The crisis of Christianity has been proclaimed so insistently and so convincingly in recent years that it makes the worship service in a converted tech factory in Parsippany at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning this past spring that much more astonishing. Welcome to Liquid Church, where the faith is not only alive—it rocks.
From a state-of-the-art stage, an electric band fronted by sneaker-wearing singers pump out high-octane hymns that sound like Taylor Swift anthems, while strobe lights coordinated by the tech team at the front of the house strafe the packed auditorium. The pounding thrum of contemporary praise music goes on for 20 minutes, piped around the warehouse-like facility on speakers and enormous video monitors too numerous to count. You don’t want to miss anything, and you can’t.
The band revs up the growing crowd until Cuyler Black, one of about 100 people who work at the Parsippany site and six other campuses around New Jersey, comes onstage.
“Good morning, church fam!” Black shouts at the throng gathered in the club-like darkness of the cavernous hall. “This is a good-looking group out there!” he says to cheers.
Black is doing warm-up today, running through announcements with such verve that you barely notice the popcorn buckets passed around for the collection. Next up is Pastor Zach Taylor, a youthful, fit guy in jeans and a hoodie, groomed like the archetypal megachurch male: an undercut fade on top and a carefully curated shadow beard below. Zach is part of the Liquid ministry team, and he describes himself as “a natural entrepreneur” who, with his wife, manages a dozen Airbnbs in California and Florida when he is not preaching.
‘CHURCH IS FUN!’
On this Sunday morning, Pastor Zach is the main speaker for both the nine and eleven o’clock services, and in his homily, he channels Marie Kondo as he confesses to his sin of keeping too much stuff—especially digital junk like apps and text messages (275,000 of them!). “I’m a hoarder, but don’t leave me up here as if I’m the only one who does that,” he says to laughs. Then he pivots to his main point: that God wants that kind of intense relationship with you, only more so, and not just digitally.
“Pray without ceasing,” Pastor Zach says, reading from the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. “Have faith in the Lord come what may.” To reinforce his point, he brings his wife onstage and, after some playful banter for the audience, wraps a blindfold around her head. He then dumps hundreds of Lego pieces on the floor, instructs her to take off her shoes, and asks her to trust him to lead her through the maze of sharp plastic bits safely—just as she must trust that Jesus will do in life if you believe in Him.
“Church is fun,” as one of Liquid’s core values has it, and the crowd is loving this performance.
From start to finish, the vibe is cool. It connects. And it works when some say little else in organized religion does. “Look around in any direction, and wherever you look, you’re going to find a different answer for why people come,” says Keon Carpenter, head of the Morris County pastoral team. Consider that the number of megachurches—Protestant congregations defined as having a regular attendance of more than 2,000—have tripled from about 600 in 2000 to about 1,800 today.
New Jersey isn’t exactly part of the Bible Belt, but the Garden State appears to be especially fertile ground in this fast-moving transformation of American Christianity.
There are about two dozen megachurches in New Jersey today, more than double the number just a decade ago, according to Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, one of the nation’s top experts on megachurches and congregational dynamics. Congregations like Emergence Church in Totowa Change Church in Ewing, Rutgers Community Christian Church in Somerset, and Bethany Baptist Church in Lindenwold have all supersized in the last few years.
Continue reading at NEW JERSEY MONTHLY