I remember a few years back attending a workshop on contemporary worship put on by my denomination’s General Assembly. I attended hoping for some guidance for Micah’s Porch and especially to see what other church’s were doing. Unfortunately the answer was not much. Turned out the workshop featured speakers who did not actually lead congregations using contemporary worship. Sometimes you just gotta laugh or you might end up crying.
But over the last 5 years I am impressed and surprised at how much things have changed.
As less and less people connect with the traditional worship popular in the old-line liberal denominations the subject of contemporary worship is drawing a much greater focus. What is clear to everyone is that the Boomers may be the last generation to reliably connect to traditional worship. What that means is that there is an urgent need for the progressive church to change worship to reach a changing world. The big fear is that if we wait until the millennials are having kids to begin working on worship that speaks to gen-x’ers, well, lets just say it would be a very great example of very poor stewardship.
For those of you whose weekly worship experience is not contemporary, but you find yourself struggling with the challenge of updating your church for the 21st century my heart goes out to you. Although every situation is different, it is likely that the subject of contemporary worship has come up, and with it a lot of questions, and perhaps even more opinions. At times it may feel hard to get a handle on exactly what it even is. It is to those of you wrestling with transforming worship, and your church, that I write this post.
While I cannot offer any easy answers or a sure fire model, I can offer up some clues and hopefully dispel some myths regarding contemporary worship.
Myth #1: Contemporary worship is about using contemporary rock music.
This is one of the most easily made misconceptions about contemporary worship. While it is true that having a worship band that sounds like Nickleback isn’t going to happen in a traditional service, it is best not to define contemporary worship by any particular form of music or media. A better understanding would be that the word “contemporary” does not describe any particular worship element, music or otherwise, but rather “contemporary” defines the people who you are trying to reach and include in the life of the church.
Myth becomes Mission with worship that is relevant to people living in a contemporary culture.
Myth #2: Contemporary worship will bring back our youth and young adults who have left the church.
While this is a very noble goal and certainly a passion for many adults. The problem is that using contemporary worship as a youth retention strategy may not be realistic. There are many reasons for youth and young adults to leave the church that have been well explained elsewhere. Among these I would add the observation that the youth church experience is heavily shaped by its own unique cultural – religious blend that is difficult to replicate and it is often almost as alien to contemporary seekers as traditional worship. The point being that if this is your primary reasoning for transitioning to contemporary worship you may find yourself unnecessarily disappointed.
Myth becomes Mission when the worship vision grows in its creative use of culture to build a bridge between our faith and the people you’d love to reach and include.
Myth #3: Contemporary worship is dumbed-down worship.
This idea often gets expressed by claiming one’s cultural preference is superior to others. I remember a respected minster, and someone who I deeply respect, explaining to me the critical nature of learning traditional hymns and how contemporary worship would destroy the faith because people wouldn’t be able to sing ‘spirit of life’ and ‘Rank by Rank’. It was kind of like experiencing the mirror image of the old “rock music is from the Devil” argument. The reality is that contemporary worship forces theological clarity and depth in order to have a real message that can be really heard by the emerging contemporary culture.
Myth becomes Mission through worship leadership that loves people enough to contextualize worship for their culture while authentically deep enough to still contend for the saving message of faith.
I think the phrase “meet people where they are at” best summarizes the vision.
So there you have it, a few clues that hopefully gives you some working definitions in order to get deeper into this and ultimately help you discover what contemporary worship might look like in your congregational situation. I hope to hear about and experience your worship discoveries some day for myself.
In the mean-time enjoy some contemporary non-rock worship (from the Quakers).
peace and grace,