.