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My friend Jeff Gissing recently wrote about why contemporary worship is not the answer for churches trying to revitalize their congregations. In fact, I would say that, if your church wants to stand out, try offering traditional worship. A church that takes its tradition seriously, that seeks creativity and freshness within its tradition rather than breaking from it, is going to stand out as different from all of the churches that are trying to look, sound, and worship in conformity with the latest trends.
Contemporary Worship Is Nothing New
There was a time — 10 years ago? 20? — when offering a “contemporary” worship service would make a church stand out from all the others. This simply isn’t the case any more. In the broader evangelical context, contemporary worship has won the worship wars. If you want contemporary worship, there are a dozen churches in your community that already offer it.
If your church is thinking about changing to a contemporary worship style or adding a contemporary service, what will you offer that’s different from the dozen churches already doing the same thing? If someone is searching for a church based on its contemporary worship, why would they choose your service over the one down the street? If they’re choosing a church based on contemporary music, can you compete with the megachurch that meets in the old mall, with the worship team of professional musicians and the best sound equipment that money can buy?
When my wife and I were looking for a new church, we had a few things we were looking for:
- Solid evangelical theology
- A healthy community where we could serve and our kids could find friends
- Traditional liturgy
It was extremely difficult to find churches near us that worshipped using a traditional liturgy. We love our new church — which is good, because it was the only church we could find that offered all three items!
Too often, “traditional” worship is a synonym for “old and tired” worship. I know a church that has been singing the same rotation of hymns for over 30 years, using the same pianist, who plays every hymn at the exact same tempo in the exact same style. (I think it would be called “Southern camp meeting.”) This is not “traditional” worship — this is dead worship!
“Traditional” does not mean “old.” It means that you are part of a tradition, which includes a history of styles, conventions, and content, but which should also make room for new works of art and new variations within the tradition. If a tradition does not make room for creativity, it’s an archive, not a tradition.
Ideas for Traditional Worship
If you are seeking revitalization in your church, what does your existing worship tradition offer? If it feels tired, try asking yourself a few simple questions:
- Are we doing justice to the music? Is the music being played with a high level of skill and preparation? With the appropriate style and energy? If we’re just going through the motions, should we take a step back and examine our motivation?
- Can we return to the tradition’s roots? For example, if the song was a Southern camp meeting song, what if we returned to traditional instruments and harmony for the song? What gave the tradition energy and life when it was new? Are there great songs that we have forgotten about that haven’t been sung in our church for decades?
- What can we contribute to the tradition? Could we write a new verse to a traditional hymn? Write a new arrangement? Play the song on contemporary instruments? It might be as simple as discovering a new combination of songs that complement each other.
You might discover that the “old” tradition can still offer new life.
Photo credit: Laurelville Mennonite Church, via Flickr
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I really appreciated your ability to put these thoughts onto (virtual) paper. Sharing with our worship committee tonight! (already paraphrased in Sunday school yesterday!)