Worship Wars 10: Should Churches Offer Differing Styles of Worship?
Churches around the world have found a way to avoid worship wars in their church. The solution: offer worship services of varying styles so that everyone can attend a service that meets their personal preferences. It seems to make sense. We want to reach the community around us (missionary mentality), yet we do not want to impose new musical styles and other new forms of communication on those that prefer older forms of communication and music. This way, we can reach our community and keep our existing congregation content. Seems like a win-win. Maybe not. Let’s explore this more. (Hang on, this is a longer article, but I summarize my thoughts on worship wars in our churches. Stay with me until the end).
The addition of a contemporary or blended worship service very often significantly increases church growth
I recently spoke with a minister of music at a prominent church which offers a traditional and a contemporary service. I asked him where they saw the most growth. What I discovered was what I had anticipated–the traditional service saw some steady growth, but most all of the increase was from Christians changing churches or from children of existing families in the church. The contemporary service saw the more significant increase in numbers–most from unchurched people coming to Christ. This certainly shows that the contemporary form of worship in this setting was reaching their community much better than the traditional form of worship. I have seen this time and again as I have explored this dynamic with church leaders. One could definitely say that the addition of a contemporary worship service, for many churches, has created increased church growth, particularly among the previously unchurched. Indeed, I spoke to the issue of contemporary worship reaching people in a greater way than traditional worship in most contexts in a previous post. Some churches offer numerous options in their worship buffet–for instance, Saddleback offers eight different worship styles options.
If churches are experiencing increased church growth due to the addition of new worship style offerings, isn’t it a no-brainer to add a contemporary service?
Some time ago, my answer to that question was a resounding YES! The more I struggle with how churches “do” corporate worship, the more I have begun to question some of our “church growth” strategies. In my last post, I made it clear that I believe many churches are stuck in the past with no missionary mindset at all. In the majority of cases, I believe these churches need to make changes in worship to stay relevant to the community around them. (see relevant post). It should be noted that there are some cases where a traditional form of worship works best in reaching the community, but these are more rare. Having separate and different worship services may cause some concerns.
It seems in many cases, offering differing worship options is creating diverse, separate congregations living under one roof.
This is a very real concern of many churches offering two or more styles of worship. I have spoken with pastors who have expressed their grave concern about their splintering congregations and the lack of unity that is being created. In some cases, there becomes an “us” and “them” mentality. It can often breed a feeling of worship superiority–the feeling that “my” form of worship is what God most prefers and other forms are missing the mark.
Offering varying styles of worship may be counterproductive to the message of the gospel.
As Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, writes in his book, Unfashionable, “Building the church on age appeal…or stylistic preferences is as contrary to the reconciling effect of the Gospel as building it on class, race, or gender distinctions.” Is our effort to reach many through offering a variety of options in worship actually being counterproductive to the message of the gospel? (For more on this, see my post on Unified Worship).
Unified worship may more accurately represent the reconciling work of the gospel and may be more unifying for a church.
This idea is explored in a previous post. I visited recently with Lem LeRoy, Senior Worship Pastor at Carmel Baptist Church in Charlotte (USA). He shared with me their church’s journey of moving from two contemporary services and one traditional service each Sunday morning to three unified services. The church leadership saw that the variety of styles of worship was leading to a church of two congregations. The church made the move through a well-thought-out, intentional process, including much education as to the reasons for change. Take a look at the document that outlines their move. The beauty of unified worship is a multi-generational/multi-cultural congregation worshipping together in unity. The beauty comes when the band starts playing a contemporary song such as Chris Tomlin’s, Our God, with musical accompaniment appropriate to the times, and dear, old Sister Maggie finds great worship expression in the song as she sees it connect with her teenage grandson, Jake. Realizing that he is finding an expression for his worship through that song, she sings the song out with all her heart. Later in the service, the congregation sings, The Old Rugged Cross with simple accompaniment. This time, Sister Maggie sings with the tears flowing, thinking of the great sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and how that has meant so much to her over the years. Jake, sees how his Grandma is connecting in worship, and he, too, begins to sing with all his heart. Unified worship is about putting aside personal preferences and coming together in a unified expression of our worship. C.S. Lewis expressed the sentiment well:
I dislike very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it…I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.
After all this–CONFUSION!
So, what’s a church to do.
Here’s where I have come down on the worship styles conflict:
If you are starting a new church. Study your community to determine what musical styles the people listen to and what forms of communication connect with them. Then, like a missionary, develop your church’s corporate worship to reach the people in your community, speaking a language they can understand. If your community is multicultural, your worship may need to reflect a unified format incorporating pieces of all cultures.
If you are an established church. Study your community to determine what musical styles the people listen too and what forms of communication connect with them. Then take a hard look at your corporate worship service. Does your service reflect the community or is it quite different? If it does reflect the community, you probably do not need to make any significant alterations. If not, you are faced with three possibilities:
Stay as you are. This is probably not the best choice for all the reasons previously mentioned. Many may choose this because it is the easiest.
Add an additional worship service that reflects the community. This might be a contemporary service. Be sure to heed the cautions mentioned earlier in this post. It may be you will do this for a season, then come together in a form of unified worship in a few years.
Transform your existing service to incorporate varying styles of worship and bring unity to the vast age spans and various cultures that may be represented in your church and community. If your community would be better reached with more contemporary forms of communication and music, I would encourage you to move more strongly to utilize these forms in worship while still bringing value to older expressions, perhaps in fresher settings.
How do you determine which of the choices is correct for your church? Ask the Father. Your church leadership team should seek God’s heart on the matter. I have seen God at work in varying models of worship offerings from churches. Take time to really consider all the options and listen to the heart of our Father as to what is best for the congregation you serve.
I welcome your comments.
Kenny Lamm, senior consultant for worship and music for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, is a frequent worship conference leader with a strong focus on equipping leaders in North Carolina (USA) and Southeast Asia. His blog, Renewing Worship, features posts that explore ways to renew–impart new life and vigor to–the worship in the local church.
Thanks very much to Kenny for sharing this series with us. It’s generated a lot of thought and discussion. We look forward to hearing more.
Other posts you might like from the Worship Wars Series: