Church for a changing culture: an introduction to alternative worship

1: What is alternative worship?

Alternative Worship is not a style, but an approach whose stylistic implications can be very various.

It is what happens when people reinvent church for themselves, in forms that fully reflect the people they are and the culture they live in. That's the people they really are and the culture they really live in, not sanitised Sunday-best versions!

It's an attempt to make spaces where people can be real, and relate honestly to God and one another without 'religious' masks or imposed forms of behaviour. In practice this involves a complete reappraisal of what a church service actually consists of - what it's for, how it's led, what kinds of things can happen, what kind of language is used, where people sit and what the space looks like.

Many people inside and outside the movement are dissatisfied with the term 'Alternative Worship'.

The phrase was originally inspired [in the early 1990s] by such things as 'alternative' music and 'alt.' forums on the internet, and was meant to suggest a similar off-mainstream semi-underground relationship with church. But many now think that the term serves to keep the movement in the margins. As Vaux say,

"Much of the mainstream church has labelled what we do 'alternative.' But we have no interest in being viewed as mainstream by an organisation that is itself so marginal. We are concerned with presenting our faith in a way that our culture would see as mainstream. We believe that this is in continuity with the way of Christ."

Another problem with the term 'Alternative Worship' is that it places the emphasis on only one aspect of being church, albeit the most public one. But how we worship grows out of who we think we are as Church, so any process of reinventing worship involves hard thought about what being the Body of Christ actually means, for us in our own place and time.

At present no other name for the movement has emerged which commands widespread consent. Terms such as 'emerging church' or 'postmodern church' cover a range of phenomena, not all of which are the now well-established thing called Alternative Worship, and these phrases have their own long-term shortcomings. So the name remains for the time being.

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