Friday, January 30, 2015

Is there a place for a traditional church?

A pastor recently shared with me how his church had experimented with having a more contemporary worship service.  I'm not sure of all the details, but as I understood him the church had invested money in a new sound system and other items often associated with contemporary worship.  Their worship was led by a praise team.  The church tried contemporary worship for over a year, but I gather it was not enjoyed by many in the church.  After much discussion the church recently decided to return to a more traditional worship experience, and the church is going to market themselves as a traditional congregation in an effort to reach out to those who prefer a more traditional approach to worship.

Too often, contemporary worship is touted as the answer to all a church's woes.  Of course, one must define contemporary because it is going to differ from one congregation to another.  Is a contemporary worship service one in which persons sing praise songs from the 1980s?  Does a church have to use smoke machines, video projectors and use music from Hillsong to qualify as contemporary?  Is a Cowboy church that uses primarily Western Gospel music contemporary or traditional?  Where does liturgical dance and drama fit in?  Are these contemporary or traditional?

Sometimes people ask me about contemporary worship and music, and I often tell them they need to first determine who it is that God wants them to reach.  In his classic book The Purpose-driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message And Mission Rick Warren wrote, "Once you have decided on the style of music you're going to use in worship, you have set the direction of your church in far more ways that you realize.  It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep, and the kind of people you lose."

For this reason, I don't think every church has to become "contemporary" in order to reach people or to grow.  There are many people who continue to find more traditional worship styles and music meaningful.  These people also deserve a place where they can worship in ways that enable them to experience God in meaningful ways.  There is a place for the contemporary, in all its forms, but there is also a place for the traditional.

I applaud that pastor's church for their willingness to experiment with a different worship style.  I'm sure that not everyone was pleased with the decision to return to more traditional worship, and some of them will probably find their way to other churches that offer a worship style that is more meaningful to them.  That's OK.  While some will seek a church that offers contemporary worship, there will be others who will come because of the traditional worship they find in this church.

I also appreciate the fact that this congregation made an intentional decision about the worship experience it would offer each week.  They don't have to try to be all things to all people.  They can now concentrate their resources, planning, and preparation to make each Sunday's worship service meaningful and life-changing.

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