UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Worship that connects

By Samantha Rideout

The smartphone is infiltrating every part of daily life, from restaurants to the classroom. Is it time for it to enter the sanctuary, too?

Allowing worshippers to message with others during the service might give people the ability to share their prayers beyond the church walls, ask questions and clarify their understanding.

Be that as it may, 62 percent of survey respondents would prefer that mobile devices stay switched off throughout the service. “It closes you up at a time when it’s important to be open to the Spirit,” says survey respondent Sandra Price, 72, of Skidegate United on Haida Gwaii, B.C. “If I’m sitting next to you in service and you’re typing away on your phone, you’re far away. I want community; that’s part of why I go to church. I don’t think the kind of connections that we’re looking to achieve during worship can be filtered through a screen.”

Other worship innovations suggested by the survey were better received: most respondents are open to offering worship on days other than Sunday, for example, or providing more opportunities to experience God’s presence. And a majority are at least somewhat willing to try out less formal orders of service, as Knox-Metropolitan United in Edmonton did over the five Sundays of Lent last spring. At youth minister Camille Kamphuis’s suggestion, the traditional service temporarily gave way to a dramatic telling of a scriptural story. The congregation was then divided into intergenerational “learning circles,” where worshippers could either study Christian history, watch and discuss a film, take part in some gentle yoga, make a craft or discuss food issues while cooking a tasty dish. Each morning wrapped up with everyone coming together again for announcements, prayer and lunch.

“What took me by surprise was the energy and willingness of the congregation to try the idea,” says Kamphuis. A post-Easter evaluation revealed that 90 percent of the church people would happily repeat the experience.

Everyone has their specific preferences — the blend of music, prayer, activities and ritual that moves or inspires them — but overall, survey respondents envision the worship service of 2025 as a mix of old and new (with a minority 32 percent hoping for a completely new type of experience). Many would also like worship to blend explicitly religious content with other types of material — instrumental compositions, say, or wisdom from great novels. At the same time, two-thirds want to preserve the current level of emphasis on the basics, namely the Bible, the sacraments and the symbols of Christianity.

Given that most respondents consider worship a very important part of congregational life, a surprising number are open to the possibility of replacing it with outreach activities. One quarter are “somewhat comfortable” with the idea; another quarter, “very comfortable.”

Some congregations have already switched their emphasis. A few years ago, Knox-St. Paul’s United in Cornwall, Ont., was going through a rough time, having lost its building due to unstable ground. The shrinking congregation felt compelled to deliberate over its mission, starting with the question “What’s the purpose of us, anyway?”

“Our vision is a city where no one journeys alone,” says the resulting statement. “It’s a big vision. We can’t do it. But we know God finds a way where there is no way. So we dream big!” So far, the congregation has partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Cornwall Interfaith Partnership, and Bereaved Families of Cornwall to help bring companionship to people in need. The minister, Rev. Don Wachenschwanz, says the congregation’s primary orientation is now outward, into the community. “Worship is still there, but it’s there to inspire, strengthen and motivate us so that we can continue with our mission.”

And this mission doesn’t include recruiting new Sunday worshippers. “What it means to belong to Knox-St. Paul’s United is becoming a question,” he says. “Because we don’t just want to minister to people, but minister with them. So if you’re involved in the ministry but not in worship, are you a member?” An insightful question for the future church.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image