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4 'Copycat Sins' Churches Commit in Worship

Look, I’m not beating up on anyone, and certainly, imitation is the highest form of flattery, but what are we thinking? At the same time, we are saying we want to reinvent ourselves stylistically, many of our churches are simply copying what they see elsewhere.

One might ask, “Well, how many ways are there to worship, huh?” 

“Hundreds, if not thousands,” would be a conservative answer. 

Yet Evangelicals resemble their mainline brethren whom they have often accused of drone-like repetition. Have we lost our expressive vertebrae? BTW..many times, one can see more innovation in so-called liturgical churches than their “cooler” counterparts. 

Here are four ways our “copy and paste” style of worship is killing our ability to thoroughly and lovingly investigate the claims of Christ and the proclamation of His Gospel. 

1. We’re starting to all look the same

I don’t want to speak for architects, but they must be going nuts when every church leader in America wants to look like the church where he/she just attended a conference. Do there really have to be “two identical screens on either side with anything that doesn’t look like a pulpit” somewhere in the middle? 

We like to think of our space as being sacred, but we’re still fairly hung up on the proclamation parts of our reverent time with God, as though that is the only thing that constitutes good worship. Essentially, we’re just turning out auditoria instead of unique and fascinating spaces in which to worship.

I can still remember the beginnings of the “post-mod” boom of the ’90s when proponents of change were hanging netting everywhere and splitting churches up into little cubicles to celebrate communion, contemplation, catharsis, and several other diverting and often profound worship activities. All this was accompanied by gobs and gobs of dripping wax.

Perhaps it was a little much, but at least it required and demonstrated some imagination!

 2. We copy programs and paradigms from each other as though they will fit our own unique culture perfectly

Several years ago, I asked a professional Christian counselor to give me some guidelines for advising people when they came for help or emotional support. What she said to me forever changed how I thought about the honor of talking with people. She said, “Tell the truth, keep it Christian, and never assume one size fits all.”

If God created all of us to be distinctive persons, why would He want us to attend indistinguishable institutions? Certainly, all those Acts 2 churches didn’t look the same. They just declared the same message and formed communities around that message.

3. Speak like another church 

Sermon stealing has become rather commonplace and is even encouraged by some gifted pastors who make their materials available for “theft.” 

That’s not the sin. The sin is that all our “church speak” is beginning to sound alike. The Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use. The average church service probably uses only a thousand…maybe. Why do we say the same things over and over (and over) again when trying to revere a peerless God?

4. Become just like another church

This might get a little personal. I’m a church musician who has visited hundreds of churches over the past few years, and I find this formula a little disturbing…

Opening worship x 6 songs = 3 songs nobody’s ever heard.

Liturgical church leaders who are stuck on 20 hymns in a 52-week year are not much better off. 

Conclusion: Copying the success of another church can save us time, money, the pain of failure, and hassle, but one might ask, at what price?  

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Doug Lawrence is an internationally recognized speaker, author, and advisor, who helps churches assess and improve their skillfulness in creating engaging worship experiences. In 2007 he founded and continues to serve as CEO of Speaking as a Performing Art, a firm which coaches leading executives and their teams and includes pastors from across the country. Doug co-authored GPS for Success, published in 2011, with Stephen Covey and others. You may reach him at dlawrenceconsult@mac.com.