Of the four Sundays in May, I have spent two at different churches in Atlanta, one at my home church in L.A., and will spend the next one in Montana. I figure this is either a call to comment on the variety of protestant worship styles in America, or at least an excuse to do so.
There are two main parts to the protestant service – the music, and the sermon. I’ll start with the music, leaving for another day my chance to explain why it is a bad idea for the protestant service to be mainly about music and sermons.
I’m not a fan of the music at my church (no, you read that right; I’m in a full disclosure mood). The band is very, very good – it isn’t quality that I’m not a fan of, but rather performance style.
You see, they “lead” worship in what I call “concert style.” The emphasis here is on serving G-d through quality – so the band works to sound the best it can. Decisions are based primarily on what sounds good on the stage. And the audience is invited to sing along if they so wish.
Another less hip style is “congregational.” Quality is still important to these folk, but it isn’t the primary concern. Rather, their worship decisions are based on what is going on in the congregation – even if it means that the band may not be as popular or cool sounding. The lead singer isn’t doing extra licks, or adding personal vocal touches, or any such things; he (or she, or they) is just helping the congregation to focus on the unearthly.
It is Taylor Hicks’ job to make the songs he sings his own, because he is performing. On the other hand, the congregational band is trying to be invisible (not as much applause directed at the band in these services).
To be fair, I don’t think my church’s band is going for applause – the leader tends to shyly turn away from the clapping – but make no mistake, the applause is directed toward the stage not the heavens.
Concert style is here to stay; the majority of protestant churches I visit use this style. In fact, the second Atlanta church has taken this mode to its inevitable conclusion: full on concert.
When it came time for musical worship, the house lights went to black, leaving only the lights on the band and the motorized Shakespeares – zooming through the band and sweeping the audience. The fog machine pumped out enough San Franciscan juice to make the light show stand out. The multiple cameras projected live images to the video screens, jumping around to catch the back up singers’ sway, or the guitarist’s special licks, or the brass section getting funky.
The only indicator that the audience was to sing along was the lyrics posted on the side screen – which was also true when the rockers that opened the show – I mean service – played their special number. But since we clearly weren’t supposed to sing along to the special music, I’m not sure how we knew to sing along when the worship band took the stage.
But sing along we did. Not as a congregation, mind you, but as individual fans in the darkness, rocking out our personalized worship of music, of singers, and quite probably, our Creator.
All in all, a fine performance, worthy of any venue that doubles as a sanctuary. The band and stagehands worked hard, fully deserving the accolades that we gave them with our applause. After all, if musical worship doesn’t end with a focused acknowledgment of how much we love our band, it can’t be very good, can it?
And now I know why I’m dissatisfied with my church’s worship style.
Clearly we don’t have enough fog.
Just my thoughts,