Happy by Pharrell Williams. The best selling song of 2014 in the UK and in the USA. The most downloaded song of all time in the UK. A song that has been in the UK Top 75 chart for 70 consecutive weeks. Take Me To Church was a successful song. But Happy takes successful to a whole new level.
There was a lengthy period last year when it felt like you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Happy. It was on the radio, on TV, on the Internet; and playing in shopping centres, supermarkets and bars across the land. It also made it onto our church playlist too! People across our nation were energised by this song, captivated by this song, invigorated by this song – and left asking what does it feel like to be a room without a roof?
And Happy is a song that reminds me of one of the questions I get asked most often when I tell people about our church. A question I have heard time and time again. A question that is almost always phrased in exactly the same way. “Oh, is it a happy clappy church?”
A happy clappy church. That’s the phrase. Those are the words. I’ve heard it more often than I can count.
And my response is pretty much the same too. “Well, we’re happy, and we do clap. But we’re not happy clappy in a weird way”.
Because the truth is that we are happy. Our church is a place of positivity and optimism. Our hope for our services is that they would inspire expectation, stir up positivity, and cause people to dream again.
We want people to enjoy being in church too. For too long, church has been something to be endured, rather than enjoyed. But that isn’t the way it is meant to be. God’s intention was that people should enjoy coming together – that there should be an excitement, a buzz, an energy when the church gathers together. And that there should be joy, happiness even – that we should laugh together, sing together, maybe even dance together. That we should enjoy one another’s company and share in good times together,
That’s not to say that we can only be happy in church though. Within the community of church, we should be able to find support as we experience the whole range of life’s emotions. The Bible speaks of church as a family. It is a place to laugh together, yes, but also a place where we can cry together – a place to find a listening ear, a comforting shoulder, and a helping hand.
I appreciate it may not have been everyone’s experience of church, but that has been my experience of church – that it is a place where I can share all of life’s ups and downs with people who genuinely care about me. It is a place too where I have built friendships that last – proven by consistency and constancy throughout all that life can throw at us.
And as for the clapping, well, that’s definitely part of our church too. We clap along with the music – it only really makes sense really, in the times that it is hi-tempo and dynamic. We clap to celebrate what’s happening in people’s lives. We clap when someone makes a good point in a message. And we clap too to celebrate who God is. We thoroughly believe that if we can clap our favourite football team or band then we can lift up our voices and clap our hands for God too.
I think sometimes people can find it a bit odd when we do that. But it only really seems odd, I think, in church. In any other context, we wouldn’t hesitate to clap along with the music, to give a warm round of applause if someone did something well. We don’t think twice about jumping up and down if a goal goes in; or dancing at a good gig or in a nightclub. But maybe we’ve been taught these things are not OK in church. Well they are OK in our church. They’re encouraged actually. Though that’s not to say you can’t just quietly take it all in if you like.
But what about the weird bit? Why do I mention that too? Why do I feel the need to clarify that?
I guess it is because, in my experience, most people’s expectation of church falls into two camps. They either consider it to be dull, boring and rather quiet. Or they’ve seen something more passionate, but perhaps in a way that seems exclusive or inaccessible. And many people’s expectation of “happy clappy” can be of something they don’t quite understand.
But our desperate desire is that our church would not be “weird”. We hope that it would never be hard to understand what happens in our church services. More than that, we want it to be something that everyone can relate to – whether they’d call themselves a Christian or not. A place where you can feel at home regardless of whether or not you believe what we believe. And a place where the language is easy to understand; and where the messages are relevant, accessible and helpful.
So yes, our church is happy. And we do clap. But we’re not weird.
Getting back to Pharrell, the one thing I’ve noticed about that song is that it never fails to inspire a bit of positivity in me. If I’m feeling happy, I can sing along with the best of them. But if I’m feeling down, it helps picks me up. My experience of church is similar, but on a whole different level.
And, as Easter approaches, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to have that same experience – to be part of something energetic, exciting and positive; yet also find a place of encouragement, support and help when times are tough. I don’t know whether your experience of church has been a good one or not. I don’t know whether you’ve even thought that church might be somewhere for you.
But this Easter, why not check it out for yourself? This Easter, why not give church another chance?
Author: Phil Temple, Associate Pastor