One of my coaching clients called me the other day and asked if I’d read an article by Jonathan Aigner about the end of contemporary worship. I confessed I hadn’t. This particular coaching client is a church planter and the core congregation she’s working with are predominantly life-long mainliners who were raised in church back in the “glory days” of the 1950s and the early 60s. She went on to tell me that the post Aigner had written was getting a lot of traction in her church because he’d pronounced the demise of contemporary worship and some of her congregation members were citing it to scuttle plans to launch a new service focused on reaching younger adults. (To be fair, Aigner’s blog was written in response to another blog by David Gordon that was even more critical of contemporary worship.)
After reading both articles, I have to say these guys make some great points. It’s true that the Baby Boomers are largely responsible for the contemporary worship movement and they’re dying out. And it’s true that those few millennials that are left in the church are largely leaving the church … and many of them are leaving behind solid contemporary worship services. And it’s also true that the novelty of contemporary worship has worn off … the formerly churched are no longer returning just because there’s a new and different “rock-n-roll” service down the street. Indeed, probably about half the churches in most towns offer some alternative worship service or another.
The problem with both articles, is that they’re based largely on personal opinion and the facts they cite tend to be about those who “left” the church. There’s no research or facts cited about those who have never been in church (a HUGE majority of the millennials) and there’s nothing about what’s actually working to reach the millennials … and there are churches that are doing a fine job of reaching, teaching, baptizing, and discipling large numbers of millennials.
So, let me begin with a couple of realities about what’s not working.
“Contemporary Music” Isn’t Packing Them In
The reality is, in most communities, good music (as defined by those who are engaging in worship, not by the theologians) isn’t what grows churches. Good music doesn’t “keep” young people (millennials), middle-aged people (gen-x’ers), seniors (boomers), or elders (older than boomers) coming back to church. And for the record, either does a great sermon. Sure, good music and a great sermon add to the experience of worship and it enhances your personal spiritual walk. But in the long run, and even for the short run, it’s relationships and life transformation that keep people in church. Pipe organs and choirs; pianos, keyboards, guitars, drums and praise bands; and smoke machines and stage lighting don’t do it. And for the record, never has.
Traditional Worship Isn’t Packing Them In Either
Let me share a fact both David and Jonathan conveniently left out. The vast majority of “traditional” worship services with “liturgy” are dying faster than the so-called contemporary services (and come on Jonathan and David – every worship service has liturgy and you know it – just because it’s not the liturgy you approve of doesn’t mean it’s not liturgy). The fact is, anyone with integrity following the Pew Reports and Gallup knows that the church is bleeding out rapidly – the boomers are dropping like flies and neither the gen xers or millennials are signing up for church attendance, let alone membership. And to be fair, few millennials (like almost none) are exiting the contemporary services and flocking to the traditional services across town.
So … What Is Working?
In my work as a consultant that works across denominational lines and outside of denominational boxes, I’ve attended quite a few churches that are packing the millennials in. Here’s what I find in most of them.
- The music is loud, it has a beat, and it’s theologically sound.
- Yes, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York is an exception. And there are certainly other exceptions out there. But please be aware … they’re exceptions. They’re not the rule. (Remember, most traditional worship services are in serious decline regardless of the denomination.)
- Bear in mind, the only paradigmatic worship songs we have from the Bible are the psalms … and they were originally performed in the temple with drums, stringed instruments, and trumpets (i.e., they had a band of sorts). In other words, they were loud and had a beat too.
- Technology is present … and it’s seamless.
- Screen technology is a given. Texting and Tweeting and the use of mobile phones is common … and no one’s flashing a disapproving scowl when someone’s texting (probably because they figure the text is about the sermon or the worship).
- The liturgy is simple … or simply explained.
- Every church has a liturgy, but liturgical practices without understanding is not only confusing, it’s gnostic. When a worshiper has to have the “special knowledge” to fully participate, then the worship shouldn’t be a “public” service (Paul’s corrective to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 14:23 seems like an appropriate cognate here). Great liturgy is either transparent or else it’s explained … that’s a hospitality issue.
- The sermon is long, biblically based, and presumes the listener knows nothing about Christianity or our code words.
- The last packed out, literally turning people away because the worship center was too full, service I attended had a 45 minute sermon. And no one was sleeping, fidgeting, or walking out – which says something about both the quality of the content and the delivery.
- The sermon expects the listeners to do something as a result of the sermon.
- The leaders of these churches aren’t terribly interested in political correctness and don’t seem to care much if you feel “better” about your life when you leave the service. Instead, they tend to expect the listeners to do something concrete, like meet with a group this week, get involved in a project on Thursday, have a conversation about faith with a coworker this afternoon, etc. Rarely do I hear things like “Consider how Jesus is making a difference in your life” or “Be more forgiving” – neither of which is a call to action (or life transformation).
- There’s a strong emphasis on small groups, relationship building, and mission involvement.
- This is where discipleship and life transformation takes place.
Worship services continue to be the primary “front doors” to the church. Those churches that are reaching those outside of the faith, and in particular the millennials, are those churches that are doing what the church has been doing since its inception. They examine the culture. They learn the culture. They learn how to communicate with the culture. Then they learn how to use culture to present the gospel message in ways that make sense to the culture … even if the church has to bend to accommodate the culture.
