Once upon a time when I was a teenager the more opulent amongst my parent's friends had a 35-mil camera which hung around one's neck like a trophy of excellence with the most astonishing configurations to set up the perfect pic.
Today a better pixel quality photograph is available in digital form from your mobile phone kept in your top pocked.
Consider these changes in your car: Car keys (many new cars have keyless systems); Street directories (GPS or mobile phone systems); Lever handbrakes (press button); rear-view mirrors (rear video cameras); Lap belts (full shoulder); Window winders (press button); Radio tuner dials (Digital).
Likewise the Christian church and the dynamic changes that have taken place in much of the Australian Christian scene due to the influence of Pentecostalism over the past 60 years.
This is a short list of some of these influences that has come upon many of the churches.
Twenty minutes was about the maximum a preacher would dare to speak in a sermon, but in Pentecostalism, it is rare to find any preacher who doesn't take something around an hour to get the message across.
The sermon starts conversationally
The beginning of this one-hour time slot is generally in conversation with the parishioners. Informality is the order of the occasion, mentioning some incident that happened or is to happen, a personal encounter with someone. This could take up to 10-15 minutes.
Sitting in the pew was the order of the day in my youth. In modern services people get up and roam about: they might need to get a message to someone; or take a pit stop; or change seats to be closer to someone; or attend to children’s needs. It's all a very casual affair. This roaming is not confined to the hour-long sermon, but continues throughout the entire worship experience.
The music would once be a quiet reflective piece while the congregation members found a place to sit and quietly reflect. Now, the musicians are fine tuning their guitars, the key board checks a tune with one of the other musicians, the drummer does a few starts and stops to ensure he's seated correctly....
The architecture has changed. Today there is a huge multi-purpose building that is put to use for a wide variety of purposes during the week and converted into a large mega-seated worship service for Sundays.
Plenty of noise
Entering a church was once a very quiet experience. Now, there are people noisily chatting away, someone they haven't seen since yesterday, people are walking around the auditorium and calling out to on another. Whole families greet each other.
In the traditional English service, the Minister or Priest would announce the hymn number, the organ would play and the congregation would then sing. All that has changed. Designated singers, each with their own respective microphone, leads the worship. This helps involve women of the congregation who have musical talents, as well as men.
The key board has replaced the organ. There are a multiplicity of musicians playing anything from base guitar to the full range of the symphony instruments. The old Salvation Army band is nowhere to be found. And the music is ‘rock’ loud.
The old hymns have gone for the most part. Now there are well crafted songs from Scripture, often sung over and over and over again. The singers raise and wave their arms about and quite often, bow in constraint as the Holy Spirit leads their worship.
The big screen
The big screen does away with the need for hymnals (hymn books). The announcements are also given on the big screen with plenty of colour and modern advertising-like features.
The service all gets recorded on video and edited into an easily conveyed product. This can be given (or sold) to those who were away that week or to shut-ins or the sick. Many services and other Church events are also streamed to the internet for those with technological know-how, maybe travelling somewhere across the world.
There was a time when the Minister would visit you in your home. Today, you make an appointment with the Minister's office and you come to the church office. There are trained lay-people who specialise in visiting the elderly and the sick.
Multiple Ministry Team members
Today, the Pentecostal scene has shown the value of having a number of ministers on staff. The senior minister is not unlike a Managing Director, then there are Ministers who have responsibilities for Home Groups, Youth, Elderly, Worship and Music, Administration, Women's Ministry, Welfare arms of the church, and the like. This also helps to involve more women in the life of the church than in the traditional English village model, popular in my youth.
It is interesting to note that we may be going ‘back to the future’, as there are many non-Anglo Saxon traditional Christian services where this informality of behaviour, and popular-style music was always practised, from ancient times. He reflects that the Gospel music arose out of this informal style of service in the Black communities of Southern USA.
All this is just a cursory list, and does not apply to all churches, but it illustrates that, like the changes that have taken place in motor vehicles (which also do not apply to all cars), they taken place in the church scene.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at