“I cannot stand that loud music,” said Henry Brown, a leader in his congregation.
“But, if it will help us reach a younger crowd on Sundays, as long as it is at a different time than the sacred 11:00 a.m. worship, and I do not have to attend it or hear that music when I arrive at church, then I guess we can have it.”
With that the board of Hope Church voted to start a new contemporary worship service.
“Have you seen some of those things they are doing in what they call their worship service?” exclaimed Claire Yarborough in response to the new emergent worship service meeting in the old church worship center at Council Road Church.
“I am not sure it is Christian. I know it is not faithful to our denominational heritage.”
Claire was not the only person who felt this way. The opposition in the congregation to the new worship service that had been meeting for almost two years was growing.
Claire continued. “We need to get a group of our leaders to attend that service and see what is going on. We may need to stop that service, and get rid of the worship leader. We particularly do not want our pastor doing some of those things in our worship service!”
She was referring to the interpretive movement—dancing as she called it—that was part of the worship experiences. Additionally, the meditation exercises and the unusual and casual way they partake of Communion seemed out of character to their denominational heritage.
What’s Going On Here?
Many traditional or liturgical congregations—out of a desire to address the worship needs of younger generations—start a contemporary or emergent worship service. I see this everywhere. Don't you?
It often comes out of a primary desire to reach younger families with children to keep the congregation from declining, to restart a growth pattern in the congregation, and/or to be sure there are younger leaders in the congregation to carry the load when the older leaders can no longer do so.
Yes, there is also a secondary desire which is a genuine concern for the spiritual formation, leadership development, and missional engagement of younger families with children. Yet at times even this can be enlightened self-interest as empty nesters and senior adults are concerned about the spiritual and church patterns—or lack thereof—by their children and grandchildren.
A Contrarian View
I would like to offer a contrarian view. It is not the congregations who are seen as traditional to liturgical who ought to do this, it is the opposite.
Contemporary or emergent congregations ought to start a traditional or liturgical worship service for empty nesters and senior adults which I refer to as those people born before February 9, 1964. I truly believe their success rate would be significant.
Why do I take this positon and believe it is superior to traditional or liturgical congregations starting a contemporary or emergent worship service? Here are some of my reasons that come out of my ministry experience category known as “my view of the church world in North America says . . .” This is personal experiential research and not scientific research.
1. The desire of empty nesters and senior adults to be in the same congregation with their children and grandchildren is greater than the desire their children and grandchildren to be in the same congregation their parents and grandparents have connected with for years. Many empty nesters and senior adults are more likely to best connect with God through traditional or liturgical worship. But not all. No one worship style fits even these generations.
Therefore, empty nesters and senior adults are willing to attend a congregation their children and grandchildren attend if it also offers a worship service with which they can connect and feel a warmth of worshiping God in familiar ways.
2. Pastors and worship leaders in contemporary or emergent congregations are more likely to understand and to be able to lead a traditional or liturgical worship service than are the pastors and worship leaders of traditional and liturgical worship services to be able to lead a contemporary or emergent worship service.
For leaders of contemporary and emergent congregations more traditional to liturgical styles may be part of their personal heritage and in their memory banks. For leaders of traditional to liturgical congregations the new worship styles seem odd and awkward. Many cannot lead these worship services with ease. When they try they personally look odd and awkward.
3. It explodes the myth that the generations of people born after February 9, 1964—when the Baby Boomers generation ended—all like contemporary or emergent worship. They do not. A certain percentage really like, connect with, and worship God best in traditional or liturgical worship services.
Congregations who worship in a contemporary and emergent style either say they are not interested in these people, or they provide a worship experience that helps them best connect with God. Contemporary and emergent worship proponents can be just as snobbish as traditional to liturgical worship proponents about what is the right style of worship.
4. Pastors and worship leaders of contemporary or emergent congregations—particularly if the congregation is less than seven years old—may be immersed in a creative and innovative mode, and open to lively, engaging worship regardless of style. Thus, they may have the flexibility to offer a different style of worship before they reach a point where they—like traditional and liturgical worship focused congregations before them—institutionalize their style of worship.
Once a worship style institutionalizes in a contemporary or emergent worship congregation, and they are at least 21 years old, it is just as difficult to change their worship style as it is in congregations who focus on traditional or liturgical worship style and are at least 21 years old.
Just think about it. Many contemporary or emergent congregations may be just a few years away from becoming stuck congregations. Then what are they going to do?
5. Contemporary and emergent congregations need empty nesters and senior adults who know how to do church. They know how to attend, how to give money, how to serve, how to lead, and what great quality looks like. Also, they may know enough about what it takes to grow disciples who grow disciples that they can mentor and coach new believers.
Remember that often the back door in flourishing contemporary or emergent worship style congregations is as big or bigger—percentage wise—as is the back door in traditional or liturgical worship focused congregations.
How do you react to this contrarian viewpoint? What would you affirm? What would you challenge? What would you add, delete, or change to strengthen the insights presented here?