Contemporary worship is alive and well in Baptist churches. But is it here to stay?
“When contemporary worship is seen as using new forms of worship to connect the changing culture of today to the message of the Gospel, I see contemporary worship growing in Baptist life,” said David Hull, pastor of First Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tenn.
Hull’s church recently began a new congregation within the church called First Community which offers a contemporary worship service.
Hull sees many old, traditional churches adding a contemporary worship service and new congregations “overwhelmingly adopting this style of worship.”
The two contemporary services for Montgomery Community Baptist Church (ABC) in Cincinnati, Ohio, serve 75 percent of the church, with only 25 percent attending a more traditional service.
Tom Lipsey, senior pastor, called the two services “contemporary” and “more contemporary.”
The “more contemporary” service, offered on Saturday nights, is an example of how the genre has evolved since the early 1990s.
“It has a more ‘edgy’ sound, and is more acoustically and electrically driven musically,” Lipsey told EthicsDaily.com.
Hull has also noticed changes over the years, including specialization.
“Now we have GenX worship that is very different in sound and style from the contemporary worship which appeals to Baby Boomers,” he told EthicsDaily.com. Technology changes over the years contribute to the changes seen in contemporary worship.
“Advances in technology have opened up doors of communication using digital projection that is very different now than 1990,” he said.
While contemporary worship shows up in many guises, Hull said the basic elements remain the same: casual dress, visually stimulating elements, interactive service and modern music.
Add to the list “media driven,” Lipsey said, noting that “more participation from the audience is asked for and expected” in contemporary worship versus traditional worship.
“Visuality is the primary criterion for evaluating contemporary worship,” Doug Dortch, pastor of First Baptist Church, Tallahassee, Fla., told EthicsDaily.com. In addition to the lyrics and sermon outlines flashed on projection screens, the arrangement of the platform area usually emphasizes openness, he said.
Dortch pointed out that “the appearance of worship leaders is also a critical concern. When is the last time anyone saw unattractive praise team members?”
Dortch said he thinks contemporary worship has reached its peak.
“My judgment is that contemporary worship is at its crest among Baptist churches at the present time,” he said. “If anything, its future may be weaker as it gives way to the next trend in worship.”
First Baptist Tallahassee offers two contemporary services, including one aimed at college students during fall and spring semesters.
If contemporary worship is indeed a trend among baby boomers, “a new generation will most likely arise who will swing the worship pendulum back in a more ‘Episcopalian’ direction with an emphasis on the visual and even olfactory dimensions,” Dortch predicted. At the same time, Dortch said that appealing to the five senses might also be the future of contemporary worship.
“Baptists on the cutting edge of worship . . . appeal to more of the five senses,” he said. “The sensate appeal of cutting-edge contemporary worship may well be the future of that genre.”
Hull said he sees Celtic worship, GenX worship and ancient/future blended worship as new trends that might replace or enhance current contemporary worship practices.
Alison Wingfield is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas.