When your church comes together to worship God, do they do so as a community or as a larger group of individuals?

 

I came across a situation I found slightly disturbing recently. In order to try to facilitate worship in a smaller group of people (about 20ish) I arranged the seats in a crescent with myself on acoustic guitar at the end of one arm (not in the middle) so that we were all closer together. Negative feedback ensued, with one person particularly declaring how, when they worshiped they didn't want to have to see other people and another how they preferred CDs to a live musician where they needed to sing out (this church has a long history of using CDs in place of a worship team).

Now *to me* communal worship is what we do together as a body, rather than simply as a group of individuals. I know that I have argued the opposite to this in the distant past, but that was before I discovered what it meant to actually be part of a worshipping body. So my questions are really:

1) Do you see communal worship as everyone together, almost linking arms, to worship God, or simply as a larger gathering of individuals who worship alone en masse?

2) Is the way we arrange worship (band, gig atmosphere, 'clever' songs, words on screen etc) producing more performance oriented worship for individuals and less worship as a community functioning together?

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Certainly, acts of worship tend to be more varied in the contemporary environment.  Though I love to hear a congregation sing wholeheartedly together, the "band/gig" atmosphere, where participation seems more optional, worshipers have more freedom to 1) express themselves through moving the hands or body, and 2) contemplation.  Typically, when I visit a contemporary-style church, the songs are unfamiliar (though the congregation thinks their songs are the ones "everybody" sings) -- and in the unfamiliarity I find myself taking the liberty to just stand at times and think; or I might "enter in" freely.  This, I think is a good thing, and traditional-hymn congregations could take a cue from that concept.

Having written this, I now have second thoughts...

I like both services at my church; but I will describe them in terms of "participatory nature":

In our "traditional" service, I hear altos singing alto joyfully because the hymnal helps them with notes.  I see virtually everyone engaged in worship.  Out of the fifty that attend, twenty are in the choir, several takes turns as liturgist, others in lighting the candles and helping with Communion; and many others in low-key ministries that help the poor and the lonely.  Responsive Scripture readings involve the entire congregation; everyone gets a personal dose of Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel every service.

In the "contemporary" service, of the eighty that attend, ten are with the praise team and band (the singers are all from the choir, but rehearse and help out with the contemporary service).  All Scripture is read by the Pastor.  Aside from singing during worship time, saying the Lord's Prayer and the Shalom song at the end, holding hands, the people merely watch.  Which service, now, is more participatory?

There's nothing non-worshipful about people singing hymns while an organist and/or pianist "bang them out". If that's how a particular congregation likes to do it, that's great. Standing nicely organized isn't bad either. 

What are you implying by the contrast?

True, worship can exist anywhere... but there is an element that strips individuality when everything is so uniform.  Individuality is something that the Church struggles with.  If you don't think / vote / dress / smell / like us, you're going to have a hard time finding a place here.

And while it can be said that the same exists in contemporary churches, the contemporary model seems to at least allow a bit more freedom.

there is an element that strips individuality when everything is so uniform

But who cares about individuality on Sunday morning? Isn't that a focus on "me" and "you" instead of God?

What bores me about the hymns/piano thing isn't that it's too regimented or somehow lacks individuality. It's more that the musical forms are very boring with very little tension/relief and very little to generate interest. It's mostly (not always) straight on Ionian mode in simple 3/4 or 4/4. Most of them have become dirge-like from being sung so many times over the years. And there are soooo many words in them, you can't even enjoy them half the time.

On the flip side, modern worship has become even worse at times by using so many shallow lyrics. Now you have the "individuality" and "freedom", but weak content. Opposite direction swing.

'there is an element that strips individuality when everything is so uniform' - I think Cory raises a good point when he says this. I don't think it means that it is about ' you' or 'me' but more about having the freedom to worship in the way that you prefer to worship.

 

Sometimes I feel like dancing in the aisles, whilst at other times I feel like sitting down and singing with my eyes closed.......how I would love to be able to worship the way I feel like worshipping at a particular time, without having to conform to the traditions of a particular church, for fear of drawing attention to myself or causing disruption (which I would never do BTW).

 

So for me, individuality is important, if I am to worship genuinely, 'cos I haven't as yet found a box that I fit into!

I'm curious -- I've been reading various historians and psycho/philosophers like Erich Fromm who seem to think individuality didn't really exist until around the end of the medieval period.  What do you and others think of that line of thought?  (Fromm thinks Adam bitin' the apple was the first bold act of individualism, or recognition of self).

Individualism is overrated. And it's certainly not a required element of worship time. I'm not knocking dancing in the aisles, but keep in mind, we're all singing the same song for a reason.

Individualism is overrated. And it's certainly not a required element of worship time. I'm not knocking dancing in the aisles, but keep in mind, we're all singing the same song for a reason.

There is a lot of truth to this.  As noted, there are a lot of people who take individualism too far, but then there are a lot of people who take uniformity too far.

The truth lies somewhere in-between.

There is something to this.  

Economic systems that rely heavily on subsistence living models tend to force people into the same molds, or they die.  You dedicate huge swaths of your life just to preserving your life.

Certainly, as subsistence living models ease up, then people become able to pursue other and differing activities because somebody else is able to support them.  Instead of 16 hours tending the fields, now you can pursue mathematics, science, philosophy, art, or any number of a variety of vocations.

Still, I think mankind has always had a way to figure out how to individualize itself.  We were, after all, created as individuals.

Yea - a good example of the individualism club is our US Army commercials - "Army of One". Really? That's messed up.

And a good example of the group thing taken too far is...can't think of one now.

I think your last sentence is very true - even if the only place to express individual-ness was in the family or the village, it was always there to some degree. However, I think American society has actually developed a loathing for group-ness and communal-ness, as if it's somehow wrong. 

The New Testament treats it perfectly - all part of one body, working for the common goals, each with his/her own unique set of gifts from the Holy Spirit. 

So applied to group worship - we could see it as analogous to marching/drills in the Marines. It's a time to be and do together, a time to model what we should be doing when the bananas hit the fan.

So applied to group worship - we could see it as analogous to marching/drills in the Marines. It's a time to be and do together, a time to model what we should be doing when the bananas hit the fan.

Or people worshiping together, singing the songs together, while injecting their own worship personalities into the mix.  Lock step has a place, but I don't think that place is in the church.  There it's... destructive.

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