As a final note, have you read the book of Acts and seen the ways the church bent its own rules to reach the culture? If not, start reading because that’s our paradigm. That’s our mandate. To do “whatever it takes” to reach the unreached … including the millennials. And if you think a traditional worship service is going to do that, my only question is … then why isn’t it?
I’ll throw it out to play advocate, hoping it will generate thought provocation:
If a traditional church excelled at discipleship, relationships, groups, hospitality, clarity, simplicity, etc., would the research tell us something different about whether traditional services were effective or not? To put it another way, is the problem with traditional church or the lack of significant relationship building and discipleship? We seem to say that most churches have some form of modern worship and they don’t work either unless discipleship and relationships are a priority. My questiin is, are we absokutely certain of the “why?”
The answer isn’t that traditional worship services are “bad.” In general, however, they’re just not effective at reaching millennials (or frankly, reaching any aged Nones. But like I said in the article, Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC is reaching millennials with their traditional worship style. However, one of the reasons they’re able to host huge services with lots of millennials is, at least in part, because there are 20 million people in relatively close proximity. Thus there are plenty of millennials who appreciate that style of worship. If you have a big enough pond, any niche creates a viable market.
Let me say that there really are some traditional worship services that are growing with some millennials. In general, though, the growth is coming through young adults who have significant church history in their past. And on the more rare occasion that a millennial None finds a home in a traditional worship service, they are nearly always there because a Christian friend did more than just invite them to church … they nurtured the relationship, shared their faith, and invested in the friendship to such an extent that they’ve become a spiritual mentor. In these cases, the formerly millennial None isn’t there because of the traditional service, but in spite of the traditional service.
Are there exceptions? Of course there are. But that’s what they are. Exceptions. The rule is this: If a worship service doesn’t resonate with a first-time unchurched visitor (or any generational None), they rarely (like almost never) return. And the number one reason a worship service doesn’t resonate with someone who has little or no church experience is because the liturgy makes no sense to them; the music isn’t just unfamiliar, it’s in a genre that they’re unfamiliar with; and the communicated message has little or no relevance for their life. I liken the experience of an unchurched and unfamiliar first-time visitor to that of an English-only speaking Christian visiting an orthodox Greek Orthodox worship service without an interpreter or friend to explain what’s going on. The music would be meaningless. The liturgy would be meaningless. And the message would be meaningless. It would be an interesting experience, but most of us would be unlikely to return. A millennial None get’s much of the same experience in a traditional worship service. They may be able (for the most part) be able to understand the words coming out of people’s mouths, but it has little or no meaning to them.
So, you ask, what if a traditional church did all of the other things right, but clung to their traditions? First, the fact that the “Christians” at that church are more married to their traditions than they are to reaching people for Jesus suggests that they’re not likely to be serious disciple-makers in their personal lives (as the Christian friend was in the previous paragraph). But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt … if everyone in the church got really, really serious about befriending, sharing faith, and discipling the millennial Nones then it would indeed be feasible that the church would start to see significant growth with the millennials. But again, it would be in spite of the traditional service, not because of the service. But here’s the shocker. When the newly churched millennials became a moving force within the church, it’s virtually guaranteed they’d begin insisting on making changes in the worship service to accommodate their friends and family. Because that’s what effective churches have always done to reach those outside the faith. They are willing to surrender their personal preferences in order to reach those beyond the grasp of faith. (Think of the removal of the dietary laws, the dropping of the circumcision rite, and Paul’s appeal at Mars Hill … all key traditions of the early church that were surrendered in order to reach the unreached.)
But there’s one other note along those lines. There really are traditional churches that claim to excel at discipleship, relationships, groups, hospitality, clarity, simplicity, etc. … and you and I both know these churches aren’t filling up with millennial Nones. I’m thinking the reason may be more about lifting “the traditions of man over the commands of God” than much of anything else. It’s really hard to be faithful to the Great Commission when a church tenaciously hangs on to their personal preferences. And that’s why there have been serious worship wars over the introduction of buildings in the 300s, the introduction of the organ in the 900s, the use of German (or the language of the masses) in the 1500s, the use of printed Bibles in the 1600s, the introduction of the piano in the late 1800s, the introduction of women in the pulpit in the 1950s, the use of guitars and keyboards in the 1960s, and the use of screen technology in the 1990s. It’s hard to let go of what seems “normal” to us. In fact, what seems normal and traditional tends to feel “holy” to us. But the passing on of traditions is not just a must, it’s inevitable. We just make it more difficult by committing ourselves to human traditions over faithfulness to the gospel.
“In spite of but not because of”……I think that’s the question at hand really. Does the service style actually matter all that much if, all things being equal, a church is good at building relationships and making disciples? I guess what I’m asking is, if a church is good at relationships, discipleship, hospitality etc., could most anyone be “convinced” that whatever style said church offers is beneficial? They have been discipled and their “benefit” comes from the gospel more than the style. Or to put it another way, what about a church plant that is traditional in style but focuses on discipleship etc?
