Spirit Dreaming: going to church in 2030

DRAFT 1, JUNE 2, 2023

Geoff Boyce.

Chapter 1

Will you trust a religion or philosophy that does not produce
a truly poised and decent human being? 

Vernon Howard

The Exodus

In the mid- 90’s the Christian Research Association, (Australia) reported on an exodus of church-goers from church worship in the UK . Later I was to discover this phenomenon was underway across most of the Western world.

I was taken aback by the magnitude of it. And the implications of it. 

In 1995 I had the opportunity to visit the UK and took the opportunity to undertake a three week study tour to explore how the mainstream churches were responding to this trend. In particular, I met with church youth ministry leaders and youth workers and visited youth worker training centres, but also community development initiatives and ‘alternative worship’ developments.

The conclusion I came to was that while spirituality seemed to be alive and well in individuals and society, a cultural gap had grown between the expression of spirituality as practised in mainstream churches and, what we might call, spirituality in society at large.

This was later affirmed by the work of David Tacey at LaTrobe University, who in 2003, published ‘The Spirituality Revolution’, based on his research with university students undertaking his Liberal Arts subject, ‘Spirituality’.

The Archbishop of Cantebury’s youth advisor, Pete Ward, Director of the Oxford Youth Works, a centre for youth work training, told me how young people attending their outreach programs had no difficulty with identifying with the person of Jesus. They were willing to commit their lives to living the values of Jesus. However, the youth workers were unsuccessful in helping these younger people ‘go to church’. It was not because the youth workers didn’t try various strategies. They tried linking these younger people with what they thought might be appropriate, welcoming congregations and  even tried one-to-one mentoring programs. But they fizzled out.

I learnt that each Church has its own culture that has to be negotiated if you want to be part of it. Younger people have their own (developing) culture – and there’s the rub!

But I also discovered examples emerging, particularly among younger adults, who were taking matters into their own hands. ’Going to church’ had become an impediment in their own spiritual lives. But what were the alternatives?

Alternative Worship

Greenbelt was an annual Christian Arts Festival that created an opportunity for young adult Christians in the UK to get together, listen to inspiring speakers, hear new music and explore their Christian faith, particularly through participation in creative, ‘edgy’ expressions. It was influenced by the rock music festivals like Glastonbury and not the kind of conference some denominations run, aimed at propagating a church or religious status quo.The program was wonderfully open and diverse. It was an exciting, challenging place to be.

A group of church alumni from Sheffield had been experimenting with a kind of Christian variation of popular youth culture at the time. They put on a ‘service’ at Greenbelt. A group of similar church refugees from Glasgow happened to go and were inspired by its energy, and particularly the rapid-fire imagery projected in multiple directions on the side of the marquee that was allotted as the venue. They were inspired and went back to Glasgow to create what they later called ‘The Late, Late Service’.

During my research in London a number of youth workers commended this little community to me. So I took myself off to Glasgow and stopped with a youth worker who was prepared to show me around.

The ‘Late Late Service’ (LLS) comprised young adults who were musicians, unemployed, social workers and others, whose commonality was ‘going clubbing’. These ‘clubs’ were high energy dance venues that didn’t really get going until late at night and often went through to dawn. Hence the name, Late Late Service – not just late in the evening, but very late!

Is it any wonder then, that these younger generation Christians, wanting to be faithful to their Christian faith, were finding it hard to drag themselves out of bed on a Sunday morning for church at 10 or 11? Not to mention, how lacking in stimulation ‘church’ was, compared to what they had experienced the night before!

The Sheffield experience at Greenbelt galvanised them to create experiences that respected both their Christian values and convictions as well as their subculture – to reflect where they were in life as young adults. Their local churches were not home to their spirituality and were not able to accomodate their needs. So their little community was born, unapologetically for their own spiritual survival. They were not trying to prove anything. Just expressing their Christian spirituality ‘normally’ for them in forms that had meaning for them.

In many ways LLS was a leading example of what was beginning to happen across the UK – unapologetic, committed Christians unlearning and giving themselves the opportunity to start with a blank canvas, as it were, to think about how they wanted church to be for them to nurture their own spiritualities.

The LLS, for example, rather than Sunday by Sunday worship in the same form, divided their liturgical month into four separate monthly forms, four monthly meetings or events. 

