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#187 Contemporary and traditional worship services

posted by Stephanie Drury

traditional-vs-contemporary-worship.jpg

Evangelical churches are big on customer service. The last thing they want to do is alienate certain demographics, so many evangelical churches offer at least two services to accommodate generational differences. With separate traditional (old people) and contemporary (young people) worship services, the two generations need not co-mingle while singing worship songs that half of them don’t like.

worship1.jpg

The traditional service always goes first, usually at 9 o’clock or thereabouts. The reasoning  appears to be that older people go to bed early on Saturday nights right after Huckabee is over, so they’ll be up and ready to make it. The traditional service has “classic” “hymns” and worship songs that the more mature congregant is presumed to enjoy. The contemporary service starts around 11 am. It’s assumed that all the young upstarts were out doing What Young People Do On Saturday Nights, so they start things later and sing extended anthems to Jesus in which the word “I” is used a lot.

switchfoot.jpgThe separate services make co-mingling of the generations less likely, but the church leaders might figure that wouldn’t happen anyway. They don’t seem to think young people would want anything to do with the older people and maybe vice versa. Fostering these relationships isn’t a priority and besides, it might be too much to expect the young people to stick around during lame hymns. That wouldn’t “appeal” to them. To create a bigger draw, they delegate someone with flat-ironed hair and guyliner to lead worship. The outsiders feel like they’re being advertised to, and the congregants get the same message, if only on a subconscious level.

satnightworship1.jpgSome churches tout a night worship service if you just can’t get your ass out of bed Sunday morning. The underlying missive: you get up early for work and school, but doing it for the sake of kingdom community on the weekend is asking too much. Point taken.



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ruffenstein

posted September 9, 2010 at 2:57 pm


Neighborhood church in Castro Valley and I believe Redwood in CA for a follow this format. I always loved when the pastor would be the same for both the traditional service and the contemporary service. The main difference of course was the pulpit was there to assure the blue haired believers in the early service, and voila in the contemporary service the pastor returned, but the pulpit was replaced with a stool and the pastor removed his tie and opened his top button. Ironically the message was the same to a different sound track.
The traditional evening worship service is normally a music love fest with a little smattering of “the word” inserted like a sandwich in between sets. I have to say though, growing up in a strict baptist home, the variety was nice as opposed to having to go see the 5 people who would show up to evening service because I was the pastors son….good memories…



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Still Breathing

posted September 9, 2010 at 3:03 pm


A recent survey of churches here in the UK found that the only ones growing within the traditional denominations used a mix of music in their services. Is that cause or affect?



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stephanie drury

posted September 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm


I wonder what is meant by “growing.” Do they mean getting more people in the door or is the church actually growing in relationships and kingdom purpose?
captcha: armatif traffiques



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Lynn

posted September 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm


I attended a church like this in college, and coming from a small church with only one service, it was strange to be in the 11:00 contemporary service with only young people. I once tried out the 9:00 traditional service, only to find there were NO young people and felt out of place (even though I enjoyed the service). From many discussions, I got the impression that most in the younger generations not only preferred the contemporary music because of the music style, but they actually thought singing traditional hymns was not genuine worship because they weren’t as emotional (unless, of course, you found a good hymn and “jazzed it up” a bit).
I now attend a church that only does traditional services. While I love being able to interact with all generations and I love the music, I will say the growth in church numbers is slower than what a lot of contemporary churches report. But as Stephy pointed out, numbers don’t necessarily mean much.



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B

posted September 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm


I’m a young fuddy-duddy. Give me traditional! :D



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Lee

posted September 9, 2010 at 3:55 pm


Ms. Drury,
Your. blog. is. the. BEST!
One question: How does the sermon fit into these differing styles? My perception is that the preacher favors (if not expects) the musicians to provide the various worship style choices, but all the preacher does is choose to wear a tie (traditional) or the pukka shell/screen printed dress shirt ensemble (contemporary) while his sermons are the same throughout each worship service.
Just wondering, Lee



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Hannah

posted September 9, 2010 at 4:48 pm


I want to go to the service with the banjo AND organ. Have they invented “fusion” worship yet?



