Last week’s post on the state of worship in Baptist churches created a number of comments suggesting that I believe that traditional worship is no longer a valid style of worship.
The point I was trying to make had nothing to do with style per se, rather I was trying to note that the epidemic problem is this: no matter the style the church is using as a tool for worship, our congregations are not experiencing true worship. I did say in relation to “traditional” worship, The songs may not connect at all with the culture anymore. The word, may, was carefully selected to denote that this is not the case in all situations. I still say strongly that week after week, vast numbers of our people come to worship and leave unaffected–never having a real encounter with God. Let me continue with more thoughts on worship styles.
First of all, I want to say that worship is not all about style. The style of music is merely a tool that we use to craft a worship experience that is conducive to true worship, much like a painter uses a palette of different colors to create a masterpiece. I have attended traditional and contemporary churches that really worship. I have also attended both styles of worship services where the people seem cold and unaffected. (see post, A Tale of Two Churches)
Too often our churches only judge their worship by the number of people attending. That is a valid assessment, but it should never stop there. The follow up question should always be, “How many people encountered the transforming power of God through worship?” That question totally transcends the style conversation and helps us focus on what really matters in worship. Other questions to ask (as outlined in Transformational Church, by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer):
- Are we creating consumers of religious goods and services or making disciples?
- When people attend worship, are they simply observing a show or being transformed by God?
These are the kinds of questions and concerns we need to be raising regardless of the worship style that a given church employs. However, I do believe that churches need to dialogue and seek God’s heart on their worship styles. We too often focus on the wrong things–thinking only of our personal preferences. If we truly want our churches to be missional, what does our worship need to look like to reach our community? For some, the answer to that is a country style of music. For others, it would be a very Latin-American feel. For some, it might be hip hop. (I sense my inbox filling up!)
As new people come into a church and hear the kind of music they have already been listening to, just with different lyrics, they are more likely to be drawn in to the worship. In some ways you might say it is the same kind of battle the Protestant Reformers fought to get worship in the language of the people.
I think churches should examine their worship to seek God’s desire for what corporate worship should look like in their church. Lots of times, worship that used to be meaningful has lost its cultural relevance, and if we are going to engage the hearts, minds, soul, and strength of the worshippers, we must find a language that they can speak in.
Some things to consider: Statistical data shows that growing churches today more often have a contemporary or blended (I prefer the term, “unified”) style of worship. There are some churches with very traditional worship that are also reaching people. The vast majority of Baptist churches have traditional worship, yet the majority of churches experiencing tremendous growth are of a contemporary or blended style. Ed Stetzer, in his book Comeback Churches says that there are some churches that have found traditional to be an effective approach in their community, but this is an exception, and most comeback churches (declining/plateaued churches that have made an incredible turnaround), he states, are moving in a more contemporary direction.
Think about this: (excerpt from Experiential Worship, Bob Rognlien)
A hundred years ago, the primary means of communication was the spoken word. The principle form of entertainment was being read to. The familiar form of music was choral singing. It makes sense that these would make up the primary forms of worship in the churches of those times. People loved to sing hymns led by and organ and a piano.
TODAY, we live in a vastly changed world. Ours is a media saturated, technologically driven, visual culture. Many people don’t read books anymore, they surf the web and watch movies. Most people are not used to listening to long speeches–they catch sound bites and look at graphics that portray information visually. Few people today listen to music like you would hear in a traditional church today.
It would not surprise you then, that when you use the mediums of communication of 100 years ago, or even 40 years ago, our people are unmoved. We are speaking a cultural language that our people do not understand. We must seek more effective ways to engage the mind in worship.
Should a church change to a contemporary style of worship just because of these things? No. If the people of your church are connecting to God in worship, if your church is reaching its community, and if you feel your church is making disciples, then you are probably where you need to be. However, if you look around and the numbers are declining, worship has become mundane and passive, and you are not reaching new people, it might be time to ask the head of the church what His desire for your church’s worship is. I would venture to say that too many of our churches are resting comfortably in what they have always done without really being missional and intentional.
I pray that we will all keep our minds open to what God may be saying to us as you seek worship renewal.
As always, I invite your comments below.