Six Reasons Some Churches Are Moving Back to One Worship Style

You could not help but notice the trend of the past two decades. Numerous churches began offering worship services with different worship styles. It is not unusual to see a church post its times of worship for a contemporary worship service, a traditional worship service, and an occasional blended worship service.

The trend was fueled by two major factors. First, many churches were fighting worship wars. The great compromise was creating a worship service for each faction. Unfortunately, that created divisiveness in some churches as each faction fought for its preferred time slot. Second, some churches had a genuine outreach motivation. Their leaders saw the opportunity to reach people in the community more effectively with a more indigenous worship style.

Though I am not ready to declare a clear reversal of the trend, I do see signs of a major shift. It is most noticeable among those congregations that have moved from multiple worship styles back to one worship style.

So I spoke to a number of pastors whose churches had made the shift back to a singular worship style. I asked about their motivations for leading their congregations in such a direction. I heard six recurring themes, though no one leader mentioned more than three for a particular church.

  1. Multiple worship styles created an “us versus them” mentality. Worship wars did not really end with multiple approaches. In some churches the conflicts were exacerbated because those of different preferences did not interact with each other.
  2. The church did not have the resources to do multiple styles with quality. In many churches, inadequate resources meant one or all of the services suffered. It was deemed better to put all the resources toward one style of worship.
  3. The church moved from multiple services to one service. I heard from a number of pastors who have led their churches back to just one service, a move that naturally necessitates one style. Some did so to engender a greater sense of community; others did so due to excessive space in the worship center.
  4. The Millennial generation has influenced many churches. This generation is much more flexible in its preferences of worship style. They are questioning the need of multiple styles.
  5. Worship wars are waning. Many congregations with multiple worship styles created them as a response to worship wars. Now that the conflicts are waning in many churches, the need to segregate by worship preferences is no longer necessary.
  6. Multiple generations are becoming more accustomed to different types of church music and worship style. Contemporary music, in some form, has been around a while. It is not this strange aberration it once was to many congregants. And many church members who did not grow up on traditional worship are hearing those hymns in new and meaningful ways. Simply stated, there is a much greater appreciation for different forms of church music than in the past.

Again, I am reticent to declare a major trend to be taking place. But, anecdotally, I am seeing more congregations move to the singular worship style approach.

I would love to hear your perspectives. If you have any specific information about this trend, please bring it to this community so we can all benefit.

Posted on August 30, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I know Of some priests (Catholic and Anglican) who said that people will be back to the old way once they get tired of contemporary services. The church will still be there for them. Some of the young have started going to Latin mass and Rite I/1662 BCP services. On Pentecost even the Anglicans sang in Latin.

  • The only thing is … if a church has a “Worship Team,” who’s the person who chooses what One Worship Style they will be playing?? Then it just becomes Worship Fascism, which is what has really been happening in churches these days, anyway … even with multiple worship teams in one church (I am a full-time musician … I have been playing on “Worship Teams” for the past 16 years, am a voting member of the GRAMMYs and GRAMMY nominee, and am a Music Professor at a major university in Philadelphia). If we are all supposed to be followers of Christ, there should be NO “Worship Style Wars” or exclusivity! The Lord says that Favoritism is a Sin. He is the One who created a World of Diversity, and we should all be open-minded enough to accept different styles of Worship, just as the Lord accepts followers of all different races & cultures. The church has fallen into this very mundane world of cookie-cutter, overly-produced, “Nashville” [“Bubble Gum”] CCM Worship. There is no diversity in it whatsoever and this is why most people outside of church find no inspiration in CCM Music. And … it has nothing to do with being “Relevant” either – that’s just the church trying to mimic The World and being “Of the World” and it just comes off as fake. Also … Jesus never said, ‘stay in church and argue over what style of worship you will be singing’ … instead He said, “Love One Another” & “Go OUT INTO ALL THE WORLD and preach the Gospel to every creature.”

    • We talk so much about evangelism in the worship service, as if that’s the main thing a worship service is all about. Since God doesn’t give a holy hoot what style of music we use to worship Him, we just need to work it out with our brothers and sisters in the church and then get the heck out of the building and go after the lost. We may have to “become all things to all men so that by all means we may save some”.