On one Sunday of the month they had ‘Celebration’. This started at 9pm in a church that offered them space for their events. When I visited, the church space had been completely reconfigured for the occasion. One entered a large carpeted area surrounded by four huge white ‘sails’, on which images were being projected. It was like going into a large square tent, transformed into an art gallery – but pumping with techno celebratory sound! This was obviously a reflection of what some of them had experienced at the Sheffield offering at Greenbelt.

There were no pews or chairs. There was no centre, or focal point. There would be announcements and ‘rants’ (poetic pieces) but no preaching. Messages were coming to you from each of the four screens and the non-stop music mixed by a DJ. 

It was an amazing experience. But it depended on you making your own connections with the flow of the liturgy – you had to do your own work, or you were a mere tourist. I liked that. I liked the juxtaposition of images – like an icon of Mary, and lighting candles of remembrance, and taking bread and wine, surrounded by dancers to techno music and simultaneous poetic liturgical readings. I was a stranger, I had never been ‘clubbing’, but I felt energised, motivated and included. 

This archived BBC video of a Late Late Service Christmas celebration (below) gives a bit of an idea of what a LLS celebration looked like.

The other three community gatherings each month were less labour intensive. I was not able to experience them at first hand, but they were ‘Education Night’, I think in people’s homes, a social time, and ‘The Quiet Service’ held in the church, with an emphasis on contemplation and healing. In other words, they did not make the mistake of trying to cram all the aspects of a typical church worship service into one event, but teased them out to give each their own life and space for spiritual depth.

The following link gives an indication of how the Quiet Service works: 


LLS Resources and Connections

The community had the resources within their own membership to create and record their own music for each of the themes chosen for each celebration. The had their own poets to put existential faith into meaningful, contemporary words. They had the visual artists to find or create the images that would stimulate meaning-making. They had access to a recording studio and key people associated with the studio. So they were able to make available many of the resources they produced.

Many of their resources and an indication of their influence can be found here:


They had their own connections with mainstream media. The recording studio had its own publishing label (Sticky Music). So their music was accessible commercially. Their personal connections also enabled LLS to produce special radio programs for the BBC for nationally significant occasions, such as a one hour soundscape I heard while in the UK – ‘Release the Peace’, played on BBC4 on Remembrance Day

So this was no closet community. Their connection to the Churches was through membership of the World Council of Churches. They were approached by the Billy Graham organisation to contribute to a crusade the churches in Glasgow were organising. LLS came up with an up-tempo song, ‘Looking In All the Wrong Places’ that opens up thinking about the decisions we make to satisfy our human needs.

The Alternative Worship Movement

The Late Late Service (LLS) was among the early pioneers of creating, what would go on to be called ‘Alternative Worship’ – small non-aligned groups springing up across the UK to  explore how their Christian faith could survive outside of churches which, from their point of view, had got stuck in cultural backwaters and lost their spiritual connection with people.


Following this study tour of the UK a handful of youth workers in Adelaide who had experienced alternative worship in the UK, got together with me to form ‘The Other Late Late Service’ (TOLLS), which drew on the resources of LLS Glasgow and created its own. It was initially supported by a grant from the UCA Synod of SA for its establishment and a later grant to establish an electronic music studio. It had its home with the support of a UCA congregation at Norwood and then, as part of a larger church re-imagining project at Ovingham. It ran from 1995 to 2002.

As with the LLS, so with TOLLS – as key contributors moved geographically with work or family commitments, the initial models of worship, premised on the particular gifts of its members, became unsustainable. But the seeds of how ‘going to church’ for new tech-savvy generations of visual and aural communicators had been sown.

The move to nurturing spirituality is toward experience, an inclusivity that is actively participative (not passive), away from ‘telling’ toward a different way of knowing and making meaning,  a respectful, joyful intimacy, a different understanding of connection and relationship, one more likely to nurture a 2030 spirituality of survival in the global village.


Religion is about the practices that nurture individual and collective spirituality.

Spirituality is mystical and hard to define, but it is related to the idea that there is something ‘more’ out there. It is related to intangibles such as faith, hope and trust.

‘Going to Church’ is to participate in the rituals, hear the myths and sing the songs that nurture the Christian religion, that, in turn, nurtures Christian spirituality. Other religions have their own equivalents of ‘going to church’.

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