Agreed, traditional churches are not filling up with menials. But that’s back to my question again – Why? Is it because they are traditional or because they stick at discipleship etc.? Consider the ancient church. You seem to talk a lot about getting back to the basics..like in Acts, but their worship was likely different from what the culture would have called “relevant.” What made it relevant however, was the basics of discipleship etc. Not necessarily the style of worship, how they met etc.
Luke, the primary way churches grow (in average worship attendance) is when first-time visitors return. And most Nones (of all ages) who attend a traditional worship service will not return because the experience – the service, the liturgy, the music, etc. is irrelevant and largely meaningless to them. They don’t understand it. They get nothing out of it. And so they don’t return. And if they don’t return, it’s unlikely the church will get an opportunity to disciple them.
This is the reason the old “Seeker Driven” model, coupled with a secondary “Believers” Service,” was developed. The weekend services were designed to reach the irreligious and the midweek believers’ services were developed for worship by believers (to be fair and honest, even these were rarely “traditional, though). Today, the churches that are reaching the Nones, and in particular the millennial Nones (and in many cases the Dones) is by creating a worship experience that “makes sense” to the target, but also includes “real” worship opportunities (such as religious music, Bible teaching sermons, etc.). But they aren’t “traditional.” Why? Because a traditional worship service rarely gets a None or a Done to return a second time.
Luke, the solution to those churches that want or need to maintain a traditional worship service is to offer an alternative worship service that is focused on reaching the target (whether that target be boomers, gen-x, millennials, skeptics, cynics, Nones, Dones, or whomever).
You appeal to the ancient church as an example. When it comes to the “ancient church,” I strongly recommend the book Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola. Although I don’t concur with his conclusions, his scholarship about the early church is virtually flawless. The “worship” services of the ancient church look absolutely nothing like our worship services. No litanies. No choirs. No instruments. Little (if any) music. No pews. No Bibles. No buildings. No smells or bells. But lots of food and conversation. But as I’ve pointed out, even the ancient church struggled to be “relevant” … and they made significant changes to their own practices to accommodate their target audience … even to the point of eating foods that were abhorrent to their sensibilities and palate in order to make the gospel relevant to their target.
I hear your desire to get the unchurched into traditional worship via discipleship. That’s possible. But as I wrote earlier, it means the current church members (most, not one or two) are going to have to become committed disciplers outside of church, a highly unlikely scenario given that few Christians are even willing to sacrifice their worship preferences, let alone their home and work time to invest in a personal commitment to evangelism and discipling outside of the church building or Sunday morning. Luke, if we could live on ideals, our churches would be filled with new believers and seekers. But I’m a realist. Yes, what you’re suggesting is possible. But I’ve yet to find one church in North America that’s doing it so well that their pews are filled with millennials who were formerly Nones. Possible? Yes. Likely? No. Instead, I think we’d better look at the examples across the US where the Nones are being reached, baptisms are being performed, and lives are being transformed … and when we see that fruit, let’s look at what we can learn from those trees and from those orchards they’re planted in. Then apply what we’ve learned, rather than pushing back because our church’s personal preferences are being challenged.
I get it now but it’s causing me to hear mixed messages. One the one hand, I hear we need to move away from attractional church and focus more on how many people we disciple and send out to reach the nones, dones and millennials. Yet, on the other hand, I’m hearing that people won’t do it anyway or take to discipleship, so we need to find the culturally relevant service that will attract the nones, dones, or millennials so that we can get them in to disciple them….which just leads me to assume we’re still talking about attractional church. And how do we get them into a culturally relevant service for them if our people aren’t really going to be disciples or want to be sent out?
We’re making this more complicated than it is. In today’s North American culture, the worship service is the front door of the church. There are a lot of reasons for that, the chief being that most church goers are Christian in name only and aren’t willing to sacrifice much, let alone invest themselves as personal disciple makers. And so, like all “good Americans” we depend on the institution to do our job for us. Luke, I’m a realist … that’s the way it is and I can wish it was different, but it’s not. So we have to deal with what is and not what should be.
Therefore, if we’re going to reach the Nones (no matter what the generation), we’re going to have to create a worship service that makes sense to them and connects well enough with them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually that they want to return. You will rarely get a second chance with a None. No three strikes and you’re out. For most, you have ONE shot at it. And if that one shot is that they visit a traditional worship service where virtually nothing moves, touches, or inspires them (and it makes no sense to them and is irrelevant to their real-life lives), then you won’t get a second chance. On the other hand, if they visit a worship service that’s designed to reach them, and IF you get a second chance (and a third and a fourth), THEN the church may be able to engage the participant in baby steps of discipleship (or big steps on occasion).
One thing I’m reading in a lot of the responses is the whining of church members who cry “But what about me?” (Funny, I don’t read any of the New Testament commands or instructions that would give these kinds of questions a second thought … let the dead bury their dead; take up your cross; if you don’t hate your family; if you won’t give up everything then you can’t be my disciple.) But again, I’m a realist, so I’ve not suggested that churches put an end to their traditional services. Traditional church members largely need a traditional worship service, and for the time being, most churches that currently have a traditional worship service should maintain a good, solid, traditional worship service. The one “sacrifice” I’d advocate is that these good, caring, committed church members allow the church’s leadership to reschedule their traditional service so that the targeted service gets the priority (which is NOT Saturday night, NOT 8:30 Sunday morning, etc. It’s Sunday morning at 10:30, 10:45, or 11:00 in most US communities. And sadly, I already know there will be a large number of well-churched members who will bellyache about this sacrifice too. But that just proves the point … ). The reason for the priority time for the targeted service is that research has shown that the vast majority of first-time visitors come to the 11-ish o’clock worship service. That being so, along with the “one shot” that a church has at reaching the Nones, the alternative service needs to be scheduled at the most likely time that a guest will show up the first time.