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Still Breathing

posted September 9, 2010 at 4:51 pm


Stephy, As it was a survey they did mean numbers but I do take your point that numbers aren’t the only measure of church growth.



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Andy

posted September 9, 2010 at 5:09 pm


So I’m an Atheist married to a Christian (the stories I could tell you). Occasionally I’ll attend a ‘contemporary’ service with my wife, and every song is probably five lines repeated over and over and over. Every repetition becomes more and more dramatic. And if you don’t wave your hands in the air you get a lot of funny stares (although most people have their eyes closed so they don’t see).
No idea if this is the norm, but good grief.
also lol at captcha: mistisco 1914-1918



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Anne-Jayne

posted September 9, 2010 at 6:20 pm


I guess you would call my church a traditional/mainline denomination (Christian Reformed) and I always grew up with a mix of “contemporary” and “traditional” worship songs. Even in our “youth” services geared to “young people”
Interestingly about evening services… my church has always had one. I found out some cool historical info on evening services (at least in my denomination) apparently they stem from the day when people would travel long distances to get to church, after the morning service everyone would stick around for sunday school, catechism or bible study and then have lunch together. The evening or afternoon service was after this and was intended to complete the morning service. The morning service would be a call to repentance, the sermon would be a message of God’s grace and forgiveness while the evening service and sermon would be focused on how Christians are to live in the world and would include a recap of what the youth learned in catechism class.
I really like this view of an evening service- sounds like some sweet community. Unfortunately this attitude towards evening service has been lost in my denomination and most evening services are only attended by seniors, church council, and parents who need to pick up their kid who spent the afternoon at a friend’s place.



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Anne-Jayne

posted September 9, 2010 at 6:25 pm


@ Hannah
Don’t know about the banjo and organ but at my university we definitely enjoyed the mix of electric guitar, keyboards/syth, and organ (to a traditional hymns and “contemporary” hillsongs)
the music was superb!



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Meghan

posted September 9, 2010 at 7:29 pm


GUYLINER!
Hannah: I think Sufjan Stevens is what you’re thinking of.



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Eli

posted September 9, 2010 at 9:50 pm


Does anyone else wonder since when sing-alongs became WORSHIP?



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Steve

posted September 10, 2010 at 8:52 am


My church went from having 8:30 service with communion (yup, low attendance, mostly old people) and 11:00 traditional service to having simultaneous contemporary and traditional services. It didn’t last long because (1) many people thought this did divide the congregation and (2) the young pastor who led the contemporary split after a year or so of this (he felt the Lord was leading him somewhere else, he didn’t know just where–not the most mature person if you ask me, he had a wife, 2 kids and one more on the way). We’re back to one mostly traditional service largely because the people who did the “praise band” gradually trickled away. Fine with me–most contemporary “praise songs” are pretty awful. (And a lot of old hymns aren’t much better–too much blood and guts.)
Captcha: Seba statish



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Another Sarah

posted September 10, 2010 at 9:57 am


Eli,
Personally I find singing rather integral to my worship process. In fact I tend to avoid morning prayer services where there is no singing because I’m always left with the feeling that the service was rushed and something was missing. But there are many ways to worship and singing is not integral to everyone.
I certainly understand the concerns about making a worship service “just a sing-a-long”. I’ve even heard examples of churches where the music takes over and the worship band becomes kind of like the church’s football team. That strikes me as not the best approach either.
I am younger-ish and I do tend to prefer the older and more traditional hymns because I find many of the newer worship songs feel empty – like marketing jingles for Jesus rather than spiritual pieces – but I have also heard and sung some beautiful modern day worship songs (they tend to be those with more lyrics and less use of “I”).
Incidently, I did once visit a church that I thought did a very good job blending the new music with the old without presenting the new as something special for “the young.” Unfortunately the sermon left me horrified and deeply disturbed (and not in a spiritual growth sort of way) so I never went back and instead settled into a church where the music was wholly traditional and the invasion of guitars was possibly the congregation’s worst fear – but the preaching was thoughtful and generally theologically sound.



