What’s your church’s spiritual style?

Another characteristic Israel Galindo identifies in his book, The Hidden Lives of Congregations is the spiritual style of a church.  Last year a new family moved into our community and our members invited them to worship with us.  Our church has a traditional worship service with grand piano, pipe organ, and robed choir and clergy.  I met the new family before worship began, and asked them what church they had attended in Florida, before moving to Virginia.  “We were Assemblies of God, ” the father said.   During worship they sat on the second row, and looked uncomfortable the whole time.  They were nice folks, but our church had the wrong worship style for them.  They never came back. 

Spiritual style is important and involves more than just worship.  Galindo identifies 6 different spiritual styles in the lives of congregations:

  1. Cognitive spirituality.  “Spirituality of the head” as Corinne Ware calls it.  This characterizes our church, and one of our members expressed it this way, “We’re just not an ‘amen’ church.”  Our folks can deal with challenging messages, enjoy musical classics, and like to discuss theological concepts, but we don’t say “amen” except at the end of prayers. 
  2. Affective spirituality.  These are the charismatic folks, the feeling churches who are expressive in worship, and emotional in their faith practices.  These are also the evangelistic churches and they celebrate with joyful exuberance. 
  3. Pilgrim spirituality.  These are folks on a journey, the searchers.  They are open to questions, borrow from other religious traditions for their own worship, and have an openness and tolerance for others.  I think some of the emerging churches are pilgrim churches, but not all. 
  4. Mystic spirituality.  This may represent only a small group within your congregation because they are the contemplatives.  Centering prayer, lectio divina, keeping the hours, and other ancient mystical practices are meaningful to this group. 
  5. Servant spirituality.  These are the doers of the Word that James wrote about.  They get their hands dirty in helping others as their faith expression.  These are the folks who help at the soup kitchen, or the churches who start the soup kitchens.  These churches engage their communities through helping action, which is their main focus. 
  6. Crusader spirituality.  Can you say “Jerry Falwell?”   Falwell is an excellent example of this spiritual style.  Churches that enter the political or social arena to fight for a cause represent the crusaders.  Most churches do not fit this category, but some may rise to address a specific issue from time to time and they can be either on the right or left.

Here’s what this means for small church pastors and members:  While you can stray from your church’s spiritual style occasionally (bluegrass music at the church picnic), don’t go too far for too long.  Your members belong where they do because of the personality of the church, which includes its spiritual style.  

What happened to the Assemblies of God family who visited our church?  They’re attending a charismatic church about 10-miles away and love it!

3 thoughts on “What’s your church’s spiritual style?”

  1. hm, i think i understand what you are saying, but is there a prophetic twist to this? i mean, can we say: “that’s just the way we are. we don’t have to be doers of the word. we don’t have to address the emotional side of those who come through the door. it does not matter if our spirits don’t connect to the spirit of god in any kind of mystical way – the rhythms of our lives don’t matter.” can we do that?

    like i said, i think i get what you are saying, but shouldn’t we embrace the tension and move beyond of where we are right now?

  2. Good comment. Galindo is not saying this is “prescriptive” but that churches can be described as having a dominant spiritual style. Which doesn’t mean we don’t stretch the envelope now and then. For instance, when I became pastor here, I added an informal greeting time to our traditional service. Some folks didn’t like it (the rule was, “speak to three people you had not spoken to”) because it is a little chaotic. But, almost 3-years into this change, most folks enjoy it and I have a hard time getting people back in the pews!

  3. This is a really interesting post. Do any of these other categories latch on to some denominations more than others, the way you mentioned with the Affective group and charismatic churches? How would I go about finding a Mystic church, for example? Thanks.

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