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Worship in the 21st Century
By: Bill Easum

Nothing is undergoing as much change in the life of an effective church as is worship. The change is more than just radical; it is revolutionary. The forces that have driven worship for 500 years -- the printed page, a 16th century appreciation of music, and a culture that embraced Christianity -- are being replaced by the Internet,  multi-media, and a post-Christian culture. The day of the hymnal organs and processionals is drawing to a close. The day of visual, virtual, multi-user, interactive worship is upon us.

Last year, Ed Young at Fellowship Church in Dallas began preaching. What the audience didn't know was that Young wasn't there. The church was projecting a hologram-like image using six different projectors. It was a few minutes into the message before the congregation figured out what was going on.

Two years ago, I was consulting in a non-denominational church when, while teaching, the pastor reminded people to tweet their questions to him and he would answer them during the teaching.

Now people are beginning to talk about missional worship. The best I can explain it is missional worship is everything we do both at church and in our daily life, including spiritual practices.

We have entered an entirely new world of worship.

Take an imaginary trip with me to the year 2020. For some reason, you decide to attend that thriving congregation down the street called the Church of the Virtual Resurrection. Here's what you might find.

Upon entering the conversation area (formerly called sanctuary, worship center, or celebration center), you see people sitting around tables of four or five, eating whatever happens to be the "in" food that decade. One chair is vacant, and the people are in deep conversation about something. You soon realize that "something" is the topic of the day that is flashing on a virtual reality, wrap-around screen that can be seen by everyone in the room no matter which direction they face. I call it virtual reality because it really isn't there. It is only an inexpensive holographic projection that appears to be there.

 In the middle of each table is a "holographic imager," a round crystal ball-like object. On the table in front of each chair is a tiny "holographic responder." If this is a large church, there is nothing connecting the holographic imager to the responder. If it is a small church, the two are connected with small wires. In a small church, the holographic responder is a tiny key punch pad; in a large church, it is a tiny thimble that fits on one's index finger. In a small church, people punch in their choice of options; in a large church, they simply visualize (post modern) or think (modern) their choices telepathically to the imager.
The options they are discussing are listed on the screen beneath the topic of the day. Whichever options the tables choose determines the nature and content of that day's worship. The worshipers will choose the music, the conversation piece (sermon), and the holographic people with which they wish to converse.

As each table makes it choices, the room comes alive with sights and sounds. Each person hears his or her choice of music. Sounds a bit like Pentecost. The screen displays a constant barrage of images based on the individual responses of all the people. Soon a holographic image, based on the choice of each table, sits down at each table for a dialogue on the topic of the day. Perhaps your table chose to discuss the topic through the eyes of Jesus or Moses. The holographic image is able to converse from a database that includes all of the combined knowledge on the topic.

Soon, each table records the results of its conversation with the holographic image. Their questions, comments, and criticism regarding the conversation are then routed to a quantum-sized computer embedded in the brain of the conversationalist (preacher), who then quickly formulates the conversation piece based on her personal experiences. She then comes out in the middle of the people and shares her story, pausing now and then for reactions from the worshipers. As the people leave, each is given a virtual reality video copy of the day's worship for them to relive and enlarge upon the day's experience throughout the week.

Think this is too expensive? All of the equipment needed for the above experience will be available for less than the price of a mediocre electronic organ. 

What Can We Learn?
The previous scenario gives clues about the type of worship that will provide a safe atmosphere in which people can hear the unchanging, dangerous Gospel. All we have to do is to change our paradigms to see them. Here are a few:

Worship is now a team sport.
In the past, everyone got ready for worship in isolation. The pastor prepared the sermon. The choir director rehearsed the choir. The usher did their thing. Today, everything has to happen in concert. Now the entire service is the message. Pastors won't just write sermons anymore; the worship teams create an experience.

Experience is more important than content.  
The day of the talking-head pastor is over. It is getting harder and harder for the pulpit-driven church to survive. We are now in a world where if all you do is communicate verbally, you will be less and less effective. People have to have an experience that goes beyond learning something. People have access to more information today than ever before. They aren't looking for a data dump. What they crave is an experience that makes a difference in their life. Why else would they bungee jump?

Today, you get to the head through the heart instead of getting to the heart through the head. That's one of the big shifts that I've seen in my lifetime. Many of the youth are being reached more through pictures than through music, or a combination of the two. It's like MTV on fast-forward with the sound turned down.

This is as big a shift as with the boomers. With the boomers, you couldn't have a good movie without a soundtrack. Today, you can't have a good movie without visual effects and a soundtrack. It's a fun time to be in ministry if you're not stuck on one way to worship.

The goal of worship is not to educate, but to transform lives.
The primary way to transform lives today is through interactive sights and sounds. Multimedia, computer-generated visuals, dramas, and personal interviews are already driving worship in many effective churches.

The message must be interactive. 
It's not unusual for me to consult with churches where the pastor might ask questions and the people eagerly shouted back their responses. Perhaps a new form of response reading?

Secular music is okay to use in worship.
The missional nature of worship makes using appropriate secular music a natural. Some of the best music in effective churches comes out of secular surroundings. Some songs in hymnals have their derivative out of the bars, all the way back to Martin Luther and the Wesleys. If you look at every religious revival, a change in music style has been part of that experience.

And, in the world we're moving toward, one of the key differences between it and the world I was born into is the loss of the war between the secular and sacred. If we look back to the Hebrew understanding of life, they didn't see sacred and secular; it was all sacred. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (Ps. 24:1). Western Protestantism and Greek thought has pretty much separated body and soul, as well as earth and heaven. I think we're getting back to that organic view of life, so that if God could speak through Cyrus the Persian, God is not limited to speak only through sacred music.

It's time to get creative with the worship experience.

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.

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