WORSHIP SERVICES & How to Settle Worship Wars: For Churches Both Under (& Over) 100 Attendees #HouseDividedBook

by Bob Whitesel, 10/13/14

Many of our conflict-orientated forces arise from differences over worship. And, though differences over worship have their genesis in cultural differences (and thus life-cycles too) it may be important here for me to describe some of the tools you can use to settle worship conflict.

First of all, conflict over worship has to do with cultural preferences. There is nothing wrong with that. Each generational culture has been brought up in a different milieu.

The Builder Generation (69+ in 2014) was raised upon great hymns of the faith sang in the sanctuary. Popular tunes with hand-clapping were only sung at camp meetings (but notice most of the Builders got saved at camp meetings 🙂

HDsmallThe Boomers (50-68 in 2014) and Leading Edge Gen. X (40-49) grew up in a media explosion, where small transistor radios and car radios meant they were exposed to rhythm/blues music (i.e. rock and roll) every where they went. They came to hear this music as the soundtrack of their lives. Not surprisingly it became the soundtrack for their worship too.

Post-modern Xers (31-39 in 2014) and Yers (12-30) have grown up in an increasingly distrustful world, and their music has a much more plaintive and lamentive feel. This often bothers the Boomers who are much more upbeat and positive in their music (see Whitesel, 2007, p. 59).

Which is useful? They all are, but in different circumstances.

And thus many of you have tried to start new services. Dr. Chip Arn has a great book on this called How To Start a New Service (1997) and it is required in my elective course MIN558: Building a Multi-Generational Church. And, I have addressed how to use his book and modified his steps to starting a new service in my book A House Divided, the chapter titled “Worship in a Multi-generational Format.” Here is a brief overview of what you can do to settle worship wars.

If you are running 100+ attendees.

1. Find a time to start a new service that is convenient for the cultural generation you are reaching out to (I have given four charts on when Builders, Boomers and Xers like to go to church in A House Divided, pp. 173-177).

2. You ask 50 people in the church to sign a “covenant agreement” to change their worship time, and come to this new service for one year. At the end of this year, they either replace themselves with someone they’ve invited, or they re-up for another year. The reason you need 50 is because worship does not usually break out in a worship encounter unless there are 35+ people there. This has to do with anonymity and community. To get 35+ each weekend, you need to have 50 people committed to this new worship encounter; and because some will be gone each week, a net 35+ usually results.

3. You develop small groups during this time from the 50 people. The small groups are the discipleship environments for this new worship encounter. Some groups may be Bible-studies, etc., but others will be worship teams, greeters, etc. (creating groups that you need to help you organize the new encounter, but always ensure they practice all three elements of a healthy small group: UP-IN-OUT, see Cure for the Common Church, 2011).

4. You have the small groups meet for 2-6 months, before you launch your worship encounter.

5. Have new small groups ready at the worship encounter launch, for newcomers. The number of new small groups available should be 1-2 small groups for each 50 people who have committed to the new encounter.

PreparingChange_Reaction_MdHowever, if you are running under 100 attendees, things change.

If you start a new worship encounter you will usually have too few people coming to it (after all, the people coming to your church already like the times you have, and they are not likely to attend a new time). The best thing to do of you have less than 100 regular attendees, is the following:

1. Do not have a blended service (where you blend throughout the encounter) but rather have a “compartmentalized worship encounter” where you put the traditional songs/liturgy/elements at the beginning, then the sermon next, and then modern music at the end. You tell the traditionalists that they can go after the sermon, and even have a benediction before they leave. You have thus compromised, giving any who prefer their traditional music a traditional service. But, those who want to can stay around for the contemporary music “After-Glow.” This is 15-20 minutes of contemporary worship. You have thus “compartmentalized” rather than “blended” your worship service. And, each generation can worship without being blind-sided by a change in cultural music. This gives the traditionalist who do not care for contemporary music a chance to leave. In addition, the contemporary people can come late to the service of they want and stay longer. In essence, two worship services are emerging, with a common sermon in between. (You can instead do a contemporary music “Pre-Glow” before the service if that suits your church better. But, then you may wind up with an early second service that is contemporary, and younger generations tend to prefer later morning encounters.)

2. You allow this After-Glow (or Pre-Glow) to develop until you have 30-40 people staying for After-Glow. Then, once you have a total of 100 at the whole worship encounter, your start with Step 2 above.

I have used this with dozens of churches and it allows compromise, and the eventual growth of a new cultural worship encounter in a unifying manner (this process is spelled out more in A House Divided, 2000).