What Happened to Serious Worship Services?
One of the realities of American churches, is that many have tilted towards the lighter and chipper end of liturgy. By this I mean that they have lost much of the gravitas that has characterized historic Christian worship services. A gravitas that we need to get back to as part of our process in making disciples.
Several years ago, Thomas Bergler released a book that addresses this topic: The Juvenilization of American Christianity. Bergler is a professor at Huntington University in Indiana and also a church historian specializing in youth ministry. The book covers the American cultural shift in focus towards youth beginning in the 1930s to the present time. His narrative and analysis covers not only conservative evangelicals, but also the African-American church, mainline Protestants, and the Catholic Church. It’s an insightful and challenging book on several levels.
Bergler’s contention is this: Over the past 75+ years, the American Church has shifted its focus to “doing church” for a younger and younger crowd. This has come to define just about every aspect of how we do church. Consider these trends: pop worship music; “falling in love” with Jesus; wearing jeans (the more holes the better) and T-shirts to church; spiritual searching and church hopping; and seeker-sensitive worship services etc. These now commonplace elements of American church life all began as innovative ways to reach young people. Now they define how many churches operate, on all levels, in order to reach everyone. In his book, Bergler explores how this took place—it is a cultural shift that most conservative Bible-believing Christians are simply blind to.
On the bright side, Bergler traces the way in which focusing on youth has breathed new vitality into four major American church traditions: African American, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic. But, on the down side, Bergler shows how this juvenilization of churches has led to widespread spiritual immaturity, broken lives, consumerism, self-centeredness, and a feel-good faith. This has further resulted in a lack of intergenerational community and widespread theological ignorance. Bergler’s critique further offers constructive suggestions for taming juvenilization. It is definitely a book for leaders to consider as they continue to contextualize how to “do church” in North America. It also explains why many of our churches are not producing mature disciples of Jesus, but rather shallow, superficial converts at best.