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sinjinsmythe
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« on: August 16, 2003, 05:15:18 PM »

Evangelical Extravaganza
Today's worshipers expect big budget performances.

BY DALE BUSS
Friday, August 15, 2003 12:01 a.m. EDT

It's August, which means, believe it or not, that First Baptist Church of Orlando is gearing up its yuletide worship extravaganza, "The Singing Christmas Trees." The staff and members of this populous church construct two five-story "trees" with hidden risers that hold a total of 350 singers, while an additional 200 people act and play instruments for the $250,000 production, which draws about 40,000 people during its annual eight-day run in December. That tally includes the handful of trombonists who fly in from England just to play.

Of course, "Trees" is going to have to be pretty spectacular to beat First Baptist's Easter-week production, "Portraits of Grace." That three-day affair features live "re-creations" of famous works of art and usually draws about 15,000 people. It culminates in worship services on Easter Sunday, when a 200-strong choir backs a dazzling presentation of soaring worship music featuring studio-level singers, graceful dancers, Hollywood-quality video clips and a march in which dozens of congregation members trace the aisles holding aloft colorful banners.

In the breathtaking finale, an actor portrays Christ at the Second Coming. Fifty feet above the stage, the huge Christ figure comes to life, aided by cloaked mechanical contraptions that allow his arms to support the sleeves of a 12-foot-long robe and optical illusions that add to the apparent enormousness, including a specially tilted stage and the use of small children in the roles of angels at his feet.
This is all a giant leap from the simple, guitar-strumming choruses that started the music revolution in evangelical Christianity more than a generation ago. The goal firmly remains using music to worship Christ. Yet church leaders say that today a high-quality performance ethic is necessary to draw "seekers" and, in many cases, to retain membership against a cultural backdrop that has been overtaken by fast-paced music videos, otherworldly movie special effects and other slick media concoctions. First Baptist has the special challenge of living up to the state-of-the-art entertainment a few miles down Interstate 4 at Disney World--and many of its Sunday performers do, in fact, take the stage at Disney attractions for a living.

"There's a standard of excellence that is set in this town, and we believe that the church should strive for our very best as well," says the Rev. Jeff Lawrence, worship and music pastor at First Baptist, which typically hosts about 2,500 worshipers at three services on a Sunday morning. "Our motto is that we believe God gave the arts to the church--and it's time that we begin to use the arts more effectively to exalt our God so that people will be touched and their lives affected."

Such a performance ethic also is in full swing at most other evangelical churches, especially large ones such as Kensington Community Church, which actually operates a live-arts academy on its 40-acre campus in Troy, Mich. In Munster, Ind., Family Christian Center has spent millions of dollars on video and sound systems and other production equipment to support Sunday-morning worship as well as periodic big-budget Christian musicals.

And at Willow Creek Community Church, the Barrington, Ill., "megachurch" that kicked off much of this trend nearly 30 years ago, top-notch music and drama at its main service is complemented by a ministry that draws about 1,500 twentysomethings who are attracted in part by "music that is a bit edgier," says the Rev. Gene Appel, associate pastor.
"We're not trying to compete with other media," he says. "But we want the people of our church body to feel comfortable bringing their spiritually seeking friends here. There is so much hanging in the balance for someone who's invited a friend to a service, and the friend may be looking for some excuse to say, 'That was second-rate.'"

With the passing of evangelical leadership from aging baby boomers, there are harbingers of a more laid-back approach. "Boomers tend to look at a church experience in terms of what kind of value they get out of it," says David Kinnaman, vice president of Barna Research Group, a Christian market-research organization in Ventura, Calif. Generations X and Y and even teenagers also have high expectations of their worship experience, he says, but "their expectations really center more around the authenticity of relationships and experience."

But right now, Mr. Lawrence is gearing up for the Christmas show. And he's doing so unapologetically. "It's not about us," he says. "It's for Him."

Mr. Buss is a journalist and author in Rochester Hills, Mich.
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Doubting Thomas
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« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2003, 06:02:56 PM »

Yep, I know all about "Singing Christmas Trees".  :-

The church where I am a member currently does this every year, but the performance is done in the food court of the local mall and not in the sanctuary.  Also the church in which I was raised still does the "Tree" every year, and it is "extravagant".  It's usually done on week nights and does draw big crowds.  I actually sang on the "Tree" when I was in the high school choir, and it was pretty cramped and hot with all those lights!  (A fellow choir member lost his lunch on the tree during that performance!  Lips Sealed )
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« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2003, 10:36:50 PM »

When the liturgy is thrown out, the pastor has to come up with something to keep the congregation awake and entertained. He becomes the Big Top Ringmaster or the Master of Ceremonies in a series of Sunday shows for the pew-sitting audience.

In liturgical churches the Christians participate in worship. Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist and is the center of all that happens.

I never feel sleepy in my Orthodox Church like I used to in the Southern Baptist Church.
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« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2003, 01:26:50 AM »

Generations X and Y and even teenagers also have high expectations of their worship experience...

