Some people like some things. Some people like other things. It’s the nature of society.
Take church for example.
Recently I attended a conference held at a church here in town and quickly found myself a bit distracted. When I walked in, I couldn’t help but notice the large amount of stuff and things. There were rows of different lights affixed to large frameworks attached to the ceiling. Some seemed to point like spotlights while others looked like they had different colors that could shoot out when programmed. There were even lights that could turn and spin. All the lights were hooked into computers and could be controlled with complex software.
There were also lights on the stage. A big stage with many displays. The lights were there to focus on and highlight the many things. There were curtains and backdrops. In some places, were large columns and shiny objects. I’m not sure they served much of a purpose, but they did look striking. The lights could move and change color to add different ‘moods’ to the many things on the stage. They could shine a blue color to make things darker and more dramatic, or they could shine a brighter color to make things light and cheery.
In addition to the lights and things, were a large number of musical instruments. There were drums with electric cymbals and other computerized additions. All the drums and drum things were encased in a structure made of plexiglass. There were lights pointed at this structure as well. There were also several keyboards, guitars, and microphones. There were also some different platform kind of things. I think they were set up so the people playing the instruments knew where to stand. I believe that was needed so the computerized lights could be programmed to shine on the correct person standing in the correct spot.
In addition to the instruments, were many speakers of various sizes. There were really large speakers both on the stage and in front of the stage. There were also rows of speakers hanging from the ceiling, next to some of the rows of lights.
There was also a couple of things that I first thought were lights. But they were actually smoke machines. They would release a kind of dry ice mixture into the air when programmed to do so by computer. The smoke helped to make some of the beams of lights more visible when the house lights were turned off. Sometimes the smoky stuff from the machines would make the place smell a bit like cotton candy. The odor reminded me of the times I have been to the circus.
There were also very large screens on each side of the stage. Each screen filled most of the wall it was affixed to and each wall was very tall. The screens were set up high enough on the walls, so they were not blocked by the structures and displays on the stage. The screens were there to display images sent from very large projectors. The projectors hung from the ceiling, next to the lights and speakers.
There was also a large screen TV that was mounted onto a stand set on the stage. The stand was made to look like something bold and industrial and kind of looked like the scaffolding that was being used to hold the rows of lights, speakers and other things. Next to the large screen TV was a stand that looked like it there to hold notes and maybe a beverage. This stand also appeared to be lit, although I couldn’t tell if it was from lights attached to the stand itself, or lit up from some of the lights being pointed at it.
Toward the back of the stage was a table with many decorations on it. There were pretty art things and different fabrics crumpled up to look flowing, especially when the lights hit it. Among the decorations was a large cross, built from sheet metal. It was also looking kind of industrial and could appear to change color when hit by different lights.
As the conference, I was there for began, the presenter welcomed us all and then told us there would be a delay because they could not get his slide show to work properly.
As I looked at all of the things this church had, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of it was necessary. A quick internet search showed the typical cost of all of this equipment to be staggering. A price many churches budget to operate for an entire year.
Like I said, Some people like some things. Some people like other things.
For many people, this type of church is just what they are looking for. This particular church is doing well. They appear to be growing and expanding. They could soon be another mega church and I wish them the very best.
For me, I prefer something a bit more simplistic.
I really want Neighbors to be successful, but not like this.
I just couldn’t imagine, programming lights and smoke, and sounds and things in order to have church. I don’t think we would be the same church we are right now if everything was so planned out and automated.
Our song lyrics are put on some TV screens so people can sing along, but we don’t really do a lot during the singing. There is no big band with lights and smoke. Usually, it’s just a singer with a guitar.
Our messages are a bit more like conversations, so we don’t really need a special TV just for the pastor or big slide shows or videos. I really just tell stories from the bible and share some thoughts after praying for guidance from God.
We just don’t feel the need for a lot of bells, whistles and other shiny things.
I’m sure many people are quite comfortable with a lot of stuff in church. For me personally, I think I would feel a bit too showy. Like I was giving more of a performance. Like things were more about me and less about God. I don’t think I could have all the gizmos and still feel authentic. I don’t think I would be preaching as my honest self.
Whenever I find myself in a church like this one with all the stuff, I cannot help but find myself focusing on the stuff. I get caught up in the show and forget the message. And for me, the show is always temporary. By midweek, I can remember the lights, smoke, and loud noises, but I may not recall much else. I may retain the shallowness but lose the depth.
At Neighbors, we often use the phrase, “Deep and Simple.”
I first heard this phrase when I watched a documentary on Fred Rogers. The documentary was called “Mister Rogers & Me.” It was about an MTV producer meeting Mister Rogers. The producer, who worked in a business of large production values and shiny things, was inspired when Fred once said to him, “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”
Today our churches look quite different than it did when it was first getting off the ground. In these days people would often meet inside homes. They would gather together, sing some songs, tell the stories from the bible, share communion and share a meal. It was very simplistic, but also very deep.
Without the aid of high-tech equipment or other bells and whistles, the church gathered. The church invited. And the church grew. The people didn’t come for the show. They came to worship Jesus Christ and learn more about what it means to be Christian. They didn’t spend a lot of money on stuff. Instead, they often gave what they had to others. They supported the church to keep it going, and they supported people to keep them healthy.
I cannot say that Neighbors is as simple as the early church. As I mentioned, we do use TVs and we also use microphones. There are obviously other things about Neighbors that make us look different than the churches in the first century.
But the depth and simplicity of the earliest churches are what inspires Neighbors today.
We will always strive for a more simplistic approach to our worship. When one joins Neighbors for worship, they will sing some songs, listen to stories from the bible, share communion and at times, even share a meal.
There won’t be much more on the surface.
But I think one can experience something sincere.