      I agree with the above writer about the world not being impressed with our imitation of their art. Let’s get out there and meet them where they are love them in The name of Jesus and “with deeds of love and mercy, Thy heavenly kingdom comes”.

  • Justin Stutz says on


    One thing of which I’ve become more convinced over time is the need for more public reading of Scripture in congregational worship. There are myriad reasons for this on which I’ll just mention a few that pertain most directly to this discussion. It insures that the service is God-and Word-centered. At its core worship is initiated by God’s revealing Himself to us and He has chosen to do so most directly through His Son and through His Word. Our worship is a response to that revelation, so we would be most faithful to use the Scriptures as the foundation and framework of our corporate worship. Our response in song then comes directly out of what we have read, spoken, taught, preached, etc. The directional relationship here is of utmost importance–the Word shapes and directs our corporate worship. This results in many things: (1) It increases our Biblical literacy and constantly and intentionally exposes us to a full theological and doctrinal scope and shows us how all the Scriptures relate to one another. (2) Musically this is a wonderfully freeing thing. The Scriptures give the entire service direction and purpose and our music is clearly contextualized with the Word. Style becomes an irrelevant issue when the focus is on the content, and that focus is established most directly through the Scripture readings. Good theological hymn/song lyrics are always of utmost importance, but when they are wedded directly to the Word and the congregation can clearly see the relationship between the two, it truly leads to a genuine response of worship in spirit and truth no matter the musical style.

    I have been to too many services in which the ONLY Scriptue reading has been the sermon text. This should never be! There often seems to be little cohesion to the service as a whole or it is extremely theologically narrow in its scope. In such cases even the best songs we sing can lack deeper meaning if we only seem to be singing for singings’ sake. The Scriptures inform and remind us of Whom and what and why we sing. And people whether they know it our not truly long for–and need–the Word. Many more times people have approached me after a service and said that they were affected by a particular Scripture reading than by a particular song we sang that day.

    I’m curious if any pastors remarked on this topic. Fight worship wars with the Word!
    Thank you for all the great work you continue to do and your commitment to the church.

    Justin Stutz

  • Dr Rainer, are you seeing an overwhelming shift to a particular style of worship as these churches combine or are they going to a more balanced and blended style in one service.? Thanks for the ministry you do. I really enjoy these blog posts. Tell your wife hello from kara and I.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Kevin –

      Thanks so much for your kind comments. I will give Nellie Jo a hello from you.

      Though it’s hard to define a style precisely, the shift seems to be to blended first, closely followed by contemporary.

      • I would love to hear about what happened in the church after the service was blended. How did the church respond, or was that answered in the fact that churches initially blended, then moved to contemporary?

  • One year into leading a church and we are about to move from separate services w different styles to one service. After months of research and debate it was clear that offering different styled services every Sunday had contributed to decline, division and lack of outreach. Choosing the service that offers my preferred style of worship fits too neatly with a me focused church experience. That showed in mission, service, giving and love. It will take time for the change to bed in, but I’m looking forward to seeing the fruit.

  • Two things.

    First, I find it interesting that the evangelical church is still confidently labeling MUSIC styles as WORSHIP styles. My personal style of worship is…my life. I think the language is problematic, and doesn’t take care of people in the Church to whom *gasp* music might not be what they need to connect with God and their community on Sundays (I say this as someone who most definitely looks forward to and needs the music).

    Second, thank you to everyone here commenting on serving the whole (and hopefully, challenging the whole). I am a 20-something that values church gatherings where I can stand in love with people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds. That means when I lead music I try to include the God-given talents of everyone around me, not weigh the latest trends or create a performance. Let’s pray that our trends focus on praising and calling out to God as the full body of Christ!

  • Thom,

    I think that you need to go into more detail about this trend. It can be misinterpreted too easily. From what I gather those who are switching to multigenerational services and the use of an eclectic blend of contemporary and traditional music in their worship are not ignoring their context and the unchurched population segments that they are seeking to reach and engage. They are not putting the preferences of the congregation before being outward-looking. However, those pastoring traditional churches that are inward-focused and disconnected from their community may see this trend as vindication of what they have been doing.

