by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/24/15.
A student once tendered the following query.
“You really believe that three services are necessary to reach the three different generations? I understand a little difference in order to reach a different group, but three seems a little over the top…. Our church currently has two services. One is praise and worship, and one is Traditional. These two services have come with pros and cons at our church. It has expanded the ministry and allowed us to reach some new people. It also has created some division among some who don’t like the other service or feel the two services are actually driving the two groups further apart instead of together. Personally, I am a proponent of a well blended service. Ideally this brings generations together in the same service and teaches them both about compromise when it comes to music styles. I will say for this to work the musicians and music leaders must be good and do a good job of blending the music. Music hopefully is a tool to lead us to worship, that is why I don’t get hung up on styles. I have a problem with those that think only one style is the correct way to worship.”
These are good, and common questions. And, here are my answers.
You queried, “You really believe that three services are necessary to reach the three different generations?” Yes, I do. However, variations of this exist so let me give you some general parameters.
Some churches will have a traditional (reaching older adults who want stability in their increasingly unstable lives), blended (really a Christian variation that can seem culturally confusing to unchurched people), contemporary (upbeat with a backbeat) and modern (more engagement and improvisation, see my case-study book: Inside the Organic Church, 2006).
You noted that this has “allowed us to reach some new people.” That is good news! And, wait until you read Chip Arn’s book, How to Start New Service (a textbook for this course) and you will see that his research supports your conclusion: more variation in service styles has been proven numerically to reach more people for Christ!
But, I also think you can see that each of these worship expressions are stylistically different enough to require separate venues, or a sizable segment will not relate and not worship. While your desire to mature people by “teaching them to compromise” is a laudable goal (and one with which I wholehearted agree), the worship service man not be the best venue for this. You see, if you have only a blended service you will lose some of the babes-in-Christ because they may not be ready for adult food. Romans 15:1ff is as good summation of the writer’s argument that for salvation sake, we must try not to put roadblocks (if they are culturally inspired and morally neutral) in the path of young believers.
Thus, if your goal is to reach the unchurched and introduce them to Christ, you will need to get them into an environment where they are not uncomfortable or perplexed by the culturally-derived aesthetics. You won’t want to leave them there. But, you will want them to be able to start there, in a place where they are more culturally comfortable. This is what a missionary does, they take the Good News and put it cultural aesthetics (and worship styles) of a society.
Since my purpose is to introduce them into an encounter with God, it makes sense to present the encounter in the most relevant (to them) way possible.
Many people note that this creates division. And, it does. But I am not sure that worship is the best venue for unity. One young man I asked about this responded to me “you can’t create unity in worship, the seats face the wrong way.”
That is why I agree with you that we need to foster compromise. I wrote two books about this: Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church (Abingdon Press, 2010) and Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It (Abingdon Press, 2003).
But, to create this unity I am not sure worship is the best venue, for it is a place of spiritual encounter. Thus, you will notice in my books that I strongly emphasize that we supplement varied worship venues with new community spaces where people can gather after church and talk about the same message they heard in the different culturally stylistic venues. Therefore unity experiences and venues, where people can fellowship and get to know each other, must be created. It means not trying to create this in worship, for there it can rob us of our heavenward focus. But rather it means creating unity experiences and opportunities; and offer as many each week as we offer worship experiences.