Improving church services

June 25, 2007 | 24 comments

I attend church services at the Church of Christ, Scientist, which has hundreds of branches around the world, and I’ve heard it frequently complained by visitors that these services could use some more life.

Now, I will be the first to admit that Christian Science makes strong demands on one’s spiritual sense. It is not a sensual religion that grabs the human emotions with high-rolling sensual thrills that lift one to ecstatic highs. Quite to the contrary. It is a profoundly metaphysical teaching that requires one to quiet the physical senses and tune-in to the depths of Spirit where spiritual reality is revealed.

But, then again, it seems to me, that a service focused on ultimate reality should be the most mentally engaging activity of one’s week.

My local branch church recently decided to take a new approach to sponsoring our church services. We’re using the model from the Book of Acts as our guide.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were swept away by the Holy Spirit into an experience beyond any event they could have ever humanly orchestrated on their own. The effect was the beginning of the Christian church. Thousands of people were converted to this new teaching at a time.

It was not through committee appointments, by-laws, or any institutional mandate that the Christian movement took off. The disciples were of one accord, and when they had finally quieted material sense sufficiently to allow the Christ to take over, the Christ dominated their thinking, their actions, their lives, and BOOM, the church was off and running at full speed.

As our little society group here in Richland thought about letting the Holy Spirit take over our approach to sponsoring services, and not letting time-honored tradition hold us back, a number of ideas surfaced that we might try. And we tried a couple of them this week. They are not a big deal, but a start, and they worked well.

For example, we thought about the motive and purpose of taking collection. We agreed that it wasn’t money that kept a church going, but the inspiration people gained from participating in the church services. So, right before the collection, the First Reader said to the congregation, “This is when we take collection, but we’d like to first open the meeting for you to offer briefly any inspirational idea you gained from hearing the lesson.”

Several people spontaneously shared a short inspiration that had come to them while listening to the lesson. It was great! For any who are tempted to doze during the sermon, it was a vivid reminder that when you pay attention, the bounty is immense!

In as much as the Church Manual outlines an order of service that we are to follow, we’re starting to see immense room for flexibility in that order of service.

For example, the Manual does not stipulate a Bible translation to be used. Yesterday, our First Reader read out of the New King James Version for the Scriptural selection. The Manual does not say where the benediction has to come from. The Reader pulled a beautiful benediction from an article in the Christian Science Sentinel. Hymns can be used from anywhere,–that fit the theology of Christian Science,–and there are many sources. Contemporary solos can add a great amount of life to the service. The time for announcements is rich with opportunity to bring added dimension and possibility to the meeting. As my 13 year old son commented, “We should show short videos on how people’s lives have been changed by Christian Science!” It was a spontaneous observation from an unbiased youngster.

In bringing new life to our services, one must start with the source of all life to begin with–Mind! We can’t start with the outward and work back to the spiritual. We must start with the spiritual, and let the inspiration of Spirit transform the outward.

It’s heartening to remember that there are no limits in Mind, which means there are no limits on possibilities for the Holy Spirit to bring life to our services. It’s needed. It has to happen. It’s a requirement that must be met to conform to the true spirit of Christian Science, which is Truth-Alive here on earth today! Truth is active, animated, vibrant, Spirit-filled, and any activity professing to Truth must likewise evidence such realities.

As we truly let the Spirit guide us, and not allow ourselves to be bound and shackled by outdated practices, human opinion and limited views, our services can break open with the Spirit and carry people away into Truth like never before.

Any ideas of your own??

24 thoughts on “Improving church services”

  1. This is the kind of thinking needed if our movement is to survive. There seems to be a “stuck in the mud” attitude in many of our churches ( I have attended dozens around the country over the years). It is so refreshing to see a “waking up” to what mortal mind has been attempting to do with our organizational structure that we can’t see the forest for the trees. I just read a fascinating book called Warped Passages by Lisa Randall which talks about dimensions and the mathematical predictions that they exist. (if only she read Science and Health and learned abut the spiritual dimension!!) The book also delves into matter and how modern physicists view it as thought as opposed to material “stuff”. Anyway it got me thinking how cool it would be to tie something like this into a discussion on last week’s lesson. Good Idea’s-thanks for sharing.

