Leaps toward Liturgy
Something wild is happening in the population of young adults in America. It isn't an interest in the most extraordinary speakers. It's not a desire to consume the best worship songs. It's not even a change in how they think.
There has been a huge leap toward liturgy in the young adult population of America.
For decades, churches have been getting bigger, louder, and shinier. It has attracted millions to find a relationship with Jesus and has been a straight-up movement of God. But something new is stirring in the hearts of young whipper snappers nationwide. They are looking less towards loud and shiny and more respectful and meaningful.
I first noticed this in my group of college-age kids in Utah. I learned something new as I got to know them and started hearing what was on their minds and hearts. They didn't have the desire to have an "experience" at church but, across the board, wanted a deep and meaningful relationship with God and others. They didn't want God to be a friend but a savior and a Lord. They wanted to see God in light of his power because it was his power that gave them grace and mercy from the cross.
This got me thinking that maybe what keeps young people in the church isn't accessibility. It isn't "I can do this because it's like everything else I know," but rather the acknowledgment that God is something wholly "other." Worshipping him is not just singing songs. Reading the Bible is not just reading a book. Listening to a sermon is not hearing a speech. Instead, these young people want to see the transcendental nature of God and are learning to do so through liturgy.
Liturgy is currently defined as a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted. If I were to dumb it down, it means a church service is built to be engaged with by the public, not just watched and experienced. It's the difference between musicians playing a song while people watch in the seats and singing hymns from a book we all have. One is built for the entire congregation to sing, while the other is meant to be watched as outsiders.
Actor Shia LaBeouf has had a pretty crazy life. Now 36 years old, he's had many of the big, shiny things in life due to his fame as an actor and movie star. He had wild success after Even Stevens and the Transformers movie but went to a pretty dark place with drugs, alcohol, and other issues. In a lengthy interview, he describes the preparation for a new role where he plays a monk. It was during this preparation that God drew Shia to himself.
He had started reading the Bible for the role, and it became something else entirely. Shia recounts that Mel Gibson had introduced him to Latin Mass in the Catholic church. However, it was the liturgy of this service that captured his full attention. He describes it as "being let in on a secret." This starkly contrasted with other religious services that "felt like they were trying to sell [him] something."
The difference between a Latin Mass that is high on reverence, respect, and structure led Shia to full-blown catholicism. Regardless of his faith journey and the merits it may or may not have, I do believe Shia Lebeouf represents a rising increase in a new definition of how churches could be structured to reach younger people.
While I don't think all church services need to be spoken in Latin or structured with hymns. I do believe that the world is full of bright and shiny things. We will never keep up if we try to keep pace with concerts and tik tok influencers. But I think we have something to offer that those places cannot. We can create a path for something genuinely transcendental. We can show how to access the supernaturality that is the triune God. So if we want to reach the next generation, we should remove some of the flashy plastic coatings from our church services and lean into the deep structure and reverence of the previous generations because flash won't reach where liturgy naturally flows.