The aftermath of the Worship Wars

Since at least the 1980s (30 years ago!) churches have been at war over styles of worship. Books written, countless workshops and seminars conducted, thousands of surveys and polls, and we still aren't through. We were approached to write an article for Ministry Matters about the dangers of treating worship like a small group event (see We mentioned five common practices that can heighten a visitor's feeling of being an outsider in worship. The article received more comments both positive and negative, than anything we've written. It obviously struck deep for some, and revealed the fault lines which still move through the 21st century church. Another article appeared in August that  started a firestorm, at least for the United Methodists.  It was written by United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon with a frank appraisal of the small church, based on his observations of them. He began by quoting The Country Parson, by George Herbert :  "the most important qualities for the small church pastor are “patience” with pettiness and an ability to endure daily “mortification” at the hands of demanding parishioners".  By and large, our experiences mirror his, and admittedly are both anecdotal and subjective. Certainly a church of any size can be alive for Christ with passion, mission and outreach. The deal is, passion, mission and outreach are contagious; they tend to attract others. We suspect this is the real reason the qualities aren't found as often in the small church, because churches with these qualities don't stay small (unless there are other constrictions, e.g. geography). These ingredients are free gifts from the Holy Spirit to every church of any size. The tiniest rural faith community could be a powerful witness for Christ, but we see this too rarely. Instead we find the low grade depression talked about in last week's blog, as well as a strong sense that the problem lies outside of themselves: the town, their history, the denomination, etc. Nothing is more deadly for a church than self pity. In truth, thanks be to God, the church is never left to its own devices to grow and multiply. Instead, coded deep in the church's DNA are the gifted blueprints for growth and vitality:  exciting worship where Christ is proclaimed, people are engaged, generosity overflows, and the stranger is welcomed; hands on mission that not only changes the lives of those we touch, but we are transformed as well; plenty of small groups for prayer, study, and fellowship. Ideally, our outreach is so powerful, that those we seek to reach are drawn into Jesus' orbit. We plot our lives with theirs, so there is no longer the server and the served. Instead the Holy Spirit binds us together in one body, and the witness grows and grows. With so many of our churches being small, their fate is important to all of us.  What is your experience of the vitality of the small church?