Michael Moynagh and Tim Lomax have written a very interesting Grove booklet on Liquid Worship. Taking their cue from Pete Ward's book of the same title, the authors outline strong theological and practical reasons for adopting a more liquid approach to our gatherings.
By liquid they mean that worship services are created around a series of zones that participants visit in an order of their choosing. The group might come together for some activities - such as communion or coffee - but by and large each individual chooses their way through the zones and how long they stay in each zone.
'Liquid worship...has the potential to create an entirely new framework for worship,' they say. 'By giving individuals choice, it moves away from top-down worship. Worship is no longer 'done to' the individual, with worshippers standing, sitting , kneeling as they are told. Worshippers have to decide actively what route to follow through the zones.'
But liquid worship is not entirely 'democratic'. The leaders of the service establish the zones. 'A dialogue can occur between personal choice and best practice in worship.'
The authors suggest that increased participation by worshippers offers greater opportunity for transformation of both individuals and communities.
I'm reading this because we're about to embark on a series of cafe-style services - one a month between now and July. We're aiming to tackle tough issues - Make Poverty History is our first topic - through a mixture of drama, music, video and discussion. We will set the agenda by introducing the topic but the 'worshippers' will determine how we tackle the topic through their questions and comments.
In a real sense the body of the congregation will determine what is said from the front. So this is a liquid approach to a service where we are all stay together in a single zone. I know where I want to end up but I'm not sure where we'll go along the way or what we'll discover.
One of our challenges - shared with every church in the UK, I suspect - is put succinctly by Moynagh and Lomax: 'the challenge is no longer to create community among people who enjoy doing the same things together at the same time, as in traditional worship, but to build community among individuals who are very different.' These differences are not just about age but taste and expectation, life experience and preferred learning style.
I also think thay are about attention span. Some people can concentrate for long periods - hence the sermon. Others can't - hence the glazed look that comes over the front row five minutes into a twenty minute talk! Liquid worship works with different length attention spans in a way that, hopefully, enables them to engage throughout our whole time together.
We're hoping cafe-style church will help us bring people together while recognising that people learn in different ways and are looking for different things out of our gatherings. I'll keep you posted.