.::From Postmodernity to Participatory

I came across this powerful quote today:

“The shift from postmodernity to participatory culture means people find their identity through what they create as opposed to maybe what they consume. … Our churches are still structured in such a way that we do it to them, not inviting them to create worship with us. So, if that’s the case, there’s really no space for people who’ve been formed by our participatory culture in our churches.”

–Ryan Bolger, Fuller Seminary

In other words, what Bolger is saying is that if you are under 45, there really is no room for you in church.  In much of my research about adolescents, culture, technology and worship, there is an overwhelming pile of truth to this statement.  We have heard the sayings, “Church is what you are, not what you do.”  “You can’t go to church ’cause the church is you.”  Bolger is advocating that we invite people IN to worship.  Reggie Joiner says we need to stop being cruise directors that entertain our clientele and start becoming adventure guides that expect people to join in the journey.

What Bolger is advocating for, and I think he has hit a resounding chord of truth, is that we need to be less performance driven in our corporate worship and more invitational active.  Instead of letting people be passive spectators, we much call them to be active participants.  They cannot warm a pew for an hour to and hour and a half on a Sunday.

The picture we get in Acts 2 is a picture of EVERYONE participating in worship.  So I started thinking, “What if?”  What if we started a participatory worship culture in our traditionally spectator/consumer churches?  I am just spitballing here so bear with me:

  • What if? Instead of a sermon, we had 20 minutes of lectio divina and then had a roaming microphone to let people share what they heard in the passage?
  • What if? Instead of one person praying for everyone in the room, that one person moderated a time where people break into groups of 3 and 4 and pray FOR and WITH each other?
  • What might communion that is participatory look like?
  • How about singing and song leading?  What if we let go of that and handed it back to the people? (radical . . . I know)
  • What if instead of sitting in a room for an hour and a half one Sunday, we all meet together for 5 mins and then go serve in our communities as our worship and BE Jesus to our neighbors?
  • What if we all read the morning scripture out loud at the same time (in different translations)?
  • What if offering was also an open mike time where people talked about how they would offer their lives up to their neighbors, co workers, teammates, classmates, etc. that week?
  • What if INSTEAD of taking an offering, we called people to take what they were about to give and use it in their world to make a difference that week ? (Now I’m just being crazy)
Can you imagine the stories this could/could make?
Can imagine what you would learn from our teens as we watched them participate?
What would our teens learn from their parents as they watched them participate?
Can you see how messy this would be?  How many angry e-mails would people send?
Can you see all the lessons on patience and forbearance we would learn? (or need to learn?)
How much fun and frustration would this cause?
What would bother you the most in all of this?
I get that these ideas might just make some people go nuclear.  But I also get that it is going to take some churches a nuclear explosion to actually begin being the church God has called them to be in their neighborhoods.
Imagine the ownership people would begin to take in the Kingdom of God!

This would be FUN!

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8 Responses to “.::From Postmodernity to Participatory”

  1. I know two churches who started doing several of the things you listed in their Sunday morning assemblies. These are churches that are in rapid decline, unable to meet budget, and are on the verge of closing. It may not be connected to new practices, but I believe that imposing small group, mutual edification activities on a large group might be connected to the decline.

    On the other hand, I think it is great when the practices you mentioned are engaged in small groups in intimate settings (like the home). In that case, the environment and group size is conducive to the activity and goal.

  2. By the way, this is a great question!

  3. Brandon,
    Great to see you on the Blogosphere. I would be curious if it was a cause and effect situation in the churches you speak of. I still contend that the right thing to do is the right thing to do. I know what I present here gets really, really messy and uncomfortable for many.

    I like your ideas of large group and small group settings…I wonder how do you get people into small group who ONLY go to large group? I do think there is the need to model what ought to happen in a small group setting in the large group in order to just set an expectation or help build a culture of participation. Just thinking out loud.

  4. Thanks! Been following you for a while. I have only been running the youth ministry blog since March.

    [I wonder how do you get people into small group who ONLY go to large group?]

    Invite them. Lead them. And make sure the small groups are healthy.

    Beltway Park in Abilene is a church that is oozing with members of the “participatory” crowd. One year I interviewed 25 ACU students for internships and about 60% of them were going to Beltway. They consistently named two reasons why they go, 1) the sermon is helpful and 2) they love their small group. North Point in Atlanta does very well with the “participatory” group but is very specific about crafting appropriate environments for some of the activities you listed.

    Congregations do the kinds of things you are suggesting, and the growing ones create specific environments where these activities can be successful.

    Big environments invite participation of the crowd, just not interpersonal participation. No college student walks away from a concert saying “I didn’t feel like I was able to create something there. My favorite band just treats me like a consumer.” Instead they walk away feeling like they are part of a bigger experience that was done with excellence.

    I think you are definitely talking about good stuff. It’s not a matter of should you invite participation or not. It’s a matter of when and how.

  5. Walter,
    Great question and great heart. Here’s my thought:
    Large groups function as large groups. Small groups function as small groups.

    Treating a large group like a small group will ensure the large group becomes a small group. Treating a small group like a large group is equally harmful.

    I believe we must lead people into small group communities in order to experience the mutual ministry component. We cannot be satisfied with people only experiencing the large group, but at the same time we can acknowledge and accentuate the good things that happen in those larger settings. Community and mutual ministry will be found naturally in the smaller groups.

  6. When I was pastoring I tried just about every one of your “what if’s”. I didn’t have a term for it then and have been trying to grasp what could be coming down the river…”Participatory” hmm…that would might be overused, but I am in sync with the sentiment.

    Thanks for sharing it to me through Twitter.

  7. […] From Postmodernity to Participatory  by Dr. Walter Surdacki of 15 Degrees Off Centre […]

  8. Wow, I wish that 526 baht was still about 8 quid 😦 I hope one day it can be again! But still Ceatrnl Chitlom food court is a great place to eat that is still good value!

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