So, in a nutshell.
Should we invest in our church members to help them become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in the hopes of them becoming disciplers? Yes. Absolutely. BUT realistically, if we put our eggs solely in that basket we can expect the rate of church closures to skyrocket even faster than we’re seeing now. Perhaps if we’d seriously invest in real discipleship and real accountability with the newest crop of Jesus followers, the future may be otherwise. But for the time being, if you want to reach people for Jesus, develop a well-targeted worship service.
Well, this Baby Boomer isn’t dead yet and I wonder what purpose our Worship and “Worship Services” are supposed to be about. I am tired of worship centers looking like a concert hall with a mix of darkness illuminated with flashing lights. I am tired of being “sung to” and not led to sing or being the audience to performers. I studied Music and Worship in college and seminary and learned that variety is good in worship. Music, Prayers, Silence, of course a sermon, and get people involved with those Responsive or just reading Scripture aloud. Let’s regain an interactive worship where God is the audience!
So, Ken. There are literally thousands of smaller and mid-sized churches that offer really excellent Baby Boomer and Traditional worship. Why would you subject yourself to a worship center that looks like a concert hall? Different churches have different targets. Please go to one that targets you. It’ll make your worship experience so much more fulfilling. (And then from afar perhaps you could heartily endorse other worship styles that aren’t in your personal preference style, but are clearly reaching thousands of people for Jesus!)
so really what this all ends up being is “the church” needs to do whatever needs to be done to reach all the ‘millenials” so then they can make over the church so they can reach all their friends and family and in turn see all of us old irrelevant people will just fade out of the picture because we wont and don’t fit into the old church we used to attend. And probably end up just staying home and doing home churches or something because now us baby boomers no longer fit in or are welcome.
When did this become about us and about what we want? When was the gospel ever about doing what I like, what I want, conforming to my preferences, or honoring my traditions? Christianity has always been about one thing … and one thing only: making disciples. If I have to make a sacrifice for that to happen, then that’s what’s required.
We’re living in an interesting future where generation after generation of “Christians” have been more tenaciously faithful to their traditions than they have been to their Lord. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see faithful Christians insisting they’re entitled to one practice or another and the church should conform to their whims. Indeed, when the Jerusalem church cried “Foul” because the next generation of potential disciples would not respond to a church bound by traditions rather than the gospel, the traditionalists were sorely chastised and they ultimately repented and relented.
One of the interesting observations by those studying the rise of the Nones and the Dones is that there really aren’t fewer Christians in the US today than there were last year. There are just more people becoming honest with pollsters and admitting they’ve been living a lie by calling themselves Christians. Jesus was pretty clear that those who chose to follow him would be required to make serious and significant sacrifices. I suspect entitlement would be one of those things we’re being called to give up.
The Church is the only organization that is about those who are not yet members. Remember that Jesus was all about the 1 not the 99. We need to sacrifice our personal preferences and traditions to reach the lost. Quit being so selfish Church.
When did this become about us and about what we want?
I devote much of my life to service and ministry to others. But sometimes I need comfort and rest in my relationship with my God. I chose this church because it met my needs. Here I find a chance to serve God and my fellow man. But I am human. and needs also . If I must go somewhere else to have those needs met I will. Like any other service organization care for the caregiver is critical.
When did the church become a “service organization” and when did church members become entitled to anything? I’m afraid I don’t find either concept in the Bible. The gospel calls Christians and the church to sacrifice, not self-interest. The church Jesus died for is a disciple-making enterprise, not a club for the membership. Yes, the church is called to take care of its own, but care doesn’t imply nor include pandering to the preferences of the members, but preparation and encouragement for the task at hand. The US church is in the deplorable state its in because it has traded its discipleship mandate for membership mollycoddling.
As a boomer, my greatest joy is in seeing young people become grounded in their faith. I participate in support of that mission; therefore feel vested and satisfied. My friends are those with similar mission. We are in a different world; I like parts.
As interesting as all of this stuff is, I can’t but think that something vital is being missed or ignored. It has to do with several linked ideas: the significance of liturgy in relation to corporate worship; the difference between performance and worship by individuals and ‘the body/community’ and, probably, most importantly, what we are engaging in/with when we say we are worshipping.
Totally agree with you David. We must focus on what we are engaging in and the significance of worship. It is not a performance. All types of worship are meant to build a stronger relationship with God.
When people are engaged in small groups that are well done and service, AND they are exposed on a regular basis to a simple and well done worship service with a good message, they grow. It is not simply about hearing, but doing. When they are actively engaged in kingdom work, in the mission of God, they grow.
Amen and Amen!
And there’s my main question at the start: If we are engaged in Kingdom work and the mission of God, does the style really matter? Is it possible people would naturally be discipled to accept whatever form of worship a particular church offers?
