A while ago I was asked by someone skeptical of the liturgy, "Why would you keeping on doing what you have always done knowing that it was not working?" Ignore every other aspect of what this person was saying and concentrate only on that last point -- "knowing that it was not working?" He brings up a legitimate point -- how do we know if it is working or not?
Many years ago, a parishioner who now rests from her labors came to me upset about something. I not only noticed that she was agitated but that her face was well beyond red and veins were bulging. Knowing that she had chronic high blood pressure problems, I asked her about her blood pressure. She informed me that she no longer was taking her medication because she did not feel any different when she was on it as when she wasn't. So she reckoned she would take it again when she felt the need. We took one moment to deal with whatever it was that had her upset and then I turned to the issue of her blood pressure. Since my wife is a CCRN and has educated me a bit on matters medical, I counseled her to speak with her doctor and to go back on her blood pressure medication right away. I suggested to her that she may not feel the medicine working but that, indeed, it was and that by the time she felt she needed the medication damage may already have been done (even catastrophic damage like stroke).
The Church may not feel the liturgy working or see signs of it working but the surest way to find out what it was accomplishing is to take it away. For nearly all of church history the liturgy has been an anchor of orthodoxy, a beacon of the Gospel, and the powerful rudder steering the Church to the solid path of Word, Sacrament, Law and Gospel. During all that time there have been heresies, false teachers and false teachings, distortions of the truth, and innovations that cast a dark shadow over the faith. These were not only the distinctions of academics but things that touched the very heart and soul of the lives of the individual Christians within the Church. Yet through it wall, the liturgy was there. When the pulpit was captive to false truth or no truth, the liturgy spoke clearly and powerfully. When pulpit and altar were together on the same plain, the life of the Church was richly fed.
It occurs to me that numbers are not the best way to gauge of things within the Church are working or not. Sports events garner huge crowds yet the combined total of all the attendance at all the events would not equal the number of Christians who sit in the pew on any given Sunday. So first we might be honest about the numbers...
It also occurs to me that gathering people in and keeping them there, keeping them growing and maturing in faith and life in Christ, may be at cross purposes. When the liturgy is there, when the lectionary drives the lessons, hymns and sermon, when the focus is on the Word and Sacrament, the stuff that Christians need is there. When creed and confession inform worship and piety and when worship and piety reflect creed and confession, the Church is anchored fairly securely in the means of grace.
I for one do not want to find out what happens when generations of people grow up in the faith without the liturgy, without the twin foci of Word and Table, without the rhythm of the Church Year lived out in pericope and hymnody, without the Law and Gospel voices so clearly planted in these ancient patters and faithful words... I don't want to find out what the Church will be like without these anchors of orthodoxy in confession and life. It is bad enough with all these things in place -- what will happen when worship becomes a program, when outcomes drive the content, and when relevance is more important than faithfulness?
Is it working? If the Church is still here, if people are still being fed the Word and Supper of the Lord, if sins are still being forgiven, if creed still invites confession of faith before the world, if sermon still conveys the whole truth of God's Word (the double edged sword of Law and Gospel), and if music still speaks the story of Jesus (and not our own personal stories), then it IS working -- better than we know -- to keep us on that narrow path that leads us to life everlasting in Jesus' name.