Megachurches trading relevance for liturgical reverence?

“Old-school Catholic practices and traditions” are being increasingly used in American megachurches, reports America magazine (May 13). The article focuses on New Life Church in Colorado Springs, a prominent non-denominational megachurch that has recently embraced traditional liturgies as well as social justice work without evangelization. The church now recites the Nicene Creed and has communion at most of its services and locations. Members are taught about the liturgical calendar and the church has a home for homeless unwed mothers called Mary’s House. New Life concludes its services with a doxology—a hymn of praise to the Trinity—that most Catholics no longer use. Anna Keating writes that New Life is not alone in adopting more liturgical practices, as other megachurches, such as Matt Chandler’s Village Church in Texas, Willow Creek in Illinois, and Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, have made similar changes [see August 2017 RW on how, at the same time, Catholic parishes have been borrowing megachurch techniques].

Mars Hill now limits its special effects in its services, replacing them with an altar, a homemade wooden cross, and altar cloths that are changed to match the liturgical season. Epiphany Church in Fort Worth, Texas, uses incense and candles every week and selects its scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, with congregants reciting traditional responses like “The Word of the Lord” after such readings. The question is why megachurches, created for relevance to the non-churched, should be going down the liturgical path. Keating cites personal situations as partly leading to such changes. In New Life Church, a sexual scandal involving its leader, Ted Haggard, led to a rethinking of the need for relevance and the adoption of more traditional practices. She adds that the market- and niche-driven nature of megachurches has actually led to the adoption of such practices as alternatives to contemporary services. The downtown branch of New Life tends to attract people who feel burned out or turned off by services that do not emphasize theology and are seen as too shallow. Some of the changes have also originated in pastors’ “conversion” experiences to more liturgical Christianity, although Keating did not find many cases of megachurch pastors or members converting to Catholicism. She adds, however, that megachurch seeker services do serve as stepping-stones to more liturgical churches, such as Anglican, Presbyterian, and even Eastern Orthodox churches.