Creative Leadership

The Casual Church Part II

When I wrote my earlier post on the good versus bad trends toward casual church services, I think we spent too much time on the issue of clothes. While torn jeans and exposed shirt-tails are certainly a visual indicator of the trend, for me it’s much more than the way we (or a pastor) dresses. I’m looking at the overall experience. When the worship experience becomes too casual, where is the mystery? I really think there should be a place for the transcendent in worship, and to be honest, I don’t see much of it in churches today.

The Catholic Church has continued their traditions right down to the incense, and I find that somewhat appealing (and so do thousands of Christians moving to a more liturgical tradition.) Certainly the ultimate goal is a powerful encounter with the divine, and playing “dress up” doesn’t accomplish that. But are we missing something in contemporary worship?

A few years ago, theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson said, “I don’t think a whole lot of people care about what kind of music you have or how you shape a service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, and where they are taken seriously.”

People are saved and ministered to in all kinds of situations – from a high church experience to prison cells or nightclubs. But should pastors and church leaders at least aim for a more transcendent experience? Should church be the same look and feel we can find at the mall?

Related Articles


  1. Who is the audience in Church?

    If it's the congregants, then casual and comfortable is what you'll get.

    If it's God, then the congregants are there to participate.

    There's plenty of room and overlap in terms of the activities, but again, heart attitude on the part of the worshippers is going to be the determining factor.

  2. I think what we are legitimately missing is letting the Holy Spirit do what He does. There are a LOT of churches out there that get wrapped up in the music, the lighting, the video, the HYPE, thinking that THAT's what draws people, but it's not.  It's the POWER of the Holy Spirit working in His people.

    I'm a bass player, and when I lived in Tulsa, there was this push towards contemporary services, which meant I was in high demand. I used to joke that if a bassist could form the word "Jesus" in his mouth, he could get a church gig in Tulsa! But what I found was that churches wanted the (Pentecostal) experience without the (Pentecostal) Holy Spirit Himself!

    That's where we're missing it. I've been to several of the relevance churches, and I feel the same way about most of them. I'm not saying "be Pentecostal," but I am saying, without reservation, that the ONLY way to capture the hearts of those in attendance is to let the Holy Spirit do His thing.

    You want mystery? Let the Holy Spirit work, and you'll have it by the bucketloads. 

  3. I think Richard Gaspard is hitting on something important. And Phil, normally I agree with you but I think you are missing something here. Just like the type of clothing does not necessarily indicate transcendance (sp?), neither does incense, or music, or architecture. All of these things are tools designed (hopefully) to help people focus on the object of our worship (I’m pretty sure we agree that to be God.) The liturgy of traditional services accomplishes it using certain techniques, but so does the liturgy of contemporary services (they are all liturgies btw).

    The problem is not so much the liturgy (any kind of service and liturgy in any kind of church can be “dead” or “alive” or have an element of transcendance (what we often refer to as “God showing up.”)). The problem is often an apathy or spiritual lethargy of the people (sometimes including the worship leader(s) and the preacher.)

    Should we aim for a transcendant experience? No. Our aim should be to help people worship God appropriately (in spirit and in truth). Our worship does not need to make us feel anything in particular. What does God want from us? Our hearts and our lives. Liturgies (both old and new) are, or should be, designed to help us give Him that.

  4. I support and back both staements made by Gaspard and Christian on this. The Holy Spirit is the Person that makes Church alive after all He is the One Who gave life to Christ Jesus and without Him Jesus could do no ministry work. He was sent to help us and yet we neglect Him to our own detriment. Until we submit and surrender to the Leadership of the Holy Spirit we will never have true freedom and expression of love towards God and man in our churches in whatever capacity it is we have church [2 Corinthians 3:17-18]. I believe the reason why we are so reluctant to letting the Holy Spirit lead, is the nasty abuse we have seen of others and yet He is more than just speaking in tongues – so much more than that – He is friend that the believer has been given to by God to comfort us and strengthen us in our walk with God. Another reason is pride and arrogance in that we think we know it all, we know so much yet look around us what has it achieved for us, more pain and sorrow especially to others and ourselves. Unless we know all there is to know about God and ourselves it is high time we let the Holy Spirit lead us and we follow Him. This action may make a lot of current leaders (and some believers/Christians) in the Body of Christ feel insecure and unwanted but the abuse will go away and the falling into sin lifestyles will become almost a thing of the past. I can say this because I am experiencing Him everyday and life is so much more interesting – but there is a labour in prayer and surrendering one must do to yield to Him. My marriage is better because of Him – and yes even the…

  5. Our church was modeled to look like a theater so the visual arts would pop.  Now if feels we are in church in a cave.  Its dark, depressing.

    The music is good, but it doesn't seem to be leading people into worship.  The majority of people are watching, not worshipping.