  • I believe the old traditions songs and hymns are good but, this songs can be reviewing-rewriting in new format of worship song, I just hear Old song “Amazing Grace” in new format it really Amazing and “Hallelujah” really very powerful song in new format.
    Worship leaders and pastors should be more open for this challenge if they really want to see the Glory of God and His power to change the people hearts and minds

  • Love your articles. They are helpful. Which worship style is the dominant one churches are moving towards, contemporary or traditional? Or no clear majority? We offer three styles. Contemporary, traditional, and blended.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you. Though it’s hard to define a style precisely, the shift seems to be to blended first, closely followed by contemporary.

  • Kim Rendle says on

    So fun to read this after four years serving part-time on a church music staff with a pastor who’s insisted that, musically speaking, everyone should “suffer” somewhat, and that only inwardly-faced churches have separate services to accommodate various preferences. We’re trying to so carefully focus on lyrics that extol the Trinity, particularly the person and work of the Lord Jesus, with music that is as diverse, glorious, and beautifully presented as possible, while equipping the church to participate rather than spectate, that musical preferences will cease to be a divisive issue. For instance, if we can craft an arrangement of “Holy, Holy, Holy” that uses both the organ and the drum kit with integrity, we hope that those offended by either of those instruments can begin to see that instruments and styles are just tools in our worship, and we can try to use them in love, working to serve one another, and our Holy God. I’m excited about the work we’ve done in recent years, but my colleague (also part-time) and I haven’t had opportunity to talk with others who are desiring to simultaneously please God and both serve and expand our church members’ musical heart languages.

  • In our church the need/desire for multiple worship services isn’t just music (although that is a part of it). Traditional worship is in the sanctuary where, although there isn’t an official “dress code,” everyone generally dresses pretty formally. The second group has designed a “Coffee House” worship for folks unaccustomed to such formal worship. That service has music that sounds more familiar, but also holds the service on the fellowship hall where we sit around tables, drink coffee, tea and eat donuts (or sometimes snow-cones) before and after worship. The entire experience is different and more relaxed than the traditional service. Merging these two services would require major concessions in style such that neither group would really be comfortable. My challenge, as pastor isn’t find ways to merge them, but to find ways for them to be together and remember that they’re all on the same team.

  • Thanks for another great article. I would like to say that statement #5 “The worship wars are waning” may not be accurate in every state . As the state music director in Illinois, I am convinced that many of our rural churches are just now experiencing worship wars for the first time. I receive several calls per month from churches who are just realizing there is a worship war. It has been common occurrence for the past 8 years I have been in my position.

    Many of these churches have been able to successfully maintain a similar style of service for the past 50 years but just now are realizing that the same approach is not reaching many or any of the middle and younger generations. There are many probable causes to mention in this response as to why it is just happening for the first time now but some of factors include the age of the pastor, less isolation because of television, radio, internet, social media and the realization that that the median age of their church is growing faster than their community.

    Working with these churches to consider a multigenerational approach has been one the most helpful things that I have found. As mature Christians realize that not every element in the worship service has to be focused on them, it opens the door for the leaders to incorporate other worship elements to help connect children, youth young and older adults to the God they are there to worship.

    • I read your post with interest visiting the blog again this evening. What concerns me with your argument of reading the contemporary is having to change everything. I have lived that and it is not good. As I posted already, my church has changed everything. There is little scripture or “chewing” on the word learning together, etc. Messages are made palatable with minimal scripture- often a single verse- given as a “personal story of interpretation and application” quite different from exegetical study messages. My question to all this is When did God’s Word have to be changed to be more acceptable? I find it humorous when speaking with someone about this change in churches and the discussion quickly goes to style and personal aspect of authentic interaction. I am not old but I remember when a country preacher reading from a King James bible spoke the words that called to my heart as a non church goer just visiting. I was saved by God’s Spirit drawing me from His Word- as scripture describes it happens – not from someone telling me their thoughts on a related story to a verse (esegetical method).

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