empower participation in worship

Liturgy is the work of the people! And one of the leading reasons churches add screens to their worship space is to increase participation. Len Wilson cites two arguments: the “big piece of paper defense,” in which providing big, projected text improves access for the elderly, and the “grandkid argument,” in which use of newer technologies captures the attention of younger people; these both deal with improving participation. But if we are serious about increasing participation, we first need to get clear about what we mean by “participation in worship.”

There is a spectrum here. One of the leaders I work with will often say, “It’s nice to see you participating in worship!” He means leading as a soloist or a lector. And he has a point: while the scripture is being read, the lector is the person most actively engaged in worshiping, with her body as she stands and speaks, her eyes on the page — and maybe connecting with individuals in the congregation — her mind interpreting the written words for effective speech… while the rest of congregation receives the fruit of her work.

Another leader, on the other end of the spectrum, wants to make sure that “people in the very back are still able to participate.” She means that they be able to see and hear what is happening. And she has a point, too. We connect with other humans during worship, not just with God. Jonathan Aigner (of Ponder Anew) has a piece about the foolishness of trying to “get alone with God” during corporate worship. The point of being together in corporate worship is to be. together.

And it’s hard to be together when we can’t see one another; we learned that from the megachurches, if we didn’t know it already. David Lee tells the story of the early days of megachurches, when the value of the energy created by large congregations joining together in songs and prayer was offset by the disconnect between the preacher and the people who “heard what was being said, but they could not visually connect with the person speaking.” Their solution was to trail-blaze the use of projected video, so that body language and facial expressions could carry to the very back.

So the question your team needs to answer for itself is: Where does “participation” fall on the spectrum between watching the actions of the worship leaders (on the one hand) and engaging mind and body in the actions of worship? I would err on the side of full mind-body engagement, what Jamie Brown calls “congregationalism,” over “performancism.” He has a whole, good series on the issue, which starts here (“Worship at a Crossroads”), so I don’t feel a need to reinvent his wheel.

Once you have your answer and you know what your goal really is, I have two articles for you: “give everyone a front-row seat” addresses ways of using projected live video to increase connection and focus without increasing anthropocentrism, and “encourage full engagement” looks at verbal and nonverbal ways of scaffolding physical participation in the liturgy. Let’s get to work.

original content on Liturgical Projection is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

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