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Flah the Heretic Methodist

posted September 10, 2010 at 10:53 am


We have an 8am service (traditional, early risers, older crowd), a 9:30 contemporary, and another 11:15 traditional. The 9:30 is the ONLY service that offers child care and youth programs, so that’s the one I end up at, although I loathe the contemporary music (and my son calls it “the loud service”). We have two youth bands, an adult music group, and one group that plays Thrash Christian; the music groups alternate Sundays.
I check the bulletin to see who’s playing, drop my son at youth worship, and if the Xtian headbangers are playing, drive to Starbucks for a quiet coffee and return in time for the sermon. The sermon is the only reason I’m there, anyway.



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Rocky Presley

posted September 10, 2010 at 11:52 am


Ummm, yeah, that’s us, but I don’t think that the traditional/contemporary services aren’t as much direction from the pastor as they are reaction from the people. I don’t know of many pastors who actually prefer this model. Typically it just means one more sermon to preach on a Sunday morning. It is rather one out of necessity. It is the consumers who make it necessary to create services more catered to the individual. For instance, we still have a hold out crowd that insists on a traditional service with Sunday school classes. I don’t think that it is in the spirit of Christ to tell these people to screw off, because we are doing what the majority wants. So our fellowship continues to do a traditional service for an ever growing and sometimes groaning minority, but I think that this serves our fellowship well. Our fellowship is interesting in that regard though. The traditional is primarily old people, but our contemporary is a healthy blend of older and younger people, but true to form, the really old or young do not mingle. They go to one or the other.



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Stephen Charles

posted September 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm


Anne-Jayne, we’re CRC (of the non-Dutch variety). I’ve never heard that take on the second service. My understanding is that it helped serve the desire to keep the Sabbath, as in if you are at church morning and evening you reduce the chances of doing worldly activity. Not fool-proof, of course, but as a sabbatarian I like that.
Also, some have called the CRC more “borderline” than “mainline.” It used to be “sideline” but it’s one its way to being “mainline.” Blech, mainline is the hoity-toity version of CC.
Re the idea of blending, my take is that this is how CC tries to resolve the inherent tensions that come with meeting the felt needs of either the low-brow culture (geetars and drums) or the high-brow culture (organs and violins), because what naturally happens in the contemporary/traditional worship wars is people of both camps start looking down their noses at each other, and that’s not nice, and everyione knows that Christianity is about being nice. So the bright idea is to blend the two forms of human-centered worship, and voila, that’s how you get Genevan psalms or Amazing Grace set to AC/DC or what Lynn calls “jazzed up hymns.”
The more liturgical tradition avoids all these pitfalls and silliness by trying to follow the old Reformed notion of the regulative principle of worship (the RPW). Sure, a lot of times folks mistakenly interpret this to mean “whatever is traditional,” but the older idea is to follow whatever the Bible teaches by good and necessary consequence. And sure, that is open to interpretation as well, but I think if we look to the older, Protestant liturgies, the ones CCers pejoratively call “too Catholic,” we get a glimpse into what a superior intrepretation looks like.



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Eli

posted September 10, 2010 at 12:26 pm


Another Sarah – I’m sorry if my comment offended you. I should have explained myself more, rather than just vent my frustration. Singing, yes, I think is important. The part that has begun to really bother me is how they call it worship when it is just singing along with a song that the leader chose and is singing first. Following words on a screen. I don’t know. It feels cheap and as though we are trying to control & organize woship (can’t have people dancing around naked in church out of spontaneous joy for God now can we? (see David)) in a way that at least to me, makes it fake. I’m glad if it is important to you, though. I honestly don’t want to be divisive. Mostly I’m frustrated about a lot of things with churches & want to talk about them with people who might understand. Not that you have to agree, but having real conversations about the stuff where I can actually say, “I don’t like this,” and it can be talked about in a way without offense, just an attempt at understanding.
I will try to be better, though at explaining the frustrations rather than just spouting off comments out of that frustration, which could offend others.
Thanks for saying something!



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stephanie drury

posted September 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm


“It is the consumers who make it necessary to create services more catered to the individual.”
That’s some excellent customer service right there!
My captcha has Norwegian characters in it. Wtf.



