A little while back, one of our users emailed us and asked: “Do you have any articles on the advantages and disadvantages of churches with both a contemporary and traditional service?” In other words, the user was asking us if we had ever opened an extremely large can of worms. Well, we’ve opened plenty of cans of worms in the past, but we haven’t broached the worship war subject…until now.
Should You Have Different Worship Styles?
I went to work getting some information. First. I gathered some objections to the idea of multiple service styles. These objections came from authoritative pastors (listed below). Then, I put these objections before two worship leaders at a large church—a church that holds three different styles of service.
For your benefit, I’ve transcribed some of our conversation and delivered it to you. Hear the objections, listen to the responses, and come to your conclusions.
Let’s explain some things first.
First off, you guys have three services in your church. Tell me, how do the three services differ?
- The first one is traditional. We have a robed choir, organ, piano, and orchestra. Hymns make up 90% of what we sing.
- In the contemporary service, we have a choir (with more of a gospel choir feel), a vocal team, and a band. We’re doing your standard top 20 Christian songs in that service. We’ll usually sing a hymn, contemporized, at least every other week.
- Our modern service takes another leap forward. There is no choir. It’s band-led and band-driven. There are a couple of vocalists, but most of the changes for that service include the atmosphere. The lights are a whole lot lower. We use more colored lights for staging. The music and worship that we do are more guitar-driven and heavy. Instead of having a walk-the-aisle invitation at the end, we term it a “response time.” Overall, it’s more relaxed and laid back in one sense, but also more high energy and multimedia-driven.
What changed when you started holding different worship services/styles?
We definitely increased attendance. There was huge growth in the contemporary service. We saw even more growth with the modern service. Our goal in all of this was to be all things to all people that we might win some. We tried to speak people’s language musically—the language that gives them expression in worship.
In a perfect world, we would be able to go in and have all the different styles in one service, from traditional to modern to whatever. And, again in a perfect world, people would do well with that. That might happen at some point here. I hope it does. But in reality, people are really entrenched as to what they like in worship and “what speaks to me.” There is a strong aversion in some people’s minds to certain styles of worship. As we hold three services, we want to teach people to have a healthy respect for the other styles and recognize that they are a legitimate expression of worship.
Now let’s hear the objections
Some people are opposed to the idea of having multiple services and styles. One of the objections to having multiple service styles is that it disintegrates the unity of the local church, essentially creating three separate churches. Here’s Tullian Tchividian: “Building the church on age appeal…or stylistic preferences is as contrary to the reconciling effect of the gospel as building it on class, race, or gender distinctions.” That’s a pretty strong statement. How would you respond?
We need to step back and ask the broader question: where does unity come from in a church body? Is it in the methodology or is it in the message? Tullian’s statement mistakes unity as being dependent upon “stylistic preferences.” Unity does not come from the style in which you worship. We’re unified around who God is and around what His word says.
Mark Dever thinks that churches should have one style of service (not multiple styles/services) because he understands the Greek word “ekklesia” (assembly) to mean an “assembly” or “meetings.” According to his understanding, if you have two meetings of two different groups of people you have two churches, which he deems inappropriate for a single local body. How would you respond to that?
If Dever is right (and I’m not addressing whether he is or not) then the church must create opportunities where the whole church comes together. This is something we seek to do at our church. One must also keep in mind that it’s not just a worship style issue. There is a seating/space issue. What about churches with more people then they have space to accommodate the people? The alternative to having multiple services is to have the whole church in one place at one time. Lakewood in Houston can do that because they bought the Compaq Center. That doesn’t work for every church.
Ed Stetzer poses an objection to multiple services/styles. He writes, “It leads, in a practical sense, to issues of budget….A church may find itself with a tremendous outlay for salary and resources simply to satisfy the preferences of the membership.”
I don’t think that the financial outlay is exorbitant by any means. We have two fulltime worship leaders, and we don’t pay anyone except the organist and pianist. Everyone else is a volunteer.
What advice would you give to a church who was considering changing their worship style or adding another service in a different style?
Don’t copy what other churches are doing. Look at your own congregation. Consider your ability to lead change. It’s going to be different for every church. Choose the method that best reaches the most people. Ask yourself, what is best for you church in your setting? You must realize that what works for Willow Creek is not going to work for Saddleback. What works for Saddleback is not going to work for Newspring. And what works for Newspring may not work for you.
If your church is struggling through the worship style question or fighting an internal worship war, I understand. People can get very excited about the style of music or the form of worship. It is important, but the Bible does not prescribe one specific musical style that is appropriate for worship. If you find yourself fighting over an issue as theologically inconsequential as worship music styles, you should also take heed not to transgress biblical commands for unity, love, kindness, submission, respect, and honor. Those are pretty clear issues in the Bible. The electric guitar vs. organ question isn’t.
There is a simple matrix through which you can filter your decision on worship styles. Ask yourself, is your decision to change driven by consumerism or contextualization? A consumer-driven mindset serves up whatever people demand, regardless of its wisdom, benefit, or biblicity. Contextualization, on the other hand, is a legitimate form of missional advancement. In keeping with right doctrine and Biblical practice, one should make changes that best fit one’s context. That’s going to look different for different churches.