Cafeteria church

An acquaintance of mine often referred to a ‘Cafeteria’ approach to church. He considered this to be an attitude that ‘spiritual consumers’ adopt to church life, picking and choosing elements with which to engage, as if from a menu. He used the term disparagingly but, thinking about it, I wonder if there may be something to be said for a ‘cafeteria’ style of doing church.

As I see it, churches run on formulas, and a presumption of these formulas is that one size fits all. But one size does not fit all. In fact, one size fits only a few. And the size that fits someone one week may not fit them the next.

For example, my life experience and God experience over the last few weeks has seen a kind of ‘spiritual adrenaline’ flowing through my veins, making me want to praise God LOUD. I am in awe, I cannot comprehend the complexity of what I see Him doing. I am inspired by what I hear Him saying. Right now, I want to sing ‘The Happy Song’, I want to sing ‘Awesome God’, I want to sing ‘Holy’, I want to sing ‘My Glorious’, I want to sing ‘Forever’. And I want to sing them loud! I want to lose my inhibitions.

But when I read what I have just written, I notice something – the focus is on me. ‘I want to… ’ is the most used phrase. So am I making my worship to God about me? Am I looking for a feel-good factor? No, I don’t think so. I know what God has said to me, done for me, and it is in response to that that I feel this way.

So how, then, does a church accommodate me, given that there will be another in the congregation who seeks intimacy and gentleness, who God has touched in such a way that they seek contemplative worship? Should it even try? Is, rather, the responsibility of those leading worship to take a broader, corporate view? Is there always to be an unreconciled tension between the hearts of individuals and the collective heart of the fellowship?

Some people have a personality that engages in worship immediately, others need to be drawn out. I fall into the latter category. So the style of music, the vitality and the intimacy are important to me – they help me lose my inhibitions and connect. But is this still selfish on my part? Should I be able to connect irrespective of musical style? Am I putting my desires ahead of God?

Should we hop around fellowships from week to week according to our mood? No, I think that would be destructive, but should we have alternatives? Should we be able to select the ‘vibrant’ option with a side order of ‘challenging’ preaching? Should we construct a model of church that embraces and respects a diversity of approaches, rather than one which demands conformity? One which is based on releasing and enabling a passion for Jesus in all who come through the door?

I have ideas, but no answers. I have frustrations, but no release. But I also have a promise, and so I press on.