As I drove past the large church, the familiar message on the electronic marquee caught my eye: “Join us for worship this Sunday. Traditional service 9 a.m. Contemporary service 11 a.m.”
This has been the mantra in our bigger churches for a couple of decades. Congregations split their worship format. Makes sense I guess. You want to attract precious souls of all ages to come to God’s house. Older folks are more comfortable with the traditional songs, choirs and keyboards. Younger adults and teenagers are attracted to guitars, drums and lighting effects. Why not do both?
There can be a downside. Splitting formats can create, in effect, two separate churches, two separate worlds. It doesn’t have to be that way. Several years ago I had the blessing to serve on a pastor search committee for a large congregation. We spent 6 months traveling all over the South, attending worship services of all formats and listening to preachers of many styles and approaches.
It was an inspiring and educational experience. I found myself in old-timey services singing songs such as “How Great Thou Art” and “The Old Rugged Cross.” There were choirs in robes and hymnbooks in the pew pockets. Yet looking around I observed huge gatherings of young adults and even teens fully engaged, with arms extended and singing loudly and praising His holy name.
I also saw contemporary worship where the volume was turned up, the strobe lights blazed and the video boards flashed. All around me were gray-haired seniors who were rockin’ and rollin’ right alongside the young folks, completely engulfed in tribute to their Lord and Savior. Most of these places offered just one consistent musical style. All of them were jam-packed.
Though the music and design could be very different, there was obvious common ground. The preaching was passionate and biblically sound. The worship leaders were energetic and upbeat. Most importantly, the people in the seats seemed to truly love and care about each other. We were deluged with greetings and welcoming smiles and instantly felt at home. There was palpable joy and enthusiasm in the room. It was a place you wanted to be.
The message was clear: If Christians are sincere and obedient and full of love for Him and His people, then musical style won’t divide us. It will bind us closer together in a supernatural way.