Some aspects of church gatherings are related to the group’s size.
Pacing. As a musician, I notice musical elements pretty much wherever I am. The tempos of worship and prayer songs stood out to me recently: when songs are sung 30-50% too slowly, the music’s character seems lifeless; the mood may be compromised, if not the intended effect. In large a cappella churches, at least, tempos almost always end up too slow, because it’s really difficult to move a mammoth. Other activities may also be on the slow side, too, but mostly, I think it’s the corporately active ones — namely, singing.
Where are you now? When someone visits a large church with which there have been past associations, there are some notable, if common, experiences. Recently, for instance, several people have asked me, “So, where are you now?” This simple question comes out of historical relationship and also grows out of the one side’s dizziness at all the folks who return to their big-church sanctuaries/auditoriums at one time or another.
The relational reconnectings have their charm, and they do point up some good aspects of Christianity, horizontally speaking. However, speaking as one who returns to roots, not as one who generally stays close to the tree, I tend to be distracted by the prospect of recognizing, and being recognized by, old friends — to the point of hardly being able to concentrate on the person I’ve already found — because my glances are always darting around for the next person! For me, this is one of the hazards of visiting in a large church where people return, seasonally, for this or that reason.
Ushering. Another occurrence in a large church is ushering. Now, there are many good people in churches serving as ushers. Periodically, some handicapped folks do need help getting in and out of the building, and in overflow situations, the usher is the guy who coaxes the latecomers to the front, where seats are still available. For me, though, the ushering enterprise represents officialness and big business. Instead of facilitating seating and such, for edification and worship, the usher makes me think I’m in a corporate meeting, subject to official protocols.
Attendance counts. Ushering and the “So, where are you now?” question both have their redeeming qualities. In my estimation, worse than either of the above is counting. Hovering and scanning the pews while the assembly is in progress, counting people in the pews, for the sake of the corporate records, has long been a bother for me. I don’t complete attendance cards of any sort, whether I’m a visitor or a regular. I figure, my need not to be a cog in a corporate-church wheel eclipses any real need the church has to know that one more person was present and accounted for.
Call me a curmudgeon for feeling this way, but I can’t conscientiously support the concern of church officials over numbers, amounts, and surface-level trends. These are not what church is to be about.
Addendum: after this blog was posted, I recalled something else I’ve noticed. In a large church, there seems sometimes to be an undue emphasis on the “lineup” of public leaders.
- Pete Peterson will have our song service. (All but the name is verbatim here. What is it to “have” a song service? And what is a “song service”? What odd lingo….)
- Our first prayer will be by John Johnson.
- Our scripture will be read by Thor Thorson.
- Our prayer before the sermon will be by Jack Jackson.
- And our sermon will be by Evangelist Joseph Josephson.
- Our announcements were by yours truly (is this the player/coach?), Rich Richardson.
And I ask you these questions:
- For those present who didn’t know every person in the lineup already, did they really care?
- For those present who did know, did they need to hear the names? Why? So they could say, “Oh, good. I love it with Brother Jackson leads prayer” — focusing on the leader and not the throne of God? Or maybe so they could say, “Oh, shoot. That Brother Thorson always stumbles. Why do they get him to read?” And that begs another question, but I’ll save that for another time.