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Another Sarah

posted September 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm


Eli,
No offense taken at all. I saw no malice in your words and I hope there didn’t seem to be any in mine because none was intended.
I was just offering my own experiences as someone who potentially worships differently. I do come from that more liturgically based protestant tradition where the singing is part of the service – and helpful to me – but never replaces the rest of the elements of the service (the readings, sermon, prayer). Within that context, I would really miss the singing if it wasn’t there.
I have visited services which are more the style you describe and found myself thinking “well this singing is nice but when’s the service going to start?” so I think we might be speaking out of the same chapter here. I love hymn singing sessions but I would see an hour of singing as supplementary to a church service, not a replacement for it so I can imagine being frustrated with week after week of it. I get annoyed when the minister occasionally decides to do something else with the sermon time so losing it altogether would bother me.
And yes, I’d say that if I felt like someone was trying to control how I worshipped in song by, say, declaring I must raise my hands now or God won’t hear me or the like, I would be wholly disturbed by it too.
Now you might potentially see hypocrisy in that last paragraph as it could be said that following a liturgy is being totally controlled in the way you worship, and that is something I’m going to have to examine because it doesn’t really bother me to stand when they say stand and sit when they say sit and kneel when they say kneel.
But then the church that was formative for my religious education was all about letting people worship the way they wanted so if you wanted to sit, kneel, stand, dance around, raise your hands during the music, no one really seemed to mind. We stood/sat quietly during the spoken parts but that’s more a politeness thing.
hmm…thinking now.



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Eli

posted September 10, 2010 at 3:51 pm


Another Sarah –
I really apprecate the willingness to dialogue! :) It is definitely a matter that requires (for me anyway) a lot of thought. I grew up doing things a certain way because that is how things were done as well. I guess now I just want to figure out for myself what is right. And a lot of how things are done seems questionable to me. Not that I have solutions yet! :)
Hopefully the questions will be cause (in me) for growth, not just anger. I think they will, but there is still a lot of frustration with the system at this point.
Haha, and yes, the whole “raise your hands” type comments from the song leaders make me want to vomit. How they can think in themselves that asking people to do what they say and manipulating them (with stratigic key changes etc) into an emotional high is worship, I do not understand.
But like I said, a lot of my thoughts on the subject have a current tendency to be skewwed by frustration. :) Time for more thinking on my part too, it seems. :)



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guy

posted September 10, 2010 at 3:56 pm


Stephanie,
Also–doesn’t it seem to you that Christians traditional and progressive, for all their criticisms of each other, both as a trend share the common assumption that the one hour of production on Sunday morning is the crux of people’s discipleship and mission? Traditionalists think if we don’t do things correctly (exactly as can be inferred from scripture) in worship, we’re doomed (displeasing to God). Progressives think if we don’t do things correctly (hiply, trendily, relevantly, entertainingly) in worship, we’re doomed (won’t win the lost or change anyone’s life or grow as a church). Even though both groups talk up the idea of being a Christian 7 days a week, it seems they both still behave as though there is one magical hour a week that’s supposed to get the whole job done.
–guy



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Flah the Heretic Methodist

posted September 10, 2010 at 3:56 pm


Eli, I’m with you. I just don’t like the contemporary music “worship experience”. I have friends that love it and really get into it. So neither of us are wrong, we just have different tastes. My tastes run to Starbucks, skipping everything except the sermon.



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Rachel

posted September 10, 2010 at 7:02 pm


I’ve come from Baptist (hymnals only, no dancing!) to non-denominational contemporary (with praise band, raise your hands!) and now Methodist (liturgy). Interestingly I like the liturgy the best: it feels more contemplative and meditative to me. I can still belt out hymns or dance like mad in the back row though, should I visit any churches similar to the ones I had attended.
Though honestly, in CC churches, despite having a rock band, there’s barely any, you know…body movement. You could have a great beat and there’s no hip-swaying or toe tapping anywhere. I guess it’s like Stuff White People Like #67: Standing Still at Concerts.