I think it can happen; however, it will be because of relationship building. Later, however, that form of worship might not be enough to reach the masses. Most Christians are not willing to be disciplers.
When the goal is to reach the un-churched/lost/nones does it not make sense to remove as many man-made barriers that stand between them and God. Style of worship is not mandated in the Word, therefore would it not make sense to have a worship style that is most appealing to the demographic of non-church goer that is being targeted? The last thing I would want is for the music style or a certain vernacular used up front to discourage a seeker from returning to the church.
There is no universal style of service/worship that will fit all circumstances and contexts. A rural church in a small southern community could (and probably SHOULD) have a very different presentation of Truth than a downtown NYC church. The Truth should be consistent, as should the engaging community and call to action, across styles of worship and cultural contexts.
If millennials respond well to the colorful, crisp, simple production of a more modern church, then the mega church on the north side of Chicago better have all of that. But a smaller community church seeking to draw in the conservative young adults of a local farming community might be better served with a toned down family feel.
The issue isn’t one of old vs new or contemporary vs traditional, but rather one of “How can we best reach the lost in our community?”
Being brought up in “Traditional” Worship services where we sang songs with doctrine in them like” How Firm A Foundation”, “And Can It Be” and other hymns that gave us an awesome feeling of God’s presence and we respected HIS house. I will say some contemporary songs are very uplifting and great, however when we have one style and not make room for the other it’s sad. I will go one step further, reguardless of your feelings on service personel and war, it’s sad and unexcuseable to leave patriotic music out when the Patriotic holidys come…
If God is allowed to work in our hearts & we follow His commandments, the world will notice and we wouldn’t be able to build a building big enough to hold all the people!!!!!
Gotta say, Kitty, I’m an Onward Christian Soldiers kinda guy. The “Jesus is my girlfriend” metaphor just doesn’t work for me on a personal basis. I lean more toward the Jesus that says, “This is where we’re going and the hill we’re going to die on” and our response is to stand up and be obedient because of our commitment, loyalty, discipline, integrity, and honor. But then, no one’s accused me of being the most politically correct person in the room either.
Thanks for sharing!
1. We need to be careful about our intended target of worship. Our nation has (unintentionally) become an idol for too many Christians. A worship service is about giving glory to God, not man.
2. The church is not an American institution. It is supposed to be global.
3. WE are the church. HIS house is our hearts, not a man-made building.
I’m a ‘main-liner” and in just looking around and noticing actuality or what seems to be actuality, I theoretically could have written this article 20+ years ago. I believe others have written similar for perhaps hundreds of years in response to their observations. When the style of worship becomes more important than the act – then ya gots problems. Unfortunately our guide book gives generalities, so to speak, of what worship is, it doesn’t give specific instructions nor lays out the format. And human ego being what it is, kicks in and fills in the blanks – often leading to personal preference.
I grew up with Country Western so the “beat” does not suit my “taste” and would not attend a “contemporary worship” . I’m 60 yo. Saying that, I realize style is not all that important – CW is not inherently better nor worse that “grunge music” when you disregard the words of either – and if the preference of one or the other gets you in the door – so be it. Although, I’m a regular in the “Amen corner”, I’m not a fan of most “worship services” as even though much purposeful thought have gone into trying to put together “worship” services that are biblically based, I feel that what I have seen fall short.
I don’t pretend to know what a “worship” service is “supposed” to look like (yet I do have my opinions), but I think it is somewhat telling as to what the problem is by the following two observations. Why is it a surprise that there are few millennials and almost no “Nones” in attendance:
The question arises – Is the church failing Men or is the Men failing the Church? The answer is YES. We men have our many faults and many tend to boast that they believe in God, but (egocentricall) fail to see the relevancy of church attendance. And for good reason – A successful church and service should indeed be impactful, life-changing, worship-filled, but also challenging – challenging us’n’s to strive to walk more like Christ did, and to go out and be the good salt and good light (we are not called by Jesus to be salt and light he says we are – so we are challenged to chose to be good salt and good light and not cover either up) in order to help more people to also strive to walk more like Christ did.
Oh, and I think there is this little thing called Love that we should also be not just modeling, but living. For without Love aren’t all our gifts, good works and deeds next to worthless? Looking around, I see little of this coming from the “church” ( meaning attendees). Believe me, I realize there are many exceptions, but data shows, that often there is not much difference between how church-goers act and how “the world” acts. That’s sad when someone who is searching, looks to the church for answers, and sees the world reflected. An “inconvenient truth” is that there are consequences! Worship must be more than sitting around, holding hands, letting yourself feel good by singing Kum Ba Ya together until we exit and put our worldly hat back on, only to come again next Sunday, leaving our worldly hat at the door and do the same again – ad infinitum.
This is key, Mike: LOVE! Interesting how long it took in this thread to get there. Without love, EVERYTHING else becomes a clanging gong, yielding nothing of eternal value. I submit DONES and NONES and MILLENNIALS and most everyone else senses where authentic love and hospitality and service ARE, rather than manipulation, cow-towing, and anxiety over lesser things. Love and committed relational authenticity are harder than worship style bandaids but cover a multitude of worship articulation “sins.” Unfortunately, when a pastor, board, committee or consultant swoops in to “save” a congregation through mere change or “modernization to reach the culture” – without first and foremost loving God and truly knowing and loving the people around them – relationships, unity, and probably individual spiritual growth suffer.
