Pulling from the world of kinesiology, Marcia McFee has developed a system for talking about the different kinds of energy that we experience in worship services. Broken down into four categories – Thrust, Shape, Swing, and Hang – we can get a feeling for how different services are structured and why different kinds of religious experiences feel right to one person but wrong to another.
THRUST energy is all about getting things done. Thrust energy people make lists, have goals, and move with purpose. The energy of thrust in a worship space is the rallying call to action, the plan to get things done, the sense of a Mighty God of Action. This is a transformational God. There are bright colors, processions, recessions, and prophetic preaching in a thrust style worship service. But too much thrust energy leads to a feeling of the service being unbalanced. It can drown out marginalized voices and miss opportunities for collaboration. It can also be exhausting and it quickly can run out of steam if it is only carried by one or two people.
SHAPE energy is all about structure and organization. It is reserved and cautious, repetitious and contained. Shape energy people are still and focused. The energy of shape in a worship space provides an easy way to recognized the ritual time and place as they are set apart from everyday life. Rituals are clearly defined and easily repeated. There is a lot of tradition and a sense of stability when other parts of life are in transition. The is a God of Tradition and Foundation. Space services are often full of symmetry and ritual objects, with permanent fixtures. Too much shape energy leads to losing the moment and a lack of play and improvisation. It can avoid the highs and lows of emotion and can lose it’s relevance if it stop reflecting the shifting experiences of life.
SWING energy is all about responding to the moment. It is fluid and interactive, personal and engaged. The energy of swing in a worship space shows up as highly interactive, playful and emotional. These services are celebratory, creative, and community driven. This is the God of Hope, the God that has a personal relationship with you. Swing services often have seating in a circle so the community can face one another. Too much swing can get too self-focused and rely solely on emotion as the measure for worship. It can get a little too “touchy-feely” and can get stuck swinging back and forth instead of getting deeper or moving forward.
HANG energy is all about being in the moment. It is fluid and freeflowing, sustained and unfocused. Hang energy sees the big picture and is willing to meander. These services are deep and filled with mystery and awe. They are filled with prolonged reflection and comfortable silences. This is an Every Present God, a God who is Deep at our Core. Hang services often have prayer stations or can manifest as walking labyrinths. They are often very personalized and lack a lot of external direction. Too much hang energy can make it hard to initiate action. It can lack structure and be seen as indecisive, unorganized, or lacking in personal interaction.
I have found McFee’s energy pattern paradigm to be amazingly useful here in seminary. Instead of getting bogged down talking about Christian this or Pagan that (which is about the theology behind the worship services), I have been able to have some really remarkable conversations about styles of worship. These conversations have led me to some pretty powerful insights about different styles of pagan worship and where my own spiritual path is taking me. As I found this to be so useful as an interfaith tool, I figured I would share her paradigm with you all so you can start thinking about ritual planning and the like in terms of these ideas. McFee’s writing goes into much more depth, talking about how to successfully transition from one energy to another (and what happens when you fail to transition with ease) as well as getting into more nuanced discussions of services with multiple kinds of energy patterns woven together.
As a side note (but an important one), this paradigm helped me to realize that I have been quite biased against shape styled worship services. From my experience, the tradition, structure, and formality of shape styled worship has always felt dogmatic and limiting. I saw it as getting in the way of creating a personal connection to God and figured it was something that the Christian church was doing wrong. I was really judgmental and I regret that. I can see now that I was judging this style as lacking in value when in fact it just simply wasn’t the right kind of worship style for me. As I read through the benefits of shape style worship, I can see quite clearly how some people would find solace and comfort in the structure and repetition that it offers. I know that this all might seem obvious and simplistic, but it’s amazing how dogmatic we can become when it comes to talking about the “right” and “best” way to connect with the divine. It’s all too easy to forget that people not only have differing beliefs about God, but we have different ways that we want to engage spiritual energy and this has a huge impact on what kinds of worship spaces we are attracted to.
One of the first things I am learning from seminary is this: Not everyone needs to think about or interact with God the way you do. And there’s nothing wrong with that.