    Ours is a seeker-friendly church that is struggling to survive in New England.  I wish I knew how to effect the change it needs to be the church this community needs.

  6. What we're all looking for is an experience with a real God. The problem we're running into is that neither liturgy nor casual, seeker friendly services can provide that. Our frustration is probably a good thing. Maybe it means that God is bringing us to a place where we are fed up with singing about Him, and talking about Him without experiencing Him. 

    I've heard over and over, and I believe it, that in the next decade or so we will see a revival, great awakening or whatever you want to call it that will radically change how we do church. Nobody seems to know exactly what that will look like, but most seem to agree that what it will most radically affect is our experience of God in the worship service.

    I'm not so sure that people are looking for mystery in their experience of God as much as they want reality in their experience of God. And power point presentations, kicking worship bands (which I enjoy very much), incense, the dramatics of the preacher, or lack thereof, are cheap imitations and often distractions of what we want the most out of our worship service, which is an experience of Him. 

    I would suspect that no marketing campaign, no conference of church leaders to address the problem, or no new strategy will solve this dilemma. It probably won't be very pretty either. What kind of branding strategy does this guy in Florida have with his arms and neck covered with tattoos, and his eyebrows pierced? But if you watch those meetings, the people in the congregation appear to be enjoying the worship service because they are connecting with the presence of God, and for all of us, that's what we're after in our heart of hearts. Maybe change will look like that. Maybe it will come in a form offensive to our normal church paradigm but will provide us with that connection to His presence that we are so hungry for. 

  7. This may be something for another thread, but I wonder if the sense of worship can adequately be captured, transmitted and entered into over the Television medium by the viewer given the dynamic of the presence of the Holy Spirit at work at that time, in that place and with a corporate presence of those involved.

    Perhaps the reason the preaching is focused upon by many ministries in their transmissions is a tacit recognition of this fact.

  8. Well, I'm the type who almost completely shuts down in a church setting like Phil describes in part because it's so remarkably foreign to my everyday existence. One of the commenters (Tova) on the previous "casual church" post mentioned that the real issue is whether or not God is truly being reverenced. I truly believe that's the ultimate issue. Do we hold Him in the place of highest esteem?

    As for "The Cool Church", that is remarkably asinine (sorry guys if you're reading this). The church needs a lot less "cool" and a lot more "authentic" and "transparent" but oh my gosh, there's no marketing plan, set of robes, bells or live band that can make that happen…

    Walrus, like you, I'm eagerly anticipating a Christian awakening in America that absolutely knocks the Church's socks off! I hope to God, it gets us out of our four-walled restraint systems we call churches and takes His praise and His glory into the streets and saturates every aspect of society!

  9. Dear t-hype,

    Great post!  As for what would knock a church’s socks off?  I’ve wondered if we tried, well, truth.

    What if a pastor came into a two-thousand member church and said, “How many of you… know the ‘how many of you’ question is used to control a crowd, to control YOU!”  We pastors have to stop that.  If I ask how many of you have been sick with a disease, then I say, ‘I’m here to tell you, GOD IS GOOD!”  This litany, dear congregation, can be repeated as a wile to gain audience control.  Pastors use it when they don’t have a sermon.  You can see Paula White do it on TV.  We have to repent of that cheap trick.

    And what if I say, ‘Say Amen!’  And then you reply, and I say, ‘You can do better than that!”  That also, dear congregation, is an audience control trick.  Then if I make you look up a dozen scriptures; if I say, ‘Turn to your neighbor and say such and such.’  It won’t be long before I’ve got complete control of your body, soul and spirit.  All these are cheap audience control tricks.  We need to repent of that, we leaders. 

    And we leaders learn a lot from TV ministries.  They teach us audience control techniques done big time at gatherings of 10,000 or even half a million.  We learn reality deception field projection from them!  We need to repent of that.

    Then, watch my spirit.  If I am strident, if my voice is weak, if I seem unconvincing of spirit…then, maybe my truth is out of line with the Bible.  If I speak with a weak spirit, a weak voice and a weak truth… then I dull the spiritual ears and eyes of you, the congregation.  We leaders have been doing this for, say, fifty years.  We need to repent of that.

    And we bring in fear every time we talk about eschatology, rapture and end times insanity.  It’s all fear based.  But fear sells well, so we use it.  But fear is not of God.  So we need to repent of that!

    Then, if something unusual happens.  Say the power goes out.  Is God in this?  We ALWAYS teach to never check on God real time.  NEVER!  If my wife locks the baby in her car parked right out front, we never check to see if God is telling us something.  NEVER!  Never do we practice that God is, well actually alive.  But God is alive!  So we need to repent of that also – of teaching by way of example, that we really believe God is dead and doesn’t speak to us through animal, mineral, plant, person and happening.  We REALLY need to repent of that.