I speak from experience when I say it is shocking how fast a fellowship of believers can feel like a broken home rather than a corps of lay ministers on mission WITHOUT LOVE AT THE HELM! Whatever worship is, let it set the stage for the Holy Spirit to work, binding us together in love and spurring us to action: service to all for the glory of God; life change for the glory of God; disciple-making for the glory of God – NOT congregational or self-aggrandizement. By the Holy Spirit, Paul and others grew the Church in diverse cultures with deeply ingrained traditions. He pointed always to Christ (and Christ, to the Father) – never to what he himself or the church was doing “right” or “differently.” A long time ago, granted, but God was then and is still love.
Thank you this commentary on love and the Holy Spirit. Isn’t the purpose of “disciplining” people to communicate the love of God to them and to teach them to respond to that love and learn to love themselves and others? If the “worship” service does that, it serves its purpose. No two snowflakes are alike. God loves variety. Different strokes for different folks.
I swear main line folks keep contending that there is some kind of traditional millenial underground church out there somewhere! And btw for those contending the 50’s & 60’s were “good old days” I wish they would talk to my mother & father-in-law (African-American)
Chip, if you find that underground church, please let us know. 😀
Also I’ve been to Redeemer, love Keller, my nephews belonged there. Their worship with Jazz bands, etc, is far from traditional per mainline standards
It’s interesting to observe even in some of the comments here that most of us think OUR ideas used in our setting according to our preferences work best. Or others love to suggest that one element of worship or teaching or whatever is THE problem: message length, contemporary or traditional, megachurch or small, auditorium or normal building, etc.
It seems to me that churches need to pull from the many ideas that could work and use WISDOM, one of the most common words in all of Scripture, to consider what will reach the people God has called them to reach. There’s no easy answer or one-size-that-fits-all for the church today. Of course, the basics of faith and theology must remain constant, but we spend far too much time in my mind blaming those who are different from us for the problems of the church. Instead, some of the blame is our lack of hard work to figure out what God is asking US to do..
As you suggest, Gary, if the answer was an easy “this is what works all the time, every time” then we’d have booming big churches with hundreds of baptisms being done every week. The solution is way more nuanced than that, though, as you rightly point out. Context is king … and the only way to discover what will work in a community’s context is to get out of the church office and go hang out with those the local congregation is called to reach. It really is like doing evangelism like St. Patrick did. Go live with the people you need to reach long enough that you can talk like them, talk with them, and move into real empathy for who they are. Only then can a church leader begin to design a worship service, a ministry program, an evangelistic process, a discipling strategy, etc. that has a real chance of working.
But there’s one thing we know doesn’t work: applying yesterday’s tactics to today’s strategies.
Thanks for your comment, Gary. Good stuff there.
[…] Is It the End of Contemporary Worship? This post really should be titled something like “Everything Boomers Love and Argue about Is Irrelevant.” A church consultant takes issue with the opinions expressed in two recent blogs on the future of contemporary worship because the “they’re based largely on personal opinion and the facts they cite tend to be about those who ‘left’ the church. There’s no research or facts cited about those who have never been in church.” While worshipers who prefer one style over the other hash it out—and, I’d add have sounded like broken records for decades—the upcoming generation, for the most part, is having none of it. […]
The “traditional ” worship service spoken of in these articles were at one time not what was the norm or traditional “church” service as they have evolved from the extremely liturgical services before them. I think you will find that the dechurched who were part of more traditional worship churches tend to gravitate towards the churches who have loud upbeat music as opposed to hymns and organ music. Music is only a part of why someone participates in “church” as above, small groups, kids and student, and missions and outreach are important to those looking for a place to worship and participate in. Biblical truth is important too.
Good insights. Thanks!
I wish we’d stop focusing on how to rope people into coming to church, and instead focus on what we, the church, can do out in the world. Then the rest falls into place, at least in my experience.
You know one thing Jesus isn’t recorded as having done? Bringing people to church. Trying to to craft a worship service people would attend. Jesus was about God’s business, and that was so attractive that people followed in droves. Maybe we should try doing that. THAT’S our paradigm.
House churches, in their purer form, do exactly this. However, in the North American culture, the house church hasn’t yet been effective in reaching the numbers of people necessary to become a movement (my doctoral research was on the house church, global and domestic). In the North American culture, the front door to the church and the front door to effective discipleship is still the local church and the worship service. When another effective means is found (and practiced) to make disciples in sufficient numbers as to keep up or surpass the population’s growth, then I agree that’s the practice we should adopt. However, to date, the attractional model of church and discipleship continues to be the most effective way to reach the largest number of the unreached for Jesus Christ. Other models should also be used because no one model is effective at reaching everyone … and who knows, another culturally effective disciple-making model may be discovered and be adopted.
It sure seems that the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) under the direction of pastor Adam Hamilton, and outstanding pastoral staff, has an answer as we continue to grow in every way. Meaningful sermons and teaching, Generous Hospitality and relationship building are paramount in our growth and maintaining!
Bingo! And Redeemer Presbyterian. Rock City Church in Columbus, Ohio. North Point in Atlanta. Among many others.
