What Do We Mean by "Vibrant" Worship?

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The other day, I was talking with someone about some former members of our church. I asked her why they don't come to our church anymore. "Oh, you know," she said, "They like vibrant worship and all that." I nodded, because I knew what she was trying to say. And yet, I didn't like the implication that our worship services can't be vibrant.

Part of the issue is how we use the word vibrant. For many people, I think this word has become synonymous with megachurch pageantry: the dynamic, colored lights, the body-pounding bass, the radio-ready praise band. And probably some sweating. But while I don’t have a problem with any of that, I’m not sure it’s the true definition of vibrant worship.

So how does the dictionary define vibrant? This is what Merriam-Webster says:

:having or showing great life, activity, and energy

: very bright and strong

of a sound : loud and powerful

Using that definition, I completely understand why so many of us associate this word with what goes on at Hillsong Church or North Point. In fact, vibrant is an apt description. Those services are full of life, activity and energy. They’re bright and strong, loud and powerful. Should that mean, though, that worship can’t be vibrant in a small church where most of the musicians are over forty, the drummer is fifteen, none of the singers is being paid, and the only sweating is from woefully inadequate ventilation? What if, let’s say, there’s a lot of organ and the sunlight in the sanctuary is so bright you can’t actually tell whether the lights are on? These are just completely made-up examples, but they could be real. And the people involved in these sorts of worship services, if they existed, would probably like to hope they have a chance at being vibrant.

Now, maybe some of you are thinking, “Relax, it’s just a word; don’t let it get to you.” I agree, and I’ll relax very soon. Before I can do that that, though, I need to stick up for the word vibrant because it’s a fantastic word. It expresses very effectively the essence of what worship should be. God is our lifeblood, our sustainer. When we worship him, we offer our hearts, minds, voices, and bodies to him. We give him our lives. That is a vibrant experience. Sometimes we come to God in joy and thanksgiving. Sometimes we do it in mourning. One of the most powerful worship experiences I’ve ever had was at a funeral; I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. If vibrant means giving back to God the life he has ignited in you, then I think it can happen in any type of service, of any style.

Vibrant worship is not simply sincere, however, and there will be times when worship is less than vibrant. I accept that it has happened at our church. But that’s why I think it’s so important to use this word correctly. When we meet as a church staff, we can evaluate whether we’re creating vibrant worship, i.e. worship that is full of life and energy. We can all agree on what we are hoping to be. If we use vibrant to mean only the feeling people get at a stadium concert, then it’s a just meaningless mark we’ll never hit. I don’t want it to be that.

What do you think? Do you equate vibrant to the megachurch experience? Or do you think of it as intense, energetic worship, regardless of the setting or style? Does your church (usually) have vibrant worship? Please share what this word means to you.

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We avoid "vibrant"  worship and prefer "high Church" Lutheran, Episcopal, or Catholic liturgical worship. We attend First Everett (WA) for the sermons and fellowship, not the music selections.

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Vibrant is not necessarily a well run/produced/whatever worship service - it can simply mean a service that is "full of energy and enthusiasm" (thank you Google). We could sing "The Church's One Foundation" with only an organ and singers and it could be vibrant and we could do the some with a "full band" and it could be dead. What comes to mind specifically are the times when we are in the Sunday morning service and it looks/sounds/feels like people could be dead when they are supposed to be aiding/leading the church in worship in some capacity. I recognize that there might be any number of reasons why the individual might look like they are in a food coma (including nerves), but it seems important that whoever is in a leadership position in a service, in whatever capacity, shows some life - preferably that they truly believe in what they are doing/saying/singing/praying/etc. I think this is why some churches assess their volunteers before they can participate in a service in a visible role. I understand that this can be exclusionist and generally may not be possible in smaller churches, but maybe it's something we need to consider more. And I know it requires all members of the body of Christ to build each other up.