The Seventh Day Adventist (https://www.adventist.org/en/) church that I observed had a loose service structure and informal speakers. I observed multiple services and this was true for all of them. As a guest, it made the interactions in the church feel more intimate. The two different settings I would like to focus on are the main service and a small discussion group.
In the discussion group there were about eight people. Everyone was handed a little slip of paper with a scripture on it. Throughout the lesson people read their scripture when the discussion leader asked for it. This kept the discussion leader from doing all the talking and allowed all of the voices present to be heard. The discussion leader had a publication from the church headquarters with prepared questions and scriptures to read. (https://www.sabbathschoolpersonalministries.org/international) Sometimes an individual would raise a question or a point of discussion. This was completely acceptable and the group would depart from their set lesson and talk through the question. There were a couple times when someone would raise a point of discussion that was “out of the scope” of the current lesson according to the discussion leader. These topics were let go for the time being. The structure of the group was fluid just as the role of group participants were fluid.
The main service had the same diversity in voice. An older lady lead a hymn, then a few children spoke and prayed, and there was a church ceremony for kids lead by those who worked with the kids. All throughout there was obviously no script of what to say. The child who prayed had many nervous pauses and repeated the same thing a few times. The lead pastor asked if there were any other announcements, opening up the floor to anyone in the congregation. This larger group mimicked the experience of being in a smaller group setting. The feeling was intimate and informal even though this service was the largest gathering of people. The authoritative voice in this setting was fluid, or possible non-existent.
This fluid group voice could mean several things. It could show that the congregation values all individuals being able to lead and contribute to the church experience. The church experience could show that the individual is just as important as the collective whole in this religious body. This fluidity could also suggest that no one person speaks for God. Everyone is equal and has the power to communicate with the divine in the same way as their neighbor or the pastor. That would be an empowering belief for the church members.
By Jeremiah Rupp