Are Churches Trending Back Toward One Worship Style?

Zac HicksConvergence of Old and New in Worship, History of Worship and Church Music, Worship Style1 Comment

Rainer’s 6 Reasons

I hope Thom Rainer’s post travels. He offers six reasons why some churches are moving back to one worship style, not willing to call it a full-blown trend or prophesy that the tides are turning…but one can hope. Here are his reasons:

1. Multiple worship styles created an “us vs. them” mentality.
2. The church did not have the resources to do multiple styles with quality.
3. The church moved from multiple services to one service.
4. The Millennial generation has influenced many churches.
5. Worship wars are waning.
6. Multiple generations are becoming accustomed to different types of church music and worship style.

I have observed the same things, perhaps more anecdotally than systematically, but I agree with the assessment. With regards to #5 and #6, I agree that while skirmishes are still happening (and aren’t to be minimized because of the painful, mission-killing division they cause in the local church), the war is over. As some have said, for better or worse contemporary/modern worship has won the day in the bulk of evangelicalism, and that reality contributes to why #5 and #6 are accurate descriptions. Perhaps musical traditionalists (who, may we be reminded, aren’t all “old people”) have actually changed their opinion or convictions, but I’ve seen far more simply choose to lay down their swords and resign themselves to what they perceive as inevitable. 

How Shifts in Contemporary Worship Have Given Rise to #2

#2 is interesting, because it wouldn’t have been true in the first decade or so of contemporary worship’s rise. In that era, the contemporary worship aesthetic was far more folk-oriented than rock-driven (remember that one of the primary streams feeding into contemporary worship was the Jesus Movement). Folk, in many ways, is easier to pull off in a way that honors and befits the demands of the genre. A few guitars plus some percussion, and you generally have the requirements met. But as contemporary worship progressed toward more concertized rock, it became harder to pull off without certain qualitative bars being reached. I think this has become more stark since the late 90s and early 2000s with the dawn of the modern-worship, conference-borne, arena-size era where production levels of the rising “worship music industry” notched up significantly. Churches teetering on the two-style precipice often found that they didn’t have the musical and/or technological bandwidth to engage good traditional worship and good contemporary worship (I know those phrases need definitions and qualifiers, but I’m refraining for now). I experienced this in my own ministry and alongside other church leaders who would tell me of lop-sided budgets in two-style churches, obviously betraying which style the church was pouring their heart into. Years back, I remember fighting hard to bring this issue to the table at one local church…that if we really wanted to do both well, we needed the budget and staffing to reflect this (obviously an issue for bigger churches). And over the course of a few years I tried to “balance” that budget so that our values in the ledgers reflected our values on paper. That was only part of the battle, though. It’s one thing to balance a budget. It’s another thing to shift weights within the hearts and minds of people. I say all this just to point out how multiple service styles can so complicate things and make leadership dynamics incredibly complex for the worship pastors and leaders who are in charge. My personal experience tells me that quality in a multiple-style format is incredibly elusive apart from a lot of resources and a lot of dedicated individuals. We all can facepalm a little bit thinking about churches (that we ourselves may have been involved in) who never could quite do it well…awkward, awkward, awkward.  

(I half wonder if the pettiness and tangential nature of worship wars didn’t inadvertently stoke the flames of the church planting resurgence. Starting fresh and majoring on the majors can be a very appealing vision if you’re a young firebrand trapped in an established church riddled with infighting. It wouldn’t be the first time that God providentially made lemonade.)

God is Funny

As you can see, though I’ve written in the past on how to encourage a church to be unified around multiple worship styles/services, I’m a big fan of unified worship and bringing everyone together. Interestingly, several years back I wrote a post applauding a prominent church who had just completed a church-merge that jammed together two very different traditional and contemporary approaches. They took a stand around the flag of the gospel, believing in its power to unite even the most unlikely bed-fellows. It was a bold move, given that the church had a long, prominent history of national influence in church music. That church was Coral Ridge, where I (in another twist of laughable providence) now serve.

Adding a #7: Churches That Increasingly Embrace Gospel-Centrality

This all leads me to add a #7 to Rainer’s helpful list. I DO think that, at least for some churches, the impulse toward unifying worship has come out of deeper reflections on the nature of the gospel. When churches begin to engage in gospel-centered philosophy and practice, the good news has a way of organically creating a culture of unity and a deferential spirit. People stop being so easily offended while simultaneously becoming much more easily blessed.  They bear one another’s burdens; they increasingly forget about themselves and what they need.

As we all grow in understanding that everything we really need we already possess in Christ, we are slowly weaned off the addictive tendency to feverishly extract those things from others. When it comes to worship style, we don’t need our way. We just need Jesus. And because we already have Him, we no longer need a certain worship style to fill that hole. We’re free. 

One Comment on “Are Churches Trending Back Toward One Worship Style?”

  1. Hey, I missed this post the first time but it is very interesting. So would you say (or guess) that in many churches that had say a traditional service and a blended service or a traditional service and a contemporary service that the trend is to phase out traditional service? That is certainly what has happened over the last couple of years at our church (trad/contemporary to contemporary with some carry over in modernized hymns, etc). What would you say the predominate unified style is moving to? Blended? Contemporary? Thanks for this post!

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