Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Value of Community and Participation

I have had a growing conviction in recent years regarding the importance of participation in community worship. I find it interesting that, depending on whom you speak with, there are sharp disagreements regarding how we can best foster participation specifically within the singing portions of the service. Some say that people participate most enthusiastically when the music is loud and they can no longer hear themselves. In this setting they will be far less concerned about what other people are doing or singing, far less insecure about singing out, and consequently they will be far more likely to participate freely. The problem with this view is that it tends to be a bit individualistic (i.e. if we can be loud enough as to drown out everyone else around you, you will be more confident in your participation and have a better experience). Another view proposes that the key to musical participation is a room with live acoustics and soft instrumentation so that you can hear everyone else in the room singing with you. This view tends to have a strong emphasis on the communal experience with little regard for the integrity of the contemporary musical genre, which is highly dependant upon a louder rhythm driven sound mix.

Though I am sure a debate on these views would make for a lively comment string, I would like to focus on the unifying factor in both views, namely that all sides desire for people to participate wholeheartedly in community worship. All this to say that you would be hard pressed to find any music leader in a church who would prefer that people sit with lips sealed during a time of community singing. Now, if we agree that participation is an important goal of community worship then we can begin asking questions like “why is community worship more ‘special’ than individual worship?”

In the technological age we live, this is an especially interesting question to ask. Our people should leave our services having experienced musical worship and teaching that can’t be matched by what they can download in a podcast or view on their high-def TV. Why is this? Well, mainly because there should be a dynamic and beauty experienced in community that cannot be matched individually. Robert Rayburn explains:
When there are a number of worshipers present, there is a participation in worship which is more intense than is the individual passion of any one of them when he is by himself. It is common knowledge that a mob is more cruel than any individual in it would be by himself. Symphony is more intense than that of a single music lover sitting by himself listening to the same music. God has so created man that there are deeper delights and more intense inspiration in the worshiping congregation than in individual devotion.
If we believe the value of community as portrayed here by Raybum and modeled in the New Testament church, then we should all have a passion for participation. In response to this passion we should care more deeply about creating a context that encourages participation and intensifies the community experience. In light of a present re-design of our mission, vision, and values at Parkview I am beginning to consider myself as much a Pastor of Community Development as a Pastor of Music and Worship. How will this elevated value effect services at Parkview? Only time will tell. One thing for sure, if we are all truly serious about the value of community in corporate worship, then we should take a second look at how to elevate this value in every aspect of our programming, implementation, and evaluation of community worship.


Greg Mazunik said...

Fantastic thoughts, Scooter. The question still remains: How do we practically achieve this community participation? Any first-level thoughts? I'll be mulling this one over today and giving my two cents a bit later.

Jim Coates said...


Like Greg, I think it best for me to sit down with this and give it some thought.

I think from first glance that we need to be careful and consider the various layers within this context which might include: community, outreach, emotion, personal preference, etc.

Lots to think about.