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Al

posted September 10, 2010 at 11:47 pm


Love the discussion! In fact, I think the church needs a lot more conversation, and a fair amount less monologue. So, for those who really only go for the sermon, I’m not even sure I’m there. I think the whole coffee shop idea (I’m with ya, Flah!) provides a much more conducive atmosphere for community (especially 2s or 3s), and a great place to tackle the big questions that there really isn’t any place for on Sunday morning.
So, guy, I’m really on the same page as you–it’s got to be a all-week-long concept of being the kingdom. And Eli, I share some of your frustration.
And, no, I’m not even taking sides on traditional or contemporary.
captcha: turbo company’s



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Still Breathing

posted September 11, 2010 at 7:54 am


“Those who sing pray twice” Augustine.
Worship is a way of life.
Discuss



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Eli

posted September 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm


Still Breathing –
Interesting. I think, yes that is as it is intended to be. But I don’t think just singing a song because someone else is singing it makes it worship. It is a matter of where your heart is. Either you are worshipping in everything you are and do or you aren’t. At least you aren’t lukewarm that way.
At least, that is how it makes sense to me. I completely get that I don’t know everything. :)



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Chrissy

posted September 11, 2010 at 3:14 pm


Hmm… I just realized that the 8 am service at my old, giant, non-denominational church was not specifically labeled “traditional,” but it may have purposefully been catered to the older crowd. It’s definitely the more sparsely attended of the three. Can’t blame them. 8 am is pretty damn early. Anyway… I just remembered that they used a different worship leader for first service. Any one of their less talented, more hokey musicians. The favorite worship leader was saved for 2nd and 3ed. I wonder if that’s sneaky… Like, they had an old people service but didn’t label it because they were smart enough to pretend they weren’t creating a rift. Or they were oblivious enough to deny the fact that they are just like the trendy evangelical churches they proudly criticize.



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Rocky Presley

posted September 11, 2010 at 5:20 pm


Stephanie, ministry is all about customer service these days. What can I offer you to make your experience with Jesus a pleasant one?



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Paul R

posted September 12, 2010 at 7:00 am


I’m with Rocky on this one. I think that if you can get a multi-generational community going within a church then that’s great. But so is a smaller, more intimate group of people your own age. And I don’t think that God’s going to be upset by someone waiting until the evening service, any more than He’s going to be impressed by someone just because they woke up at the crack of dawn.
Sure you can tease the “relevant” churches for being try-hard “hipsters” – and you’ll often be right. But you can score just as many points calling the “traditional” ones a group of fuddy-duddies who are afraid of change. I don’t think that you can judge whether a church is “growing in relationships and kingdom purpose” simply by looking at whether they run a separate youth service.



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Eli

posted September 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm


I think, perhapss, Paul, the part that is being pointed out as ridiculous is the skewwed focus. The focus in such situations has become trying to get people to like them. When the focus needs to be only Jesus. He really doesn’t need our help to change lives. And at least for me, it is turn off when people try to make him cooler or try so hard to please everyone. There are other frusttrations I have but they aren’t the point. I do understand though, if your thoughts about the subject are still different than mine. Just realize that we aren’t just trying to score points by poking fun. (nor is Stephanie) It is more a poking fun in pointing out a loss of focus/something that is wrong.



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stephanie drury

posted September 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm


Thanks for getting it, Eli.



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Paul R

posted September 12, 2010 at 4:34 pm


Eli, thanks for such a gentle reply. Phrased the way you put it, I have to agree with you. When people try too hard to be cool, they generally end up looking silly for turning themselves into something they’re not. Doubly so when someone tries to do this to Jesus.
But isn’t what we are talking here about just the time of the church service and the genre of mimic that is played? How is 8am more focussed on Jesus than 8pm? Or Amazing Grace more focussed than Christian rock?
I love the way that Steph points out when people lose focus on Jesus, but this one seems to me to just be a matter of taste. If theres demand for a particular type of service and it brings kids in the door, isn’t that as focussed on Jesus as you could hope for?



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Paul R

posted September 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm


That should have been “genre of music”.



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Eli

posted September 12, 2010 at 7:26 pm


You’re welcome. :) I truly enjoy discussion without hurtfulness!
I see the confusion, I think. I don’t think Steph is trying to say one service is better than the other. I think the idea that we must try to have a whole bunch of different ones to try to please different people and be “cool” to everyone is where the loss of focus is. I think perhaps it would be better to take the focus off our preferences for music style and etc and just make it about authentically loving Jesus again. At least, to me, it seems inauthentic the way it is now. That said, I do not think that you are inauthenic if you like things the way they are. Hopefully that makes sense and still is not hurtful. :)



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Aaran

posted September 12, 2010 at 8:41 pm


Here is a rant outlining problems with contemporary worship music that is worth checking out (check out the songs in the links).
http://firstthings.com/blogs/evangel/2010/08/rant-worship/



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Paul R

posted September 12, 2010 at 11:00 pm


Someone give Eli a big bear-hug please. :)
Yes, Eli, what you said made a lot of sense, and no it wasn’t at all hurtful. Thank you for caring. I think that customization of the worship experience is an interesting area. One only has to read this thread to see that people have strong feelings about their preferred worship styles, but to what extent should we seek to have our preferences met, and at what point does it become a distraction? I don’t have an answer to that, so I’m cautious about trying to answer it for someone else.
I find there are few Christians who are still going to the church they grew up in, if for no reason other than that they’ve moved to another suburb or town. And to that extent, we’ve all indulged in a little church shopping. Think about the questions you asked, or would ask when trying to find your new church. Is it wrong to ask those questions? I suggest not. And if one of those questions happened to be what time the service was, or what type of music they play, I think that’s cool too. I think that something is only a distraction if we let it become one. If someone wants to make a joyful sound unto the Lord with the backing of a drum kit and an electric guitar then I say more power to them. Just don’t make me listen to it. And that’s why I support separate services. ;)



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Kevin

posted September 13, 2010 at 9:58 pm


“Jingles for Jesus” is a brilliant phrase. Paul R.’s “church shopping” is also extremely telling. It’s sad that folks are forced to investigate if their church is a place for learning about and worship Jesus (and communing with other folks who want to learn about and worship Jesus), or a financial institution that uses the act of worship as advertising.
I wonder how much of this is the result of a mindset that implicitly equates Christianity with American patriotism and capitalism. Or did I just restate the point of this blog to a bunch of people who already know the point of this bog? Dang.



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Meghan

posted September 14, 2010 at 11:32 am


Paul- I’ll be giving Eli a big bear hug next week, promise!



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Amused

posted September 17, 2010 at 10:41 pm


Having spent some time leading (musical) worship at my own church I noticed that no matter what we did (contemporary, traditional, mix, anything!) someone was always upset and didn’t like the way we had done things…
my response was always “Good thing we aren’t worshiping you!”



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Josh

posted September 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm


I find the very idea of contemporary services weird. One of the very few things I loved about church when I was younger was belting out “River in Judea” or other such iconic hymns on the bass line with my father



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Erotikkontakte aus Niedersachsen

posted February 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm


Birds of a feather flock together.



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Tadalis kosten

posted February 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm


Put your trust in God and keep your powder dry.



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abandoned@worship

posted April 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm


Interesting take by Amused (“my response was always “Good thing we aren’t worshiping you!”). Have contemporaries ever stopped to think about who that other person might have been trying to worship?

I have gone through a gut-wrenching transformation of my church from a rich, traditional service to a fully contemporary one (I call it “Rock Me, Jesus”). We can’t sing a song without using a drum set and we haven’t heard our church organ in nearly two years. I’m thinking we should sell it.

It’s very sad for me. My family enjoys contemporary worship and I am reluctant to change for that reason, but in the ‘customer service’ milieu others are using, this customer isn’t satisfied. That means my worship experience is hindered, which prevents me from truly worshiping as God wants and as I should.

I think people sometimes look past the real issue here — traditionalists often find themselves choked off while in sanctuary because they aren’t the ‘in-crowd’ or the type of worshiper the church wants to attract. I think that is amazingly sad. I know in my church I’m taken for granted, and that’s really too bad.



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