So, this past semester, I started an evening Vespers service at my church. Let’s just say it did not take off in a blaze of fire. We had a handful of people there most weeks with a week or two that say two handfuls of people come in. Largely, the worship service I sought to create and lead can be characterized as contemplative and liturgical. It was a quiet service in which I wanted to form a space in which people could encounter God, for people to set aside the busyness of their lives for 45 minutes or so and rest in the grace of God. This would be accomplished through the singing of a few hymns, an opening poem or call to worship, the reading of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments), a short homily, a period of reflection, and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It really all sounded like a superb idea when it all started. And for the people who attended, it was a worshipful experience. But our purpose in it was to reach out to the immediate neighborhood. What went wrong?
I have wrestled with this question for quite some time now, both in my own mind but also with those who attended the service and other pastors in the area. I mentioned the commitment issue a few days ago which is probably one of the factors at work here. Leading up to the formation of this service, I spent a number of months talking to people who had either left the church or moved out here in the past couple years and had still not found a church. I wanted to know what they wanted/needed in a church. Although nobody explicitly stated they wanted a quiet, contemplative, liturgical service, I did sense (or so I thought) a deep yearning for rest in the lives of people. And thus, this worship service grew out of those conversations. Herein lies the problem however: we did not offer people what they wanted in a church but rather what we thought was most needed in their lives for spiritual development. And it flopped. People seemed willing to engage it once or twice but not consistently. This is the tension the church currently faces and will continue to face: do we give people what they want out of church or what they need (something that only the church can offer them . . . the church truly acting as the manifestation of the servant of God, Jesus Christ)?