The Pendulum Swings-Worship Trends

The pendulum swings.  What is in one season is out the next, and then before you know it, it is back again.  This is so true of cycles in worship ministry as well.  Hymns are out, worship choruses are in. . .then hymns come back and choruses are out.  The sermon is a methodical preaching of a chapter at a time through a book of the Bible, and then it is a topical sermon on how to eliminate stress in your life, and them back to the Bible again.  If there is an area of ministry that has felt this pendulum swing the most profoundly it would have to be drama in worship.  Whereas music and sermons are a given (it just changes format), drama it seems is either “in” or “out.”  There doesn’t appear to be any half measures. . .well, except it is always “good for the kids,” so it will often be found in Sunday School, even if not in the sanctuary.

There are several factors that contribute to this.  If you look at the history of theater in the church, it has always been in one season and out the next.  Historically drama has its roots in the church; the very first plays were religious plays.  But drama has a way of saying things–sometimes too effectively–and runs the risk of offending, so out it goes. Drama ministry also seems to center around the passion of a few individuals.  If you have such people in your church, you might have a drama ministry but if those people don’t exist, or leave, so goes the drama ministry.  Unlike music ministry, there will probably not be an all-out search for the next drama ministry leader.

Sadly, I have to say that drama seems to be on the “out” again, this time not for being too amateur or too edgy, but for being too time-consuming and inconvenient.  Live actors have been replaced by media.  Countless churches that had effective drama ministries are no more.  A few clicks on the computer and you can download a video that can be played in seconds.  The quality can be as good as Hollywood, and slipping it into a worship service seamless.  I wrote more about this in my blog, The First Church of YouTube.

But before we do the proverbial “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” let’s revisit the benefits of doing live drama in worship.

  • Drama has immediacy and energy to it that you cannot get from video.  The sense, when done well, of being “in the moment.”  Connecting to an audience in a way that no other media can touch.
  • Jesus told stories – parables – to get his point across.  Drama does much the same thing.  And doing this live makes it very personal.
  • We live in a culture of entertainment; it is the language of our culture.  Drama is entertaining and entertainment is not a bad thing.  We all like to be entertained.  We may not want to admit it, but the worship services at most churches are well planned.  The pastor wants the service to hold the attention of the congregation.  The best sermons are sprinkled with humor and stories.  Why?  Because if it entertains us, it holds our attention. (For more on entertainment in the church see Redeeming Entertainment.)
  • There is a lot of drama in the various elements of worship.  Consider communion, baptism, responsive readings, etc.  These and many other parts of worship have drama all their own.
  • Drama is visual.  People remember more of what they see than what they hear.
  • Drama has the unique ability to tap into our emotions and our intellect at the same time, and this is especially effective because the audience member will identify and connect with a certain character being portrayed on stage.
  • While the Gospel doesn’t change, our culture does.  We (the church) need to find effective ways to minister to our culture without compromising the truth of the Gospel. In this regard drama is made to order!
  • It provides a place of service and ministry to those who have talent in this area. If the church does not provide a place for this artistic energy to be used, then rest assured those who have a passion for the performing arts will find another outlet for it.

For me, this last point is perhaps the biggest tragedy. The church needs to be a breeding place for the arts.  Not just music, but all art.  Many have chosen to sacrifice good art for the sake of expediency.  Speaking for myself, I would probably not be an actor today if it were not for the encouragement and experiences that I had doing my first church dramas as a kid.  I encourage you to develop a worship ministry strategy that includes a variety of artistic expression:  music, drama, dance, painting, sculpture and more.  All of these can be wonderful expressions of worship to our Creative God.

Chuck Neighbors