Transcendent means beyond or above ordinary experience. Immanent means close to ordinary experience.
Mainline churches emphasized a transcendent experience that is very different from normal work life happening in buildings different from ordinary (sanctuaries with stained glass windows) and in special clothing (gowns and Sunday-best) with organ music. Sunday was to be a weekly uplifting experience, fondly remembered by older Christians. In a word, transcendent worship is “formal.” It is highly structured.
Younger Christians today look for immanent experiences closely related to their normal daily life. They are comfortable meeting in buildings that have other uses. In our case, we meet for contemporary worship in a large gym with basketball hoops that are folded up out of the way for worship. Many congregations meet in sections of a mall. Clothing is casual, including that of the leader. Music is with guitars and drums, much like what they hear in popular music. “Informal” is a very appropriate summary of the style.
These two attitudes often conflict in a congregation that has both styles, even when the sanctuary service continues as it was. Some of our older members still call the gym service with a praise band a “hootenanny.” These are two different church cultures. Those in the older culture can easily be offended with attempts to start a new culture, with conflict almost inevitable. The old-timers feel no longer appreciated. When Royal Redeemer started the new culture in 1990, we lost an organist, an associate pastor and a handful of members.
I witnessed the beginning of the new that year. It wasn’t very good. As I told the pastor, I wouldn’t come back for that. It took five years to become a decently moving experience. It took fifteen years, including a change of staff, to get really good. It’s like learning a new language because it is a new and different culture.
Over the years of teaching new member classes, I would ask what attracted them to Royal Redeemer. By far, the word used was the informality of the services. We have settled into the pattern of about two-thirds of the attendees in the contemporary service and one third in the traditional.
Managing the transition from one church culture to two takes wise, trustworthy leadership. Senior Pastor Jim Martin had established trust through his previous eight years of loving ministry before starting the change. He was in place for 32 years during growth of staff (from 10 to 90) and fundraising for and planning eight million dollars of capital improvements. He raised the money, and as Administrative Pastor, I got to spend it. Those were great years. I am deeply indebted to Jim for finding a role for me.
Our main topic is experiencing the Holy Spirit. Such feelings are associated with “trigger” symbols and relationships. Transcendent worship pulls all sorts of triggers for spiritual experiences. For worshipers raised in traditional churches, the gowns, building symbols, the order of service and hymns bring association from their past. If those are good feelings, they come back for more. Often they cannot verbalize why. Many become very protective of the symbols that mean so much to them in their relationship to God.
Transitioning from an old to a new church culture inevitably raises the problem of the second and third generations. The old triggers don’t work for them as much anymore. They may have found the old culture boring and have no positive or even have negative associations they are trying to escape. When they feel the need to tend to their relationship with God, they naturally look for and gravitate to the kinds of worship young adults their age from a similar social culture are experiencing.
What is the future for traditional worship? Not good. Face it. That old culture is dying. Those young adults without a traditional background are often attracted to it on rebound from their experiences in Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Many are in Lutheran seminaries, resisting any change to what they have learned to value. They are not being taught even basic skills for leading and preaching in contemporary worship. What is the future for those seminaries? Not good.