We attended to 4 different worship experiences while travelling.
I suppose I should get a hand slap for not remembering the content of the sermons. But there are things I pay very close attention to:
1. The flow of the service.
2. The leadership (pastoral, musical, logistic).
3. The technical production.
The first service was on a Sunday evening at a 4 year old church plant. This community renovated a closed-down United Methodist Church building. They inserted modern and artistic elements to a traditional space, incorporated some historical pieces, and added a hospitality room for folks to gather and connect before and after worship.
The service had a female worship leader which I thought was so cool. She was amazing.....as an entertainer. She was a gifted singer/piano player and a good band leader. But after the third song I realized that no one in the congregation was singing along. They were admiring her and enjoying her music - but not engaging. This is how I feel sometimes at the contemporary service at Resurrection. The worship leaders and ensembles are so talented and polished, it often keeps the congregation at arms length.
The production quality was above average. Sound and lighting were good. They needed some coaching on their graphics though. It looked like they were using "EasyWorship", a presentation software that is fairly limited. I'd rather just default back to PowerPoint, because there is no way to adjust the size of type in EasyWorship.
Overall the service was great. The pastor was engaging and the community seemed healthy and warm. This is refreshing for a United Methodist congregation.
The second service was in a large Southern Baptist sanctuary. There were 800+ college students and young adults in attendance. The worship leader was a good band leader and a decent congregation leader, but I was puzzled with the song choices. I guess it's because I work at Resurrection where we are so careful to choose lyrics that connect both with the religious and the non-religious, I thought the songs were extremely churchy and filled with Christian jargon. I couldn't focus on singing because I was trying to read all of the religious language from the perspective of a non-religious person. Also, there were 8-9 lines of text on each page. I prefer 3-4 lines on each page, so that the worshipper can take in the phrase they are singing, before moving onto the next. Lighting and graphics were tasteful.
The message was 45 minutes long, which would be sortof a beating, except the pastor was funny and had cool tattoos :). I was impressed with his careful adherence to scripture. His sermon was clear and focused - although he talked about his french bulldog way too much. It was obvious that students were excited to be there, because their greeter team had about 50 people.
The third experience was like nothing I have never seen before. It was a student led, non-denominational weekly gathering. There was no band. The worship leaders (4 people on stage) were leading to - - I kid you not, a hip hop worship mix. Sounds ultra cheesy, but actually it was so much of a rave-club-scene-Jesus-pep-rally experience, I left there wanting to drink a red bull and go street preaching.
*instead we went to a local bar to drink a beer.
It looked like someone gave a group of college students $400,000 and said, "Go buy lots of state of the art equipment and teach yourselves how to run it." They did a good job, but it was obvious that there was no direct leader for their production team (or any of their volunteer teams for that matter). It was rather chaotic.
Obviously this is not keeping people from plugging in; there were about 1000 college students and young adults at this service.
The fourth was a United Methodist campus ministry worship service. 30 people. 3 songs, a 16 minute talk, one more song and some announcements. The music was blah, the talk was blah, the announcements were blah, leadership was blah, production was blah.
Sadly, this is the state that most of our UM campus ministries. I like to call it "13th grade youth group". I'm could get out my soapbox. But instead I will end with this.
As a producer, I am thankful I had the opportunity to get outside of my work at Church of the Resurrection, and participate in other worship experiences in other cities and other denominations. It helps me see my work with fresh eyes. I return feeling thankful, inspired and ready to take it to the next level.