by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 5/10/15.
In an attempt to bring about cultural (and usually ethnic) unity, churches often try to create Sunday morning services that reflect the cultural diversity of their community. The Sunday morning service is thus a “unity” service and is blended with many different styles of worship.
As you know from my my books (“ORGANIX,” “Cure for the Common Church” and “The Healthy Church”), I believe that unity is critical! But, I also believe that Bible teaches that helping a person experience spiritual transformation (i.e. conversion) is even a higher commission!!
Thus, because Sunday morning continues to be the primarily time when non-churchgoers will visit a church, I believe that a Good News church will offer as many Sunday worship encounters (i.e. worship services) in as many different styles as it feasibly can at the times when non-churchgoers are likely to attend.
Below is the true story of a large church, told by a 20-something volunteer, that once had varying styles of worship at varying times and was growing. But, in the name of uniting multiple cultures (in this case ethnicities) the church created a blended format.
Author: Steph F.
Posted Date: November 7, 2011
I can’t say as though I have been privy to a new worship service disaster. However, I have been privy to worship service disasters due to trying to implement too many components in one worship service experience. Our church can tend to try and pack as much into one service as humanly possible. We are “masters” (please not the sarcasm) of attempting to reach as many different people and groups as possible in one worship experience. What ends up happening is we don’t do any style or component that well and there ends up being great confusion and lack of cohesiveness…therefore, congregants walk away feeling more disjointed than unified and clear on the purpose and message.
1. When did the mistakes begin?
Especially with the shift in leadership at (name of church), we have had a stronger emphasis on our congregation reflecting the diversity already present in the immediate surrounding community. Therefore, rather than taking the multi-generational model as outlined in Whitesel’s book, (name of church) usually takes one of two approaches. We either try and encompass and represent several worship styles and experiences within each service (same service for all 3 times) or we decide eventually to church plant another church to more purposefully meet the needs and desires of a specific group or location.
That is not to say that either idea in and of itself is necessarily bad all of the time. However, there have been numerous times in which the blended worship services have been more of a failure than a success. And in regards to church planting, we tend to church plant quite often, which I am not against if it is truly needed. But if the purpose is to simply have a separate church for those already living in the community of (name of church), I think that is unnecessary when the organization of (name of church) can be reformatted to reach multiple groups.
2. What were the primary mistakes, and what should have been done differently?
I like the way Arn summarizes what happens when a church tries to “incorporate more variety into an existing service” (37). “In an effort to provide a service in which everyone finds something they like, you will more likely discover you have created a service in which everyone finds something they don’t like.” That is exactly what happens at (name of church).
Please hear me when I say I know the motives and thinking behind incorporating more variety into our already existing services is pure. I believe that! However, it is now typical to have a service that utilizes videos, contemporary music, hymns, songs in other languages, props, dramatizations, spoken word, question and answer, and several other elements. Each element in and of itself is a great tool in reaching people for Christ. But each element is not effective in reaching all people groups and may not be nearly as effective in the group they are trying to specifically minster to in light of all of the other elements in that same service.
I believe what should have been (and could be) done is specifying each of the three services to target a specific generational group and worship style. That is actually the way it used to be. The Saturday evening service was more geared towards the younger, very contemporary groups. The early Sunday morning service was more geared towards the older, traditional groups. And the later Sunday morning service was more geared towards the middle, contemporary groups. However, in subsequent years, the leadership of the church has felt each of the three services need to mirror each other. I truly feel we need to go back to three distinct services each with the same message preached, but the style of worship and teaching unique to each service.
3. What was the aftermath?
The aftermath has been a slight decline in attendance…certainly a decline in new attendees and the unchurched attending. And from sitting out among the congregation, an overall dissatisfaction with the worship services. I unfortunately hear more negative at times than I do positive. Mind you, I realize that we (as humans) tend to gravitate and fixate on what we don’t like and quickly forget what we do like. However, there are so many aspects to a service that unfortunately due to the extreme variety, there is always something someone is not going to like. Whereas if there were worship service experience options, I think there would still be complaints to a degree, but that is then more reflective of your choice of worship service over the actual worship components and style.
Again, the motives and purpose in representing and catering to the needs and desires of many in one worship service is admirable. I think it just may be time to reconsider 3-4 unique, individual worship services keeping unity through the same message preached throughout all services, but the worship and teaching styles specific to the needs and desires of the overall group represented.