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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225 Comments

  • So grateful our healthy, thriving, multi-generational, diversified family of faith doesn’t need to ‘move back’ to one service because our leadership has not only beautifully ‘blended’ the relevant music of today with the meaningful hymns of long ago, but also ‘blended’ that integral part of worship with the Word from the pulpit teaching us to live like Jesus – with grace, inclusion, mission mindedness, and love, all into one service for years and years and years! That, folks, is what will ‘draw all people unto Him’ and keep them there! #wearedeermeadows

    • That’s encouraging. I recently attended a pastors’ meeting that was led by a young fellow. He did a mixture of hymns and contemporary choruses. He did the hymns in a way that appealed to the younger people, and he did the contemporary music in a way that wasn’t overpowering to the older people. It’s not hard to blend the styles if the leadership works at it.

  • What is to be the fate of our nation’s pipe organs?

    • They will be played in a traditional manner as well as a contemporary manner. Orchestrating electric guitars and pipe organ can be easily done as long as both are humble enough to work together and follow the score. FBC Jacksonville, FL organist is a fantastic example. My church does not have a pipe organ so I used samples to play a modulation and third verse of a hymn in a blended set.

  • Dorothy Ray says on

    A question came to mind as I read this article with great interest. After reading all of the replies, I realize the existing division in my church may be unique. While differing preferences in music style seems to be the common thread, according to the article and responses, I would like to invite comments on a body of worshipers who refuse to include any music at all? Years of efforts to combine our two services (8:00-8:30AM & 10:30-11:30AM) have been unsuccessful and the two groups (both rapidly declining) hardly know each other. The later group is willing to compromise with an earlier time, a somewhat shorter service, and a little less music. However, the early group will not budge; insisting that there be no changes in “their” service. Most importantly that there be no music, which has been referred to as “fluff.” I wonder if any other churches have faced a similar situation?
    I will appreciate any feedback that might broaden my perspective on this matter since I am not only a musician myself but the church’s music director and I cannot fathom a United Methodist worship service without music.

    • Greetings Dorothy Ray,

      In regard to your invitation for suggestions on how to resolve your United Methodist church’s division among worshipers, it’s always, first, best to pray about it and ask for The Lord’s guidance. At the same time, we have the Scriptures, as God’s Word, with plenty we can refer to in situations such as this. I offer this to you and it’s partly based on the famous passage in 1 Kings 3: 16 where King Solomon ends a quarrel between 2 women and one child they are fighting over (he says he will cut the baby in half so they each can have a part of him):
      1) Music has been an integral part of every society since the beginning of time and the Bible is full of verses talking about singing praises to The Lord – from King David (with both voices and instruments) to even Jesus himself (Mark 14:26-31), where it says that Jesus sang hymns with His disciples before they went out to the Mount of Olives. And of course, Paul wrote much about singing psalms & hymns to The Lord.
      2) We have to remember that The Lord really doesn’t care what style of Music we choose for worship and is not impressed by anything we do … however … He does welcome our worship and praises to Him, which should NOT be a means to Entertain the congregants and is what is really at the heart of this division in your church – it has nothing to do with The Lord, at all, and is only [self] serving the desires of Man!
      3) Just as King Solomon ended the quarrel between 2 women, and their fighting over the possession of a child, by threatening to cut it in half (knowing the women wouldn’t want the baby to die) – rather than kill the Music in your church, please use this Scripture as a means to provide you a solution.

  • Shelvin Lamb says on

    Not surprised at all. This should been very easy to see 10-12 years ago when the trend to go to multiple styles began. This was an issue waiting to happen and we are only seeing the beginning I am afraid. As a mid 40’s worship pastor who had been full time 20 plus years, I majorly disagree with these tie points: one, millennials are not flexible and open to other styles and preferences. Two, worship wars are bit waning. Because we are seeing a trend to go back to one style- I’m afraid round two of the worship wars has just begin. And that deeply saddens me and concerns me.

  • I understand preferences so I will share mine. I would prefer worship services with a full symphony orchestra preferably 100 musicians at minimum all with masters degrees or higher in their instrument. A choir with 500 or more highly trained voices. Pipe organ as well. Music should include works from Bach to today. Also HipHop with Lacrea or KJ 52. Contemporary songs like Matt Redmond, Lincoln Brewester, Third Day. Jazz combo and big band songs like Camp Kirkland, Gloryland Band Series. A few Christian Heavy Rock songs from Red and other Christian bands. Very deep highly intellectual expository preaching 75% and more palatable to the masses 25%. Also it wouldn’t be to bad of an idea to include compositional works written by me. Oh and since I do not prefer Southern Gospel we can just leave that out. Goodnews! It’s not about my preference.

    Do a word study. How many times does it say to sing to the Lord in the Bible? How many times does it say
    preach?

    Does that mean we neglect either? May it never be. Songs that repeat? How many times will “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord” be repeated in heaven.

    The Bible says sing a new song. How can new songs be sung if new songs are not written. Remember I prefer Bach as well as Isaac Watts.

    Praise the Lord it is about Jesus and not about me. May I and all Christ followers die to self before entering a place of worship wherever that may be.

    Songs are sermons you can memorize. Learn old ones, learn new ones, exercise discernment in theological content. Strive for excellence and memorize some sermons, because Jesus is worth it!

    • Theo-ann Johnson says on

      Yay! Finally someone who is talking about preferences here….great job explaining this. Just because it is our preference doesn’t always mean it is right for worship. We have Scripture to guide us with how to worship (and music isn’t the number one way to do so either!). I get tired of hearing people say that it is just a “preference” that some lean towards more conservative music. But, while the conservatives have Biblical principles to follow, it’s defended by contemporaries who say, “I just like this stuff” or “I want to lead music with what everyone likes.” This is what I heard from our music pastor at the new church we are in now. Shouldn’t music, as well as other ways we worship the Lord be guided by His Word and not what we want?

  • If sound and style are irrelevant, is Modern pop just as beautifully timeless as Mozart and Bach? History has a way if weeding out the best.

  • Morris Baker says on

    Sadly, many chuches in their quest to simply draw more people have tried to use the music as entertainment rather than uplifting Christ. This may sound trite, but my hope and prayer is that more and more churches will move to a point where the understanding is that our job is not to draw the crowd but lift up of Savior. Music should be the ‘red carpet’ for the message – not the message itself. The world is wanting to come to chuch and experience a concert rather than to participate in a corporate gathering. Just a thought…

  • Marci Evans says on

    I was a touring gospel singer for many years. I love all styles of music. My concern was never the style of music, it was the entertainment mentality. People were constantly looking for the right entertainment ‘formula” to get people into church. To me, it seemed that we are so entertainment and number focused that we completely forget the reason we are there. Entertainment can feed the “me” mentality and people forget that they are supposed to love their neighbor and care for others. A culture of “What can this church do for me?” is rampant.

    • I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head. Alas, that mentality has been brewing for a long time. I’ve been a pastor for 19 years, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the complaint that “my needs aren’t being met”. Since when is church about meeting the needs of its members? Didn’t Jesus say He came not to be served, but to serve? If more church members had that attitude, many problems would take care of themselves.

  • Sam Stack says on

    Why does it always seem to be an either or mentality in our churches? I am a worship pastor. Our church has a choir that sings in both Sunday morning and Sunday night services. We utilize a praise team, piano, organ, and band. Our music is multigenerational including hymns, choruses, southern gospel, and contemporary. I have served this church for 11 and 1/2 years. We select music based on text not style.

    • That’s a good way to do it: have something for everyone! I really believe the older folks would be more tolerant of contemporary music if the younger people just showed some consideration for their tastes.

  • Much of the so-called “traditional music” done in current worship services, is done my music leaders that are holding their noses to do it. If the leaders were as versed on “traditional music” as they are in the latest hip-hop, there would be a different response. It is a shame that music with good lyrics and harmony is not being used.

    • I agree. I don’t particularly like contemporary music, but I’d be much more tolerant of it if its proponents weren’t so snobbish about it. I don’t think it’s fair to label contemporary music as “evil” or “satanic”, but it’s equally unfair to say that its critics don’t care about reaching the lost.

  • @ different styles split a church. I have attended churches who have a beautifully blended service, they sing hymns from the hymnals, no words on the screen and then go into chorus’, or as I call them 7/11’s. They use a choir orchestra and praise team on the platform. It takesw work to blend a service but it can be done and it brings the church together. There is no need for light shows just come to church to sing and listen to the word. We are losing folks by not letting them sing “are ye able said the master” He Leadeth Me, One Day and I can go on. These hymns tell the story of salvation in a way that they may not hear from the pulpit. Blended services can be very worshipful if the leadership team will look back and look forward and sing what will go with th emessage. I dispise going to a service where it is a show. Please, that is not what it is about and when some will say, lets show , whomever we love them and then the clap starts. Jesus said IF I BE lifted UP. Not the musician nor the deacon that prays but Jesus. When churchs start trying to copy what the mega church down the strret is doing I don’t believe that God honors that.

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