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Worship Wars 4: It Might Be Time to Move Away from Tradition

Worship Wars 4: It Might Be Time to Move Away from Tradition

Note: For best impact, begin with the first post of the Worship Wars series.

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 inTransformational 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. Next week, we will look closer at the missionary mentality factor of determining your church’s worship style.

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 worshipers, we must find a language that they can speak in. Too many of our churches are resting comfortably in the safety of tradition, not wanting to rock the boat. Change is generally not easy, but is so often necessary.

Some things to consider: Statistical data shows that growing churches today more often have a contemporary or blended style of worship.  There are some churches with very traditional worship that are also reaching people.  The vast majority of churches in America 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.

Lots of thoughts to challenge many churches to move away from a strictly traditional approach…

Should a church change to a contemporary style of worship just because of these things? Not necessarily. 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.

What are your thoughts?


As we study the worship wars, I will present a number of ideas to stretch our thinking each week. At the end of the series, I will pull together my thoughts in summary.

Note: much of this article was published in an earlier post.

Worship Wars: Next post in the series

About The Author

Kenny Lamm

Worship Consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. A frequent worship clinician and guest worship leader. Extensive work in worship renewal in several Asian countries.


  1. Ruth

    Having followed this series chronologically, I can understand what the author is saying and appreciate his points. He is not equating worship with music. To me, worship is living life as branches connected to the vine. Jesus says we do this by obeying his commands. Out of this kind of life, flows various expressions of adoration and praise, of which music is not only an accepted form, but commanded throughout scripture.

    The author is just zooming in on a specific issue (how styles come into play when we use music as a way of expression) within the broader context of worship.

  2. Travis

    While I agree with the general intent of the article – to move churches in the direction of not excluding the ever-changing culture around us – I believe there are some arguable points stated in the apologetic to support this laudable goal.

    IN considering what “heart language” we are going to use within our corporate worship, the first consideration should not be “What will best please or fit in with the surrounding, non-attending community”.

    Participation in “Worship” is for the believer first. When that is met, other more missional considerations should certainly be brought into consideration. I like John Piper’s quote, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t”.

    To expound, if we, the church, were worshipping in “Spirit and in Truth” as He intended, that worship would be missional as it would draw and intrigue the entire non-attending community. True worship is evangelistic!

    That being said, churches should absolutely strive to enable their existing attendees/members’ “heart language” in worship. If that language is broad, then multiple services should be considered. And, if the congregation is reflective of the surrounding demographic, it WILL include artistic forms which are comfortable to the surrounding culture.

    However, to displace a church of worshippers by taking away their “worship language” and replacing it with something the non-believer outside the church will “better relate to” is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    I believe this should be more of a “both/and” approach, rather than an “either/or” approach.

    • Kenny Lamm

      I do not disagree with anything you have said. I believe you will see this as you complete the entire series on worship wars. Each post approaches differing aspects of the issue, and I pull together much of this in the latter posts. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Lew Ayotte

    “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.”

    Worship isn’t about style, at all… it’s also not about music, at all. If you want to move away from tradition, you should start with destroying this unbiblical definition of Worship. Worship isn’t “traditional” vs. “contemporary” — Worship is obeying God.


  4. Paul Clark Jr

    Important concepts to help worship music leaders stay on track in the right conversations. Thank you for sharing important reflections to make us think.

  5. Jason Chollar

    Culture is always shifting and moving. So is language. It’s easy to get comfortable and complacent. I want transformation. I want people to experience the presence of the Living God and respond in worship with their whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Choosing the most appropriate language doesn’t guarantee that, but it’s often a step in the right direction… Traditions can be ok, as long as they aren’t vain and empty. I want to have a tradition in our church of eagerly pursuing God and stretching toward new ways of showing Him that we love Him. That’s a tradition that I think honors God. Don’t you?

  6. stepheneric

    Good thoughts. In addition to thinking about how we can adjust our style to reach our community (or target audience), I think of perhaps primary importance is how to effectively disciple your current flock. And as new people are added to the flock, then the flavor of worship changes to suit those heart languages as well.

    NIV Ephesians 4:13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.


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