 Roll Eyes  Don't the Fathers tell us not to have "experiences"?  Pretty sad.  Lord Have Mercy.
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Doubting Thomas
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« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2003, 07:55:51 AM »

When the liturgy is thrown out, the pastor has to come up with something to keep the congregation awake and entertained. He becomes the Big Top Ringmaster or the Master of Ceremonies in a series of Sunday shows for the pew-sitting audience.

In liturgical churches the Christians participate in worship. Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist and is the center of all that happens.

I never feel sleepy in my Orthodox Church like I used to in the Southern Baptist Church.

Well said.  I'm probably going to attend my second ever Orthodox service this weekend, so I've been practising my standing.  Wink
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« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2003, 08:53:35 AM »

When the liturgy is thrown out, the pastor has to come up with something to keep the congregation awake and entertained. He becomes the Big Top Ringmaster or the Master of Ceremonies in a series of Sunday shows for the pew-sitting audience.

In liturgical churches the Christians participate in worship. Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist and is the center of all that happens.

Well, that seems to depend a lot on the church. One of the good things about the 1979 American BCP is that it does actually get a lot of participation. On the other hand, I've been to rather a lot of Orthodox services where the only participants were the ministers and the choir (and I always insinuate myself in the choir so I can participate). And then there's the old RC practice of going to Mass and spending most of the service doing one's private devotions and ignoring the mass itself, for the most part. I've seen traces of that in some Orthodox services too.

Don't misunderstand me. Any time a broadcast of a service is an acceptable substitute for being there, there is definitely a problem. And particularly in black churches they are able to rise above this form and make it interactive-- communal-- in spite of itself. But I will never go back to doing church that way.
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« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2003, 09:15:44 AM »

When I was in high school my youth orchestra participated for four years in a secular Christmas tree at the local arts center.  Fun for a secular event, but severely lacking as a worship experience.  

They don't need to fly in trombonists from London, they can just call me up, I'll even give them a discount.  Smiley
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« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2003, 03:25:28 PM »

I grew up Southern Baptist and I can assure all of you that this article is telling the truth about the SBC "extravaganzas" and a their desire for "worship experiences" that  more resemble Vegas floor shows than historic Christian worship.  The priest who chrismated me (also a convert to Orthodoxy) called this the "Disneyfication" of Christianity.  My humble OCA parish, which I truly love and cherish, doesn't even put up so much as a Christmas tree at Christmas.  Just a few evergreen branches here and there and some poinsettas placed in various locations.  No pagents, no "productions", no singing Christmas bushes, just Vigil on the Eve of the Nativity, the traditional Slavic "Holy Supper" served at church for everyone, and Divine Liturgy on Christmas Day.
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« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2003, 06:13:28 PM »

Unfortunately, it isn't just the Baptists that do this--I seem to remember that this happens in many of the evangelical and charismatic churches as well.  Actually, as bad as it is at Christmas, I'm not sure that this isn't true at Easter even more these days.  It seems like the churches try to outdo each other to have the biggest Easter extravaganza with the most special effects.  In fact, one of the local Assemblies of God churches rents the Civic Center each Easter Sunday and puts on a huge extravaganza.

Doubting Thomas, if you can, try to go to Vigil services on Christmas Eve and to the Liturgy on Christmas morning.  In the Orthodox services, it's all there in the readings and the hymns.  The idea is that we actually participate in the Nativity.  It touches you because you are there experiencing it for yourself.  The same is definitely true of Holy Week.  As you go the services during the entire week, but especially from Thursday night on, it is as though you are there in all the events that happened--the Last Supper, the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection.  Even though, it is the same service everytime, it always has the same effect on you.  At least I hope so--I hope I never get jaded with the services even if I experience it 50 years.

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« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2003, 06:21:56 PM »

Thanks for the advice, Katherine.  Perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to attend those services you describe.  Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2003, 07:30:52 PM »

My former church, which is a large Calvary Chapel, puts on Christmas programs that are so worldly that you wonder who on earth they are trying to impress?  Dancing girls in skin-tight outfits, irreverent jokes, special effects, glorified "star" singers...  These Christmas Performances had a lot to do with me converting to Orthodoxy.  

-Xenia
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« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2003, 01:31:01 AM »

Quote
glorified "star" singers...

That's something I noticed even as a teenager in the Southern Baptist Church and the other Evangelical and Charismatic churches I visited: the cult of personality.

Like big ads that appeared in the local paper that read something like this: "Come see and hear DR. BILLY BOB talk about [size=1/4]Jesus Christ[/size]!

Athletes, singers, and Hollywood personalities are the "stars" of the Evangelical world, whether they've been Christians for 20 years or 2 days.

Yet we are accused of idolatry for venerating the saints!
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« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2003, 09:55:37 AM »


Athletes, singers, and Hollywood personalities are the "stars" of the Evangelical world, whether they've been Christians for 20 years or 2 days.

Yet we are accused of idolatry for venerating the saints!

Very good point.  Also it's not uncommon for the congregation to give visiting politicians a "round of applause" when they are introduced by the pastor.  Nor is it unusual on the Sunday near July 4th to honor members of the congregation who've served in the armed forces.  Why can't we honor those who've gone before us in the faith?
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« Reply #13 on: August 25, 2003, 02:32:08 PM »

I used to go to a nondenominational charismatic church (Glory to God for getting me out of there!!).  The last Christmas we were there, the "drama team" did a production of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with special songs like, "White Christmas", "Jingle Bells", etc.  The pastor mentioned that they didn't want to do anything "overly religious" because it might turn off visitors who just wanted to be entertained.  



Incidentally, how does one get rid of that llama photo?
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« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2003, 04:34:15 PM »


On the other hand, I've been to rather a lot of Orthodox services where the only participants were the ministers and the choir (and I always insinuate myself in the choir so I can participate). And then there's the old RC practice of going to Mass and spending most of the service doing one's private devotions and ignoring the mass itself, for the most part. I've seen traces of that in some Orthodox services too.

Were there any other people in attendance besides the clergy and choir?

It's impossible to be present at Divine Liturgy and not participate, well maybe if you're a visitor and unfamiliar. Some ways in which we participate are:
1. making the sign of the cross to every mention of the name of the Holy Trinity
2. adding our voice to every Lord Have Mercy and Amen
3. bowing to receive the blessing of peace
4. following the procession of the Holy Gospel, listening and receiving the Word of God read and preached
5. again following the procession of the Holy Gifts looking for opportunity to attach our prayers
6. and most of all partaking of the Holy Eucharist.

Thank God for the choir and the work they do, but I think the members sacrifice the experience of participating fully and deeply in the Divine Liturgy for the sake of good order for the services.

Some people do pray their prayer ropes during services but I think to help focus their minds on the liturgy rather than daydreaming, that would be my reason anyway.

As for the Evangelical Extravaganza, kinda funny coming from "Sola..." beliefs.
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« Reply #15 on: August 25, 2003, 04:52:46 PM »

Quote
The last Christmas we were there, the "drama team" did a production of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with special songs like, "White Christmas", "Jingle Bells", etc.  

I remember last Christmas season, going to our old Southern Baptist 'church' to see their Christmas Kantata.  It was one of those overproduced musical plays, but we wanted to go because my wife's step-dad was in a supporting role.  We both about died when halfway through the performance there was a scene that featured 'You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch' as the musical score.
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Justin Kissel
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« Reply #16 on: August 25, 2003, 05:06:40 PM »

Certainly the Orthodox participate... but going away from choirs would be nice, IMO. It reminds me of that Chesterton line about "someone being chosen to be the only one who sings in Church for the absurd reason that he can sing better." Who cares if the singing sounds good, if half the church is zoning out? Chesterton also says that pretty soon only one person will be able to laugh at all because he is the one that laughs best!
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« Reply #17 on: August 25, 2003, 08:00:07 PM »

We have a choir that leads the congregation, but all are encouraged to participate.  Sometimes things sound not so great, especially when I sing, other times one would swear that the voices are coming from heaven itself.  IMO, this is how is should be, the communion of the faithful lifing up their hearts and voices to the Lord.
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« Reply #18 on: August 25, 2003, 10:41:43 PM »

Oblio,

It's the same at my parish.  The people sing along with 75% of the music.  Since we don't use a great bulk of music, it's fairly easy to follow.  We use 3-4 litanies, 1-2 for each of the antiphons, 4 Beatitudes, 2 settings of the Lord's Prayer, etc.  We do have new variations, but for the most part those are festal music and not part of the fixed repetoire.
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« Reply #19 on: August 25, 2003, 11:40:12 PM »

Sounds about like our parish, we use Obikhod (sp ?) because it is easy.  If you attend regularly it is easy to keep up and stay reasonably in tune.  If the choir is on that week, everyone fills in nicely.
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« Reply #20 on: August 26, 2003, 12:33:44 AM »

In my Greek church, everyone tries to sing all the time, especially the older ladies in the front row, who know all the hymns by heart. They are our cue for when to stand as well.  

-Xenia
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« Reply #21 on: August 27, 2003, 12:24:52 PM »

Last night I was channel surfing the boob-tube and came across TBN, which is always interesting.

If one wants to see examples of religious extravaganzas, TBN is the place!

Has anyone ever heard of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia? Well, it was featured on TBN last night. Wow! What a huge church with a slick, professional-looking operation! It looked just like a major variety show. The congregation was dancing and jumping up and down to the throbbing beat of the pop music orchestra and singers.

If the Divine Liturgy is at one end of the worship spectrum, Hillsong is at the other (or out there in the ultraviolet range).

I think they have a web site, but I have not checked it out, so I won't  try to post a link to it.

I have seen some Evangelical extravaganzas in my time, but Hillsong's floored me.
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