And as I travel around Richland County, I keep seeing huge "worship centers"—most of them large metal buildings that resemble factories or aircraft hangers with names that suggest adventure and excitement (usually just a single verb) and signs that promise an electric worship experience.
So why am I (and so many like me) so interested in going back to churches in which the worship is planned in advance, in many cases hundreds of years in advance?
Those who have not spent much time in a Catholic, Lutheran, or Episcopalian church (at least three or four Sundays, and actually paying attention), often say that it's always the same old same old. Well, yes. We always say the Nicene Creed at the same point in the morning's schedule. And no, because we're working our way through the church year on a pre-planned three year cycle, so this Sunday's specific prayers and Scripture readings won't come back again until the seventh Sunday after Pentecost 2018.
One thing I noticed when I was in those less-formal churches was that we often got stuck in a rut. I remember one preacher (in another city) who spent several years working through the book of Romans. There are 65 other books in the Bible! Surely he could hit one of those! At another church I attended, we loved songs by Chris Tomlin. We sang at least two of them every Sunday (and sometimes we sang three or four). Singing the song through usually wasn't enough, so we would usually sing the song two or three times, sometimes going back over a favorite verse five or six times. Tomlin has written quite a number of songs, perhaps hundreds, but getting him every Sunday, with such intensity, made every worship service feel exactly the same. And our song leader didn't know hundreds of songs—it was more like a dozen.
Speaking personally, the repetition of a "praise-band" worship service finally got to me. I had to get away from a place where every Sunday was precisely like every other Sunday.
Another thing I had to get away from was the intense focus on how good worship services make the participant feel. So much of our singing and praying was about excited or comforted or reassured we were. There was very little about God himself, and certainly not much in detail about God. There was very little that resembled this old Episcopal hymn:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,Head Trip
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
It's very difficult to fall asleep in an Episcopal church. You stand up, sit down, cross yourself, say things at the appropriate moment, sing, shake hands with people, get in line to kneel at the altar rail, eat something, and drink something. It's a lot of work.
I used to tune out when I was only asked to stand to sing a couple of songs and "kneel in my heart" for prayer (which usually put me to sleep). There's a great C.S. Lewis quote from The Screwtape Letters, in which he refers to us as amphibians—half animal and half spirit. I love it when the liturgy engages my physical side as well as my mental side because that's who I am.