One of the great joys of my work is the opportunity to worship with a great variety of faith communities from varying denominational traditions.
Some are liturgically oriented, while others chafe at the mention of the word “liturgical.”
Some rock out with a praise band with multiple singers leading music, while others have a fit when you mention the idea of a screen in the sanctuary.
Most faith communities are far beyond arguing about worship style – a historical battle that took place primarily between 1980 and 1995.
Most faith communities are not still arguing about worship style. Instead, they desire a meaningful and significant worship experience.
Now, they perceive there are far more significant factors influencing the quality and experience of worship than cultural relevance concerns.
Here are four insights that local churches are learning in a world that has moved beyond the worship style wars:
1. Worship style doesn’t guarantee anything.
From 1980 to 1995, an urban myth circulated through churches, promising that certain worship styles would bring in the masses. Adding relevant music with snazzy technology would create this new pipeline of young adults along with their children into one’s congregation.
Now, one can find very contemporary worship gatherings in every variety of church under the sun. Simultaneously, it’s hard to find any clergy or church staff who believe worship style is the key to numerical church growth. We are far beyond this particular urban myth.
2. Authenticity trumps style.
Postmodern people are not reactionary in the sense of preferring only one style of worship. Instead, they are excellent at identifying what they will not tolerate: a lack of authenticity.
When they observe that a congregation’s heart and head are genuinely engaged in worship, then they believe there may be a God.
When the worship leaders are real persons sharing something genuine and not only performing a task, they think the gospel may actually lead to life transformation.
Authenticity is a far higher factor when it comes to significant and meaningful worship than style is.
3. Boredom is a red flag.
It’s fascinating going to various churches for worship.
There are some contemporary worship services led by middle-age band members and singers who are delighted with a second chance at living out their rock ‘n’ roll fantasies. Worship becomes about their opportunity to shine, with a slightly bored audience half-heartedly clapping and mumbling along.
There are some traditionally oriented worship services in which one starts feeling depressed from the call to worship onward, given the low energy and perfunctory liturgy.
I’ve found that boredom is no respecter of worship styles. So, here is a simple litmus test for detecting boredom:
- Whenever worship leaders are feeling bored with worship, the congregation’s boredom level is multiplied by five, as they don’t have the distraction of providing leadership.
- Whenever worship leaders are experiencing invigorated worship, the congregation’s experience is multiplied by two.
Congregation’s experience more boredom and less invigoration than those leading. If you are a worship leader, do whatever it takes to eradicate boredom from your worship experience.
4. Vitalized worship regularly pushes worshippers to the edge of their comfort zones.
When was the last time you intentionally took a risk in worship? How often do worship leaders intentionally raise issues or engage practices that will “afflict the comfortable?”
If worship is never edgy, it will lack spiritual power and invigoration. Though it should be noted that “edgy” by itself doesn’t bring spiritual power.
Postmodern people experience the world as challenging, expecting worship to challenge them (periodically) as well. This has so very little to do with style and more with engagement.
Authenticity, genuineness, engagement and risk-taking are the factors that appear far more significant than cultural style when it comes to being an invigorated worshipping community.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.