    And then, dear congregation, occasionally we will tell you about a prophet.  We bring him in.  We use him or her for entertainment.  Only entertaining prophets will do.  Tell us the future!  That’s entertaining!  But it’s not biblical.  Prophets rebuke dummy leaders like me.  So we keep them away, FAR AWAY from church leadership!  Yup, we teach you, the congregation, to disbelieve all rebuking prophets.  Of course, in the bible that about all the REAL prophets did… was rebuke dummies like me, your leader.  So I REALLY need to repent of that.

    This list of repentance is quite long, actually.  But would God honor such humility in honoring truth?  If we awoke, would God awake in us?

  10. For me, personally, the music, the videos, the trappings – if you will – are the icing on the cake. What keeps me from returning to a church is when relationships are shallow. With the illness I have, I can be there regularly, involved, on-time, in the midst of what is going on, but then I disappear for days to weeks because I have a flare-up. I am amazed at how often I don't receive a call, a card, a note, or even an acknowledgment when I return that I was missed.

    For me, church is about God – first and foremost – but it is also about relationships. All the trappings in the world don't foster relationships. There is a study that shows a person will only stay in a church for a long time if they have formed 7 strong relationships.

    I attended a great church here in Phoenix with a membership of 30,000 and all the technological extras you can imagine. However, in 6 months I was unable to form 1 relationship. People were just too busy.

    I don't think the problem lies in the casualness of the church. Jesus held church outside on a hill. I think it has to do with the motivation we have when we go to church. Why are we really there? For me I go 1) to meet and be in God's presence , 2) to build relationships with others, and 3) to be a vessel for God to use to minister to others.

    No matter how "good" a church is, if these things are missing, what does it matter if it is casual or liturgical. [Perhaps the reason the liturgical church is working is because everyone is working towards the same goal, with the same purpose and are on the same page. It creates a bonding if you will.]

    Another problem we have, I think, is we don't fix what is wrong within our church. We are so outside focused that we miss those within our "family" who are struggling financially, physically, emotionally, etc. What does that say to those outside? If we can't take care of our own and be a vessel of ministering to them, how can we affect positive change in those on the outside looking in?


  11. Great posts…..Richard, Christian, Breaklight, Walrus, Dominique…..and insight!

    "When we move aside and let the Holy Spirit have free reign."
    Sounds like the upper room of Acts. 

    "Churches want the look and the feel without the Holy Spirit, himself."  Good point, Richard.

    Ever been to a Catholic charismatic service?   They have the liturgy with the Holy Spirit.

    God "inhabits the praises of His people."  Spiritual hunger is what pulls at the heart of God…maybe we're too content and not hungry enough to pay the price to be in and experience His presence.  He "will draw nigh to us, if we will draw nigh to Him."  Perhaps that is what they did in the Welsh revival and now, Florida.  Visions of Heaven by H.A. Baker showed what hungry little boys in a China orphanage experienced when they set their sights on "seeking God."


  12. Phil, I’m currently reading and would recommend Warren Wiersbe’s book “Real Worship” to give some insight and clarification to the transcendance and myster to be found in worship.

  13. Obviously, God can work through the medium of television, whether live, recorded, real-time or delayed.  For us to think otherwise is placing limits on Him.  I think what you're referring to has a simpler explanation.  Like it or not, it's more a matter of copyright law and what a church can and cannot record and broadcast.  It's safer and easier to broadcast only a sermon, rather than music/worship as well.

  14. Unfortunately we have the same issues in Australian churches.  I say unfortunately because we seem to spend so much time arguing over the music/clothes/style/etc that we are distracted from our calling.

    The casualisation of church is partly a reflection of Western society.  I remember when I started working in corporations over 20 years ago there were very strict rules about business attire – one US firm I worked for even prohibited women wearing pant suits to work.  Now we see people wearing collared tshirts with suits and having casual attire policies for days depending on client meetings.

    Recently I have been having conversations with various people from many church backgrounds about issues surrounding how much we appeal to the unchurched through our services' music and structure.  There is a wide spread of opinions matching this blog.  More and more I am convinced that we should not be matching the unchurched but showing them something different – even sacred.  This does not mean incense and robes but a real connection and reconciliation to God through Christ.  Too often I find the reason churches are becoming more casual is their belief they need to appeal to unchurched people.  Where is the room for God to work in them?

    Also can we all try to stop copying each other?   As someone said earlier there should be a church for everyone.

Leave a Reply

Back to top button
IS IT TIME TO CHANGE YOUR MINISTRY OR NONPROFIT’S NAME? Enter your email and get the free download “7 Signs It May Be Time to Change Your Name” now!
Thanks for signing up. Please check your email for a download link.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker