Op-ed: Church Vs. Theatre

Some folks really don’t like using words like performance and audience in a church context; I don’t have a problem with it. Any form of ‘leading a group in worship’ is certainly is a performance on some level. If there is a significant amount of rehearsal leading up to a public showing of your offering, then it could be considered a performance, even if it’s done with the intention of worship. Calling something a ‘performance’ by no means implies that it’s less consecrated.

a group of people assembled for religious worship”*

the assembled spectators or listeners at a public event, such as a play, movie, concert, or meeting. The people giving or likely to give attention to something”*

So long as you are, giving attention to something you are participating as an audience member, just as you might have an audience with the King; which indeed we are.

For The Salvation Army, uniting church and theatre isn’t a new idea. In 1879, handbills were passed out on the the streets to entice passers by. Services were, “publicized as not-to-be-missed spectaculars”. (Blood On The Flag, Nigel Bovey) The Salvation Army has, from its earliest days, put an emphasis on drawing a crowd. They utilized their strengths and featured music and timbrels to entice passers by. Come and see a women preach! Scandalous.

In recent years, dance and drama have become a staple in many weekly services. The Salvation Army continues to evolve and develop new ways of reaching outwards. I don’t know about you, but when youth are ‘performing’ in the service, the house is packed: dance, drama, Y.P. Band, choreodrama … the crowd follows.

I don’t think we need to be concerned that church is becoming theatre, or that we might find ourselves too entertained while in worship. From my perspective, we are on the right track, continuing to do the good work that began on the streets of East London. I think, if the lines become blurry around what makes church, churchy … that’s probably a good thing.

*Definitions sourced from dictionary.com

Kathryn Higgins
Dance Ministries Specialist/
Kroc Center Creative Arts Liaison