I remember being so excited to hear our church band perform the song “Beautiful Day” by U2 at the beginning of our church service. They rehearsed midweek to prepare thoroughly. Nailing the song was important. The lighting was programmed. The haze machines filled to the brim. The sound was mixed to make an impact.
That Sunday morning, I arrived at the church bright and early, brimming with anticipation for that opening song. It was going to be epic.
And it was. Our attendees erupted with singing and applause—what a way to begin a service.
That Was 15 Years Ago.
That model—leveraging culture to connect with our community—worked beautifully at that time. Worked, as in past tense.
I fear it doesn’t work any longer. For one, high-quality music is available at our fingertips. I can hear or watch U2 perform every version of “Beautiful Day” on any platform, any time I want. I can see cover bands perform the song. I can watch other famous bands perform the song. And I didn’t even leave my phone.
But it’s more than that. Much, much more.
Church Services as an Alternative to Culture
I led a church during this season of ministry. Entertainment was a successful pathway to attracting people—especially the unchurched within our community. Most perceived church as dull, so leveraging culturally relevant connections like music to connect with the community worked. And it worked well!
But again, that was 15 years ago.
The world has changed dramatically. Culture has changed. And your community has changed, too. Fifteen years is a long time. Add our two-year pandemic accelerator, and 15 years feels like a lifetime ago.
Here’s what I’ve come to believe about people today:
In our overwhelmed, over-informed, and over-entertained lives, the last thing people crave from their church is more entertainment.
In the past, churches mimicked culture to engage the community.
Today, people need an alternative to culture. They desire something different. In a world full of distractions, what people need is space.
I recently heard that 15 minutes of Instagram scrolling exposes us to the amount of information our grandparents encountered in an entire month. Think about that. Our minds are not made for this much information. We are overwhelmed, but we’ve so normalized information overload that we can’t see another way forward.
Enter the church. Enter your church—specifically, your church service.
The New Opportunity in Your Church Service
Why does the band playing culturally relevant music to open church services no longer move the needle? Perhaps because we just can’t take any more noise and distraction.
Today’s in-person church gatherings need to be more counter to the culture, not comparable to the culture. We need to design church services that give God space in the hearts and lives of our attendees. Space to reflect. To process. To consider. To sit.
When’s the last time you sat quietly? I suspect it’s not a regular part of your daily life. Even if you’re better than most, I bet that you spend more time taking in than reflecting on. How long were you on Instagram today?
We are like Elijah standing at the mouth of the cave, trying to hear the voice of God. The wind, fire, and storms passed by, but God wasn’t to be found or heard in the noise. God spoke in the still, quiet whisper.
God still speaks in this fashion. Replace wind, fire, and storms with Instagram, Netflix, and billboards.
This is where your church can intervene as an alternative to the noise of culture.