I’ve visited mega (and giga) churches all over the country, and much like the big-box retailers I’m feeling a stale sameness. Is there really much difference between Home Depot and Lowe’s, and is there really much difference between megachurch “A” in Georgia and megachurch “B” in Texas?
They all seem to follow the same script: 3 songs and a sermon, and that sermon is the centerpiece of the service. Music is a perfunctory prelude to a topical talk of current events, humor and anecdotes. One megachurch worship leader told me they actually discourage worship from happening – I’m assuming he meant the Spirit may start working and time would have to be subtracted from that all important sermon (plus, when you’re in a multisite format, every song must be planned to the second.) Another megachurch worship leader bemoaned to me the fact that lately they had only been singing 2 or 3 songs a week as the famous pastor had been wanting to preach longer than usual.
Seacoast Church in Charleston, SC is one famous megachurch that tries to buck those stereotypes. They were at the forefront of the multisite explosion a few years ago and have been a model for other ministries to follow. Their website lists 12 franchises of the Seacoast brand as well as a web broadcast.
I don’t use the word “franchise” as a criticism – much like a big box retailer or restaurant franchises itself with the intent to spread their way of doing things to potential customers, so a church may want to ensure their particular methodology is followed in the churches they plant.
Seacoast is also one of the few, if only, famous megachurches to use liturgical elements with contemporary worship. Whenever I’ve attended a Seacoast service I’ve almost always felt like I’ve had a spiritual experience and not merely a cerebral one – I can’t say that about most megachurch visits. Sure, I might enjoy the sermon and music, but to speak in subjective terms, I don’t “feel God’s presence” and my heart isn’t “touched” at a formulaic megachurch.
I think I feel this way at a Seacoast service because they simply encourage worship. If you ask and expect God to show up, He might. Typically a Seacoast service begins with a song or two, then a welcome, announcements, sermon and a three song response time. The first one or two songs of the response time are usually reflective and the congregation is free to participate in several options: Communion, giving an offering, praying with a leader, lighting a candle and nailing a prayer request to a wooden cross. The final song is an upbeat way to conclude the service and send the congregation off.
Here’s the Seacoast service order from this past Sunday:
All Creation Sing (Joy to the World) – Fee
Love Has Won – Chalk/Abel
There Shall Be Showers of Blessing – Whittle/McGranahan
You Are With Me – Chalk/Lake
Strong to Rescue – Chalk/Lake
Pastor Greg Surrat referenced the old Gospel song “Showers of Blessing” in his sermon as Seacoast has been on a drive to spread goodwill throughout their communities with their “100,000 Gifts” campaign. They’re also donating their entire offering from the weekend to various ministry projects. Props to worship leader Martin Chalk for his worshipful rendition of “Showers of Blessing” – most hipster worship leaders wouldn’t be caught dead singing an old Gospel song but Seacoast isn’t afraid of blending the old with the new.
I love it when churches are writing their own music and several songs this week were from their new worship EP and written by Seacoast worship leaders. The EP was given to everyone in the congregation as a gift. I especially enjoyed You Are With Me – a nice ballad by Martin Chalk and Brandon Lake used in the response time.
I’d like to see megachurches across the country start following Seacoast’s lead and encourage more heartfelt worship in their services. People are hungering for more in these dark times and I’m afraid they aren’t getting it in typical contemporary services where more often than not, the worship leader is more concerned with his image than with the hearts of his congregation.