Depends on what you mean “traditional”. Many infer Orthodox (in English), Catholic, Episcopalian or Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, United Methodist as being high church liturgical, ritualistic, and sacramental. Meanwhile others say “Contemporary” is derived from Pietist, Revivalist, Biblical Fundamentalist as in Baptist and Pentecostalist/Charismatic. But there are Catholic, Episcopalians, and Lutherans who do Contemporary “liturgies” music wise but keep the ancient structures based on the Didache from early 2nd Centuary, which is radically different from 1st Cent. Acts and 1st Corinthians, long before Emperor Constantine even existed.
This brought to my mind of a pastor that has said many times that we need both horizontal and vertical worship songs. Vertical are words that sing to God and horizontal are songs that have words in which songs are sung about God. In that conversation I heard that people believe that it is more reverent to sing horizontal songs and if you were brought up that way then any songs with vertical intimacy of sorts was not completely understood. If you notice, horizontal songs seems to represent the more traditional style where vertical songs represent a more contemporary style. This is not true in every style song but it really seems to lend that way. If singing a horizontal song then you are singing about God and making a proclamation as to what he has done in your life. If singing a vertical song you are basically singing a love song with intimacy to let him know how you feel about him on a personal basis. If singing and vertical song you are basically singing a love song with intimacy to let him know how you feel about him on a personal basis. I have found out that the older generation seems to not talk openly about their problems where is the younger generation does. Is there an intimacy issue here? I’m not sure of that But I thought it was a good conversation. I really enjoy the idea of singing both horizontal and vertical worship because I want to shout about what God has done for me but yet I want to be very personal with him. What is funny is that I know that people love to sing contemporary music while they’re driving but feel there is no place for it in the church. Either way I love both!
Last week during worship, I figured out what I was missing in worship time. It used to be that when I left church, I had a song that stuck in my head during the week, that I could sing and that really spoke to my heart. As I looked around in the service, I noticed that most people were not singing and the songs being sung had no tune or beat, the words were repetitive ( one phrase over and over), and had only generalized quotes (you are awesome God, you are awesome God) . Now don’t get me wrong-we should definitely be telling God he is awesome but I can tell you that as soon as I leave the service-that song will not be playing over and over in my head and I will not likely to be singing it in my car while driving to work the next week. I miss those powerful songs with words that you feel down in your soul and you find yourself singing all week long. “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses and the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses…and He walks with me and He talks with me..and tells me I am His own…..”
or ” When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.” Those are powerful lyrics, the tune is simple and singable, and they come from someone’s deep experience that has meaning for anyone. Why not do both?
Excuse me…but in the first paragraph you write that Aigner wrote about the “demise” of contemporary church services. He didn’t. He wrote about their decline and specifically ruled out a reference to demise. The rest of your post stumbles from there. As A.W. Tozer wrote, we pay for our theoretical errors with practical failure. Thank you.
I’m afraid what’s stumbling is your opening premise about what’s in that first paragraph. Here’s the quote from the first paragraph of the article in question: “Alongside his reasons, here are the three main reasons I see for the decline (if not demise) of the contemporary worship movement.”
“… Decline (if not demise) …” (see image from the blog post below) His words are suggestive that the demise might be in the works. If he was “ruling out” demise, his opening paragraph certainly seems to belie that intention. (However, to be fair, every “style” of worship will see it’s ultimate demise over time …)
I contend most churches are designed on the premise that the US was once, at least in general, a Christian nation. That a large majority of Americans would identify as Christian if polled. Therefore, if most churches wanted to grow they either sent missionaries overseas or they built their churches to reach the mostly Christian population. Thus, the development of the attraction/consumer church model. Not really saving too many people in this mostly Christian culture, just moving them from one church to another one…what’s in it for me?….maybe some disenfranchised come back because this church is finally doing what the others couldn’t or wouldn’t etc….
That being what I believe to be the case, I also contend most of the well known church programs like VBS, trunk or treat, fall fest, etc. were created to attract other Christians to make “my church” grow. And while they aren’t bad in any way, the culture has shifted, America is not nearly as Christian as it once was and there actually is a large population of non Christians out there who have no desire to be in a relationship with a church in the first place, much less be attracted to church programs when the world offers plenty on its own. And with a good population of non’s, I’d argue they are the churches first priority over shifting sheep.
So, as realists, how do we balance the reality that most of our church members can’t imagine doing much different than attraction/consumer church yet most non Christians have no reason to be attracted? Sure, we want to be excellent in what we do and fit within the cultural context so we don’t run any new people off who might happen to come along, but….I just don’t see how we can do a very good job of reaching a non Christian culture with a church designed for a different, more Christian culture, if we’re realists?
VBS, trunk or treat, fall fest, Sunday School, etc. etc. All take place “on” campus but we still treat many of these as though they are “out” reach. The world can do programs like these much better than most churches. So non Christians have no reason to mess with all of the extra churchy stuff if they don’t want to. Yet, like you said, realist! Our people aren’t going to move away from these easily. So what’s the middle of the road fix?
