Recently I attended a meeting with about 20 other pastors. Each of us pastors a large, growing church. We came together from all across America to discuss what’s happening in the church today. While we were all different, we had much in common because of our size. It was a refreshing meeting and one I thoroughly enjoyed. The interchange was lively, fun and invigorating. Even when we disagreed on some matters, we were never disagreeable. I’ve attended enough meetings in my life, to last me the rest of my life. This one was different. I’m glad I went. I made some new friends and saw a few old acquaintances.
All of the churches represented are running over 1,000 in attendance. Of the 40,000 churches in the denomination I serve in, only 270 run 1,000 or more. Mega churches are constantly dealing with space, parking and growth problems. Actually, those are not problems, they are opportunities.
When you worship as a moving target
One issue we discussed for quite a while was worship. No matter the size or geographic location of a church, the worship issue always seems to come up. It’s a volatile subject with many people. Talking about worship with some folks is like walking through a mine field. To others, it’s a topic they refuse to even discuss. When it is talked about, the discussion eventually moves towards style, times of services and tastes. It’s hard for any of us to remember that these areas are subjective. God can bless people we disagree with.
Many churches are dealing with the issue of multiple services. What time? What style? Who preaches? One trend in recent years is a Saturday night service. Some have started Saturday services to reach those with Catholic backgrounds. Others, simply because they can’t squeeze another service in on Sunday. The success of Saturday services is debatable. Some have found them to be just what the doctor ordered. The additional Saturday service has been a welcome cure for space and parking issues. Others feel like it’s rolling a rock uphill.
The reason we traditionally worship at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday’s has nothing to do with spirituality. It evolved out of an agricultural society where farmers and their families had to get up and do chores. Most of us do not have to get up and do chores today. Lacking a reason, we use our current worship times as an excuse to sleep in on Sunday.
At this conference I discovered one of the new trends in planning worship services is a Monday night service to spread out the crowds. Some are using this in metropolitan areas where people are already working in town. They can stop by the church for a service before they head home. Many feel this is the ‘next wave’ in worship. While I have had success with special Monday night rallies, I’m not sure how I feel about this one yet.
I do have a concern that, in my lifetime, we’ve gone from calling it the Sabbath, to Sunday, to the weekend. Even church families feel no obligation to stay home and serve the church if the weather is nice or grandma is baking our favorite pie. While I pray that I am not legalistic, I do pray that God’s people would adjust their schedules and give Him a day – not just an hour – of their week. Is that too much to ask for the One who saved us?
What style we use is a moving target
Of course, you can’t talk about worship without having a discussion about traditional and contemporary worship. Our church has weathered that storm, so I won’t belabor the point. Let me say, you won’t deal with this without some blood on the wall and a few folks walking out the back door. I will hasten to say you can do this without a war. There will be skirmishes, but you don’t have to split a church over this issue. As we began to make changes in our worship, some resented it, others left. Several key families chose not to make the trip with us. We did not try to run them off, no minister should do anything to intentionally offend people.
I asked my friend, Alan Cottrell for some help with this article. He has given me great insights from the perspective of a Minister of music who has a vision for multi-generational worship. He writes, “We (the professional staff) are the only people who try to label ourselves stylistically. To the members of my choir, contemporary has very little relevant meaning. When they think about style, they relate it to the radio they listen to. Let’s face it, what is contemporary in the Southeastern United States is called rock-a-billy or country in Los Angeles. On the other hand, what is considered in many southern churches to be traditional might be considered gospel elsewhere.” There you have it, worship as a moving target.
A word of caution. What one church does isn’t necessarily what another needs to do. Each must get before God and find their own way, their own style and their own niche. We’ve made the choice to do blended. I’m not really comfortable with the word blended, but it seems to be the word that people use the most. Again quoting Alan Cottrell, “The term blended is overused. I personally find that singing a contemporary chorus with an organ accompaniment almost comical. Unfortunately, so do many of our unchurched neighbors. I feel that it is very important that the musical style reflect the identity of the church, not the other way around.”
