When we do a church consultation, we always recommend that the worship services should be designed around their target audience … that worship should be indigenous to those you’re trying to reach. And so it happened that I was asked, “What do you mean by developing Indigenous Worship? What is indigenous worship?”

Ahh. Good question … sometimes I need to remember that “insider” language can be problematic at multiple levels! I wrote a response and have pasted it below. Let me know if you have other questions or if it’s not clear.

Indigenous Worship: Worship that is designed to reach the indigenous population, that is, the target of your worship service. 

For instance, the “indigenous” audience for a classic (traditional) worship service are people who have been raised in the church and who have an appreciation and predilection for classic church hymnody, classic worship instruments (organ and piano), a more formal worship style, and traditional rituals and rites. The stereotypical audience is 70+ year-olds.

The “indigenous” audience for a “contemporary” worship service is someone who has some church experience and has an appreciation and predilection for 1980s–1990s Mercy Music (Come, Now is the Time to Worship, et al), keyboard and guitar driven music with vocal harmonies, a less formal worship style (business casual), and limited traditional rituals and rites. The stereotypical audience is Baby Boomers and late Gen-X

The “indigenous” audience for an “alternative” worship service is a young adult with little church experience. The music for these services depends on the specific targeted audience, but runs from Hillsong to Hip-Hop to Country Western; the music tends to be percussion driven (bass and drum) and very loud; the worship band is led by a lead vocalists and others sing “as needed” (echoes, “oooh, oooh,” etc. – though they sing back up, the lead singer carries the song); there may or may not be traditional rituals and rites, but they are well defined during the service; and the worship style is exceptionally casual – you may see t-shirts and shorts and you may see biz casual … pretty much anything goes. 

Remember, the point of designing worship for an indigenous audience is to move, touch, and inspire the majority of those you’re trying to reach. Not every senior loves the organ. Not every young adult thinks Hip Hop is all that. My 80 year-old mom wants to worship with young adults regardless of music style: “I love their energy.” My thirty-something son prefers traditional worship styles: “That’s what church is supposed to be.”

Note, just because you design worship for target X doesn’t mean that you’re excluding others. There is no universally appreciated style, so even if you don’t design your worship specifically, you’re unintentionally targeting someone. But everyone is welcome to every service. Can’t speak English? You’re still welcome … we can’t accommodate every language, but we’ll do the best we can to help you feel welcome. Hate Hip Hop? You’re still welcome … but know the music isn’t designed for you (but you can pick up ear plugs from the Welcome Table!).