To be honest, I’m not sure there is a “middle of the road” fix. The reality is, as you’ve rightly suggested, the church in the US is largely reliant on the attractional model. And, as you suggest, that model is quickly surpassing its usefulness. That’s one of the reasons we have been adamant about Radical Discipleship and Multiplication (of disciples) … of moving from a “Y’all come” to “Everyone goes” model of church.
That said, the reality is the vast majority of churches cannot (not just will not) make the shift from attracting to sending – and for the foreseeable future, the brick-and-mortar church is going to be a viable thing in most locales … there will just be fewer of them. And so we, the Effective Church Group, will continue to seek and offer “best practices” for those churches that are committed to be the last one standing in their neighborhood, while at the same time we continue to advocate for faithful disciples to get active in discipling others (relationship building, evangelism, proselytizing, whatever term makes good descriptive sense). It’s why I teach both Pastoral Leadership AND Evangelism at Phillips Seminary. The existing church still needs leadership skills. And disciples need to know how to be effective evangelists (disciple makers).
But middle of the road? Hard to do. Saddleback started independent house churches for a season. I don’t know if they’re still doing that, but IMHO it was a good idea. Interestingly, I had a conversation with a millennial just this morning who has gathered up a group of his formerly churched (as kids) friends and over dinner they talked about what they missed from church. The response? “Fellowship and Accountability.” So they’ve started a “Group” to meet every week to fulfill those tasks without the trappings of either church or Christianity. There’s a need out there … the question is whether or not the church has the gumption to do anything about it.
I guess by middle of the road, I’m asking more about managing the consumer church model (and not getting burned out in the process) while working, however fast the Lord allows, toward radical discipleship……or, if there is no middle of the road, does a guy like me focus more on church planting in order to create the radical discipleship culture while (hopefully) trying to avoid the consumer model?
When I was in undergraduate, I had a chance to have a conversation with Win Arn, one of the founders of the Church Growth Movement. He told me, “If you want to make disciples, start new churches.” Later, I believe it was Aubry Maphurs at Dallas Theological Seminary who said to a church planting class, “There is no one young enough in ministry to successfully turn around a church,” implying that the most effective disciple-making churches are new ones.
I can’t disagree.
BUT … there are very few successful new church planters. Most denominations seem to think that if someone’s been to seminary, has a pulse, and proclaims the desire to start a church that that qualifies them. It doesn’t, and very very very few of these good hearted men and women successfully launch a sustainable church – but that doesn’t seem to stem the tide of approving poorly assessed pastors to get out there and start a church.
The reality is, if you launch a platform model church, it will become a consumer model no matter what you do because we live in a consumer driven culture. Radical disciples are made one on one, not from the pulpit … and often in spite of a pulpit. If you’re planning on making a living (as defined by our culture) in the church world, you have limited options. If you’re not committed to a church-salaried position, then the field for radical disciple making is pretty wide open. If, on the other hand, you’re a paid church leader of a platform church (most of our readers are), then invest in making radical disciples one-on-one – and do it well – and they will launch the multiplication movement you dream of. I haven’t seen any other way to get that job done. You can’t preach it and expect the church culture to change. You can’t legislate it because that never changes the culture. Instead, all you can do is “do” it.
Got it! A big thank you. Now to pray about how I feel about my salary coming from a platform church if I can focus on radical discipleship regardless of my job type.
I think we are at a place where people of all ages long for something more authentic, participatory, and creative. I predict concert style worship with loud volume is passe to the point that people in touch with the here and now are already finding ways to lower the stage persona and make worship about the most important instrument in the room… the people’s voices. Young adults do not seemingly crave a show on Sunday. they want to be part of the mix like their voices matter… they want to create along with the band what comes from the room… they want to hear the people around them… not have their voices and their friends voices drowned out. We began dropping stage volume and teasing out the congregations voice at youth group and it works… is beautiful, inspiring, participatory, and can soar in ways that a few mic-ed people NEVER can. I fought for years to have the concert style worship … and we enjoyed it, but we inadvertently killed congregational singing…. The upcoming generation does not need or want loud…. they want to be in the mix… they want their place to be heard and be part of something that feels real and creates a communal experience. Ironically, it was the youth groups that led us into this current popular style… and it may well be the youth groups that get sick of it and revert back to singing together in a way that has an ancient precedent… It may be a priesthood of the believer thing… LET US PLAY TOO! Our voices matter! PLEASE tell me examples of where mega churches are moving back toward a style of worship where the worship leaders serve the congregation by helpiing their voices be heard uppermost in the room rather than being so loud the team drowns them out.
Don, other than more “traditional” large churches like Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City and some jazz churches like NY Redeemer, the vast majority of mega churches that are reaching younger adults are still playing loud. Honestly, I doubt we’ll see a “return” to the style of music and presentation that you yearn for in our lifetimes. With less than 90 percent of Americans able to read music, with the deprecation of the arts (including music) by our school systems, and with the loss (?) of the embedded classic hymnody into our culture, it’s rather unlikely that we’ll see a return.
Sadly, I have to agree. As a musician who lives in a county in Alabama that offers no arts in the school system but focuses everything on sport, I see the problem. .
Our United Methodist Church has a fine pianist , organist, choir, and a beautiful sanctuary is suffering. The contemporary service draws the attendance and the musicianship at the contemporary service is truly lacking but loud and food is available and people can come and go to eat or get more coffee.