  2. It’s important to get the congregation more involved — make the service more interactive, much like you’ve done with the sharing at collection time. For instance, the Responsive Reading could be read aloud by the congregation divided in two segments, like men/ women, left side/right side,and only led by a reader. Same goes for the scientific statement of being, the correlative passage, the Rule for Motives and Acts. Words to these last three can be printed out and pasted in the fly leaves of the hymnals. And speaking of hymns…believe it or not, there have been some very good hymns written since 1933. Pity that Mrs. Eddy’s charge to keep the periodicals “up to date” doesn’t often extend to CS church services!

  3. Great ideas! Service and the lesson so presented makes one feel included. I especially like including the audience in the scientific statement of being and the correlative passage because I have for years personally spoken them silently along with the readers.

  4. Hi Everyone!

    What I’ve always wanted to see in a C.S. church service is someone DANCING the Solo. I’m a Dancer and I can dance “O Gentle Presence”! To me, Dance is just as much of a way to express spirituality as singing. I used to be in a group called “Sweat Your Prayers”!! I’m in a little society in Sandpoint, ID and have just been appointed REading Room Librarian. I’m into throwing out a lot of old stuff and trying to spruce the place up. The church is darling, but has a very old feel. We need to get the Reading Room out into the Community!!
    Bev Newsham
    [email protected]

  5. Did anybody hear the solo at the Mother Church in Boston on Annual Meeting sunday? (It was on line at tfccs,com for 24 hrs afterward). It was fantastic! It was called We Are Singing For The Lord Is Our Light” based on the South African freedom song “Siyahamba”. It was performed for voice, organ, djembe drum, and shaker. An incredibly joyous experience. Too bad if you missed it….

  6. I am very sorry some of your ideas weren’t in operation in my local CS church when I first started attending 16 years ago. If they had been perhaps I would have continued going. In the end I found the service to be very 19th century and gender exclusive to the point of being offensive. It wasn’t about the message; the message was enlivening. But the packing and the message were at odds for the late 20th century.

  7. Re translations.

    Eddy doesn’t even use the term “King James” in her published writings. KJ was the most used Bible in her day, so it was logical to use it in the CS services as well.

    Today few churches use KJ anymore. Mostly just conservative Christians — and us.

    Wonderful forward steps for your Society!

  8. Hey — how about this. I just heard tonight about a CS Society in a rural western state that found out there was a lot of interest in CS in a small town about 80 or so miles away so they are planning to take their service on the road one sunday and have it in that town so those interested can come. How cool is that idea.

  9. This is so exciting! As a life-long CS, I can still feel the old conservative thought about changing anything if it’s not okay in the Manual. This is so limiting, and it’s no wonder our churches have smaller congregations than in previous times. I attended a regional Board of Directors meeting this past weekend and they also talked about the services and making them more interesting to today’s attendees, including using other bible translations. This is great! We have so much to offer to the world — we just need to reach them. Thanks again Evan for this wonderful, inspiring blog. love to all, peggy

  10. Hi Evan,

    I’ll chip in a few items too.

    How about adding an adult Sunday School/discussion group for an hour either before or after the service, with a twenty minute (or so) break in-between for fellowship and visiting? This could be for the purpose of reinforcing the practical application of the Sunday’s lesson, and for getting to know each other better as a church family.

    I am aware the Manual doesn’t allow for a kitchen in churches, but maybe some paper cups, tea bags and hot water might be acceptable for refreshment. Both the adult SS class and the time for visiting would, hopefully, be an attraction to newcomers, plus it would be a time for older students of CS to share themselves with guests in a church setting where a spiritual focus on life is encouraged.

    As for music: I recall hearing some excellent arraignments of “Abide with me” and “In heavenly love abiding” on a few old tapes of CS radio programs. I’m thinking old tapes, like the 1995-97 era tapes. Good singers and good guitar playing – like one might expect to hear in a coffee house setting, or even in a charismatic church. I think more of this kind of music might attract and keep younger visitors long enough to allow for the planting and watering of seeds of new spiritual understanding.

  11. I have often wondered what Mary Baker Eddy would think if she were here today looking at the state of our churches. I bet she would have been progressive and very ashamed to see it go on as it does. Conservative thought just seems to kill the movement. It’s so scared to do anything different or new because it is a “deviation” from the Manual. I have found many Christian Science churches very cold and uninspiring, with nothing to offer that can’t be gained by reading the lesson at home during the week. I have also seen curious visitors come… and never come back. There is no provision in the Manual for fellowship, but it doesn’t say we can’t have fellowship. Many new seekers are yearning for a way to connect and meet others, and it is very difficult to do in our churches where you just come and go after the service.
    I’m grateful for any forward progression, some revolutionary steps to revitalize our message and invigorate our movement. Stagnant mortal thought needs some shaking!

