The cultural event chosen for analysis was a worship service at one of the oldest Pentecostal churches in the country called World Changers Ministries. It is in Atlanta, and people know the Ministry for having strong Evangelical principles. As expected, the event took place on a Sunday; the 19th day of February.
This worship service was a unique representation of a rising social phenomenon in the Christian church today; that of spiritual entrepreneurship. Its high patronage reflects that the values inculcated in the church resonate with modern American culture.
Basic cultural facts
The worship service took place in a large church. It should be noted that the size of the congregation mattered because it shows that this is not a cultural event for a small minority. In fact, some people attend the event simply because they want to belong to such a large gathering of people.
Attendants feel that they ascribe to something momentous and that this must have an effect on their lives. The church stood out amongst other architectural features in the neighborhood because its parking lot was the busiest in that part of town. Most members of the congregation probably heard about the church from televisions, newspapers and other media sources.
This church had grown from a relatively small number to thousands in a relatively short time. Locals started talking about it, and this, in turn, drew the attention of the media. They in turn publicized the church for the pastor and thus increased attendance.
In fact, the person who presided over the service is a well known face in Christian circles; he is Pastor Creflo Dollar. The worship service was in a part of Atlanta that was easily accessible to highways and a highly visible geographical space. The location of the worship service has both geographical as well as cultural significance. It near the edge of a large city, because such places, are easily accessible and have less zoning restrictions.
Perhaps more importantly, the church is at the city’s edge because this area is ideal for the person the church intends to attract. Most of the attendants were well-educated and middle class. They may be perceived as capitalistic or consumer-oriented types as seen through the vast number of retail establishments in the area.
This church service began with a slow and quiet session of contemplation and prayer. In Pentecostal circles; that part of the event is the worship service.
Members were singing along to slow songs led by choir. These sessions would be interlaced with a series of personal prayer sessions by each member of the church. The worship leader (person in control of that aspect of the event) prompted us to “speak to the Lord”. He would also verbalize his own prayers as a way of directing the congregation.
The leader said things like “Thank you Lord for your mercy and your grace”, “We love you Jesus”, “There is none like you, Oh Great Jehovah”. At the end, of this session the worship-service leader then handed over the microphone to another member of the choir who would be in charge of the praise aspect.
This was one of the most invigorating parts of the service. Highly talented people led the congregation in singing fast-paced praise songs for the Creator. Most people danced, clapped and performed other acts of joy. The praise leader would repeat statements such as “Come on… Shout to the Lord”.
“Sing praises unto him, for he is good.”, “I want to see you dance for Jesus”. After the choir completed their mission, a member of the church’s pastoral team came to pray for offerings, make announcements, and invite the Pastor of the church. This ushered in the last and most significant aspect of the service; the sermon. The Pastor spoke about the importance of faith-led prosperity. He wore a meticulous black, three-piece suit. The speaker extensively quoted verses of the Bible to express his message.
Perhaps more importantly, he made his point using his personal experiences. He gave a highly-organized sermon having started with a thesis then some scriptural texts to support him, some personal examples and applications and finally a summary of what he had just talked about. People know Pastor Creflo Dollar for prosperity messages, and this service was not an exception. He believes that Christianity should not be synonymous to poverty as it is God’s desire for man to prosper both economically and spiritually.
In essence, this worship service was in accord with the congregation’s expectations. Most Evangelical ministries have similar sequences or patterns.
It is these features that make the Evangelical churches so appealing to the masses. They are engaging in almost all aspects of the service. Individuals should participate actively in each session. Even during the sermon, some members stood up to clap or appreciate what the pastor has said. From time to time, people would shout ‘Amen’ or ‘Halleluiah’ when the preacher said something profound.
Others would urge him on by saying “Common!” or “Oh Yes!”. In certain instances, the pastor himself would ask the congregation to clap or appreciate his message. At one time, he said “I know am preaching well. Can somebody hear me today?” and the church would respond by shouting and clapping.
The whole church service illustrated how ‘Charismatic’ this church was. The singing and prayers appeared to be quite radical and impassioned. Furthermore, the sermon illustrated that members of this church believed in firm Biblical principles. Their theological values reflected this quite accurately. However, the practicality of the messages also emphasized the fact that the service targeted modern church-goers.
This message was conservative, but easily understandable even to those Christians who rarely go to church. Nonetheless, one should not mistake the latter worship service for an easy-going event. Members of the church leadership often asserted that they symbolized a new generation as seen through their numbers. It was almost as if the leadership intended on impressing would-be attendants with their excellence.
The last aspect is the most outstanding feature of this worship service. The American population is leaning towards liberal views; therefore, a conventional approach to religion will not appeal to them. Evangelical churches such as the one I attended seek to offer something fresh and new to their attendants.
A teaching such as financial prosperity among Christians represents this new worldview. Another way to look at this worship service is in terms of the exceptional success of pastor. He is a classic case of spiritual entrepreneurship and encapsulates ideal American values of rising to prominence from nothing.
The church service signified a modern phenomenon that fits in with current, cultural realities. Individuals attend this church because it appeals to their personal, economic and social realities. This relevance is what explains the massive membership size in that service.