I’ve heard of a few churches that are doing a totally separate worship service for their youth and Gen X. This is not unusual but we must use caution. When I was in youth ministry I always had a separate Wednesday night service. In one church, due to overcrowding, we were forced to do a Sunday morning youth service as well. However, the youth were still a part of the church. This dangerous trend lurking on the horizon is to totally remove age groups from all services so they ‘have their own church.’ Apparently some folks can only worship with people their age. Talk about carnality and immaturity.
Alan Cottrell says, “It saddens me when I hear young people, Generation X, criticize the more traditional styles. Recently, a young wanna-be-worship leader made the comment that we (the older generation) should come to one of their meetings to experience “real” worship. I shared with him that his attitude was just as bigoted as the Senior Adult who only wanted to use a hymnal.” Some folks seem to think nothing happened in church before they were born.
I will be quick to point out that we have a separate Children’s service on Sunday nights, but not Sunday morning. We also have a separate Student service on Wednesday nights while the Adults are in prayer meeting. I view this as meeting needs, not an attempt to isolate and compartmentalize. We work to make sure that the body is blended for corporate worship. Any good church is like a family, it has people from all generations present.
The danger of what’s happening (and this is mostly an American issue), is we are increasingly accommodating to taste and culture. In doing so, we run the risk of forsaking Truth and Christ. Modes and preferences in worship are a moving target. The moment you think you’ve got it figured out, things change. In an effort to relate, we run the danger of being nothing more than cute. Cutting edge doesn’t necessarily mean Biblical. What was cutting edge five years ago may be viewed as old and dull today.
Don’t get me wrong. I love singing new songs. I also love singing the great hymns of the faith. Neither is right or wrong. The key is found in the words. Styles of music change, words remain the same. You can sing “Amazing Grace” in its original form or to the tune “California Girls” (go ahead, try it) and it’s still amazing. I don’t care what style you sing “Do Lord” it’s still a bad song.
In my opinion, which I highly respect, we’ve made a major mistake in labeling our services. We discovered that the hard way. We once had a Classic service (hymns) and two Casual ones (mostly choruses). When we moved into our new facilities, we were able to move from three morning services to only one. We experienced culture shock. The hymns crowd experienced withdrawal and the chorus crowd thought we’d brought in people from the dark ages. Somewhere in the midst of that, I was just happy to be preaching one sermon on Sunday morning. I would have sung “Do Lord” to get back to one service. We’ll come back to this in the next issue.
What you wear as a moving target
One final thought and then we’ll pick up on this subject next time. When you talk about traditional, it can be interpreted to mean what folks wear and/or what kind of music they sing. In many traditional churches, the preachers and the choirs wear robes. Does wearing a robe mean you have to do a certain style of music? Does it mean you have to preach a certain way or with a certain inflection? Church fights have been started over clothing and other petty issues. I remember a friend of mine whose socks were soaked while baptizing. He had to wear his shoes without socks for the remainder of the service. One lady came up to him and rebuked him saying, “You’re not wearing socks. We’ve lost all dignity in this church.”
In the old days of radio, they made the actors wear a tuxedo to do the broadcast. The other members of the crew were expected to dress their best. Their logic? A person performs better when they are dressed better. The idea was, if you are dressed to go to the Opera, you’ll give a performance worthy of the Opera. Of course, we are performing in worship, but it’s a thought to consider. If we are sloppy in our dress, are we also unkempt in our worship? Can our leisure dress contribute to a mentality of leisurely worship? It’s just a thought.
I remember the debate about mini skirts in the 1970s. One day it became low rider jeans that reveal the belly button. Tomorrow it will be something else. What one wears to worship, in some churches, determines if they will get a warm greeting or a cold shoulder. Some churches brag more about not wearing ties than what they are doing for missions. Unfortunately, pride in clothing can become a barrier in a church. We can develop an elitist mentality – thus dividing the church along social lines. Worship has to be a matter of the heart. Otherwise, it becomes a matter of taste and preference.
Wesley wore a robe and he turned the world upside down. If I could turn the tide in America like Wesley turned the tide in England, I’d wear a robe every Sunday. If wearing a robe would make some folks sing on pitch, I’d strap it on every singer on every platform in America.
Well, we’ve just started. This target is moving and the deadline for turning this article in is fast approaching. I’m off for now, but we will get back to this next time.
©2002 MCC This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use.
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Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.