  12. Now I will submit this sounds kinda crazy but if you start to really look around, you see evidence of Christian Science everywhere. Take a great modern day hym that rocks- The Scorpions “Send me an Angel” is totally in our wheelhouse for what the actual lyrics say. We cranked it out Sat. nights at Principia and I bet if you played it in Church, (or with the present rules-a society) you’d rock the place with some new insight. I’m totally serious- As Mrs. Eddy says “Right is Radical” Their is so much more out there that would get the people thinking. Keep up the ideas!!! This isn’t your grandparents CS!!!!! Oh, and to all above, Mrs. Eddy didn’t attend church much except to give an address, that should tell you something. Christian Science is for the world, everyday and we are “under the constant pressure to come out and be separate”. fellowship IS a big part of that so maybe starting a society is the best way to go-schedule talks, get some real discussion going-healings and shed the old dogmas. Evan, thanks for getting the word out.

  13. Hey, I love this! Keep the new ideas coming. This is great!

    I’m going to check out the Scorpion album. I know there are appropriate contemporary songs and lyrics out there, but finding them is a challenge for some of us. If anyone else knows of some cool songs and lyrics written for our times, please let the rest of us know!

  14. I have always been so grateful for the tremendous freedom that the Manual gives us and these ideas are wonderful inspirations. Some of the conservatism mentioned is really about how the Manual provisions are interpreted–it helps to read it and see what it actually says–and others are simply traditions that have emerged.

    As for not having food, does it actually say that in the Manual? I don’t think so.

    We have had light refreshments (cake/cookies and punch) after chuch on a couple of special occasions (e.g. Christmas time) and it has given us a nice opportunity to enjoy others who came to the service. I doubt that I would do it every week, but it so far has seemed right to do it on occasion.

    Thanks, Evan, for this blog and for those who have shared ideas.

  15. Hi, Evan.

    I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while, and feel that this was a good time to comment. 🙂

    I was raised in CS, and very much agree with an earlier poster about having some sort of discussion before/after/in the middle of the services.

    The thing is, we don’t live in a society that really sits and focuses on one task anymore. We’re a multi-tasking society, and we can see this in a lot of the megachurches. They have a sermon that takes a Bible verse or story and then gives some insight into it. They also have live music and sketches and dances, because of how society changes. Now, should CS churches become just like that? No.

    But what we need to realize is the state of society. If it’s not geared towards our types of services, then what is going to appeal to a person who first walks in? It’s not something they can just ‘jump’ into, but would need time to gradually grow accostom to that. Our services don’t have that type of growth, it’s almost an all-or-nothing approach (which is required in CS, yes). Even if we keep the Sunday services the same, maybe CS should look into having a more contemporary service later on Sundays, or during the week — to get people in and latch onto that ‘spark’ and then help it grow.

  16. Did you know that the early lecturers (Bicknell Young, Martha Wilcox, Ed Kimball et al) spoke to up to 9000 people in their talks- I know you have done many, many lectures over the years and I really enjoyed the one you gave in our town. The problem is, it and the articles to the periodicals follow a formula that says “keep it light” I have recently purchased many of the “old stuff” from the Bookmark and every writer has there own unique way of interpreting Mrs. Eddy and Christ Jesus. The foundation is there, it is just that if the writer was a former Rev. he talked more of the Bible. My point is that we have lost what it is to be a Christian Scientist. It happened after Jesus ascended and by the 3rd century his teachings were diluted to the point of ineffectiveness. I became a member of the Mother Church at 12, got a degree from Prin and have been through class and am a recent practitioner. Only as I got away from the dogma of the Church did I realize what a wonderful gift this Science is. I still am a Mother Church member and support it prayerfully and financially however our movement is at a crossroads and Mrs. Eddy herself said CS could be lost for a time. This blog has been a seed of powerful thought to get us in the right direction. It is obvious many feel as you do. I pray daily for the light to shine a little more in Boston that we can go out of the nine dots without being punished etc. Oh, I’m the Scorpion dude and I’ll send you the lyrics. You might have to substitue a word but I had a wonderful healing recently from it so it doesn’t always have to be something from the 19 the century.

  17. Someone above wrote: “In the end I found the service to be very … gender exclusive to the point of being offensive.”

    Can you explain what you are referring to specifically?

    I ask, because the concept of Father-Mother God and the fact that CS was founded by a woman were two of the reasons I came back after many years away. My parents were CS when I was little, but they joined a Southern Baptist church when I was about 9 or 10. I spent many years trying to stifle the urge to storm out of the choir loft in the middle of church as preacher after preacher tried to convince me that God was not only unquestionably male, but also insufferably misogynistic.

    Aside from Mrs. Eddy’s use of the word “man” to describe humanity (which she repeatedly says is NOT meant to denote gender) and a couple of lines in the Marriage chapter that basically reflect the sociopolitical circumstances of the time, I couldn’t find anything “gender exclusive” about anything I’ve encountered in CS.

  18. The grown-up CSers’ yearning for Adult Sunday School always delights me. Reading the BLS using “My Bible Lesson” (ostensibly for kids) is one way to satisfy that need. I call it 1st Ch of Christ, Boogie. I love the non-KJV translations (“study the *scriptures*” -Man 83:21) and MyBibleLesson’s frank acknowledgement that at least 30 words per week need translation for the BLS reader. So we at long last get footnotes. (Hmmm — maybe the Glossary concept was there all along.)

    But how long ’til we’ll have a new English translation of S&H? Germany’s had two rounds of translation so far, and now the ever-evolving English language has passed S&H by. Add its antique language to the lovely but 400-yr-old KJ Bible and we get what is trending toward: a Latin Mass. Imagine where the language and interactivity will be in 10 years, 50, 100!

    I can hear the Purity Police sirens already Evan — be careful, man.

  19. Here are the lyrics to the Scorpion song “Send me an Angel.” “Wisemen said just walk this way, to the dawn of the night.” “The wind will blow into your face as the years pass you by ” “Here this voice from deep inside, it’s the call of your heart” “Close your eyes and you will find there’s a doubt of the dark.” “Here I am, will you send me an angel” “Here I am, in the land of the morning star.” 2nd verse: “Wisemen said, just find your place in the eye of the storm, seek the roses along the way, just beware of the thorns” “Here I am, will you send me an angel” “Here I am, in the land of the morning star” 3rd verse: “Wisemen said just raise your hand and reach out for the spell (Student Ref. Dic. from 1848-Spell-Sax. a story or narration, speech, report, or song. Hence gospel, Sax. god-spell) “Find the door to the promised land, just believe in yourself” “Here the voice from deep inside, it’s the call of your heart” “Close your eyes and you will find the way out of the dark” “Here I am, will you send me an angel” Refrain. A scientific translation for a sunday school class would be cool, with all the spiritual def. of wind, heart, eyes, wisemen, storm, angel, morning, etc. For me it signifies prayer, going into the closest, quieting the senses and listening for God’s “report” through his angels. I have had some great healings from this and plus, as an old rocker, the Scorpions are classic! Much love.

  20. Hey, thanks for sharing the lyrics. I’m always looking for new ways to present old (established?) ideas…

  21. Dear Evan and all,

    This blog is so interesting, and I’d like to add something innovative that I’ve recently started participating in. I live in a foreign country where there are no branch churches, no reading rooms, and, to my knowledge, no other Christian Scientists in the city where I live. Ever since The Mother Church began broadcasting their services over the Internet I’ve been an avid “attendee.” Having these services available in this way has meant so very much to me, I can’t begin to explain.

    Recently, through a friend, I learned about a branch society in California that is using conference calls over the telephone to enable callers from anywhere in the U.S. to hear the Sunday service live. Since it would be very expensive for me to call in from where I live, the society purchased a laptop computer, and I’m now able to listen to and sometimes (when the connection is good) view the Sunday service using Skype software, a computer-to-computer connection. THIS IS SUCH A COOL EXPERIENCE!! I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this opportunity to feel closer to God together with friends, to realize that the Weekly Bible Lesson is more than just reading, reading, and more reading–it’s about fellowship and caring for the whole word. Last I heard, it’s called LOVE. And Love’s outreach has always been global–we just need to understand that better. Global love would make any church service come alive!

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