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

  • Are the churches that are moving back to one style moving to contemporary, traditional or blended (all descriptions which i despise by the way)?

  • When I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a
    comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment.
    There has to be a means you are able to remove me from that service?
    Many thanks!

  • Rex Griffin says on

    Dr. Rainer,
    Here are my reasons why we do blended worship:
    1. It is biblical – all generations need to worship together. We are to “exhort one another with psalms, hymns, & spiritual songs.” Not just the ones we like. No where in scripture do you see believers getting to worship based on personal preferences.
    2. It develops maturity – It is spiritually immature for older believers to not want to learn the new music, and for younger believers to not appreciate the old hymns. As pastor, it is my responsibility to help them grow spiritually throughout their life. Each generation needs to influence the others, and every generation can learn from one another. Old people who complain about the new stuff and young people that can’t appreciate the old stuff are still on “milk” as Paul would say and need to mature.
    3. Do you think there will be a traditional & contemporary service in heaven? No! We will all worship together. And if any of our songs on earth are good enough for heaven, I will bet we will sing both “10,000 Reasons” AND “The Old Rugged Cross”.

  • I wish that the Bible and solid teaching were more important than music in today’s church. Music seems to be the main draw however in many churches. It’s the easiest place to recruit help and get funding. Music pastors are also among the highest paid on the church staff, thus demonstrating the church’s emphasis on music as being more important than other areas.

  • Bill Lawson says on

    I am a pastor of a church in rural upstate New York. We recently discovered that God wanted us to be together as much as possible in one service at one time worshiping in one style. As a result, we dropped our “second” service and moved out of our own Sanctuary and into the local high school auditorium to accommodate the combined numbers. It goes against just about every ounce of training I’ve have had, book I’ve read and seminar I’ve ever attended to think in terms of centralizing ministry in order to reach more people. I believe we were led by the Holy Spirit to keep the family together and not break us apart as we had done for over ten years. I could give a lot of detail as to why but won’t take the time here, but we have grown as a result of our obedience! We are blended leaning toward contemporary in our worship style and that fully represents the people we are and the people we are trying to influence for Jesus. My worship pastor is keenly aware of the favorite psalms, songs and spiritual songs that our local body responds to, so we keep them all in mind when leaning on God’s grace and wisdom putting together the worship service. Thanks, Tom, for posting this article based on your research. I would love to know more about your findings as you develop them!

  • I wanted to comment on this post when it first came out but I was too busy with other activities. I read the replies with great interest and no small amount of sadness. It seems, unfortunately, that the worship wars, to some extent, are still with us.

    I’m a veteran of those wars, having been a worship pastor from 1980-2012. I’m now a lead pastor. What seems to be missing, even in many of the replies to this post, is the reality that our worship shapes us. As evangelicals profoundly shaped by the revivalism of 150 years, I believe we put too much weight in worship towards the purpose of evangelism. Certainly, evangelism can happen during our corporate worship, but the bigger picture is that all of what we do together in corporate worship is vital to the spiritual formation equation. If we understand that it becomes the primary guiding rule in determining what elements should be present in our worship, including our music.

    I am a very strong proponent for one worship style in a church because the elements of style are not value neutral. They do shape us, and there are unique values to be found in traditional and contemporary styles that are profoundly rich for all believers. If your congregation is fortunate enough to be multi-ethnic, you can include their unique style and voice to have formational meaning for your congregation as well. In the best case, a congregation will understand the values of diverse voices and styles and embrace (not merely tolerate) them.

    I have far too much to say on this topic than what I can do here. It has been a topic that has employed a lot of my reflection and writing time. If a church wants to move to one style, it will require a strong worship philosophy (articulated by the lead/senior pastor), a biblical ecclesiology (as opposed to riding the popular trends of the day) and a commitment to speaking the language of the culture of your people. Here’s my blog against different services in one church and encouraging one worship style.

    http://lifenworship.blogspot.com/2012_08_01_archive.html

  • I’ve never understood why it has to be one over the other. I’m 30 and grew up with hymns. Many of them I still love to sing. But I also appreciate many of the truly great songs written in the last 20 years. What is new is not always better. But sometimes it is. Somewhere it has been said that music is the language of the heart. I think that is true. We want to encourage everyone to sing with all their heart, not just with their lips. That’s what honors the Lord. The younger people need to love the older people well by allowing them to sing songs that they can sing with all their heart. And the older people need to do the same for the younger people. When we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, God is glorified and the Church is built up.

  • Our church is in a rural community just outside suburbia and averages 175. We are in one service that we try not to focus on music style. I constantly remind them that we have come to worship. Often you will see someone raise a hand on a contemporary song or sing a little stronger on a traditional song. But Sunday, one of our soloists sang a song and people spontaneously stood and wept because they were moved by the Spirit. You know I didn’t care what style it was. Now that is worship! Sounds like the war is not over because we won’t quit fighting. The “forsake not the assembling of yourselves” should only be about HIM!

    • I think there are songs that can definitely bridge the gap. “In Christ Alone” is a case in point. It’s definitely a contemporary song, but it’s written in the style of an old hymn, and no one can deny that it’s loaded with good theology. I’m pretty much a traditionalist by nature, but I’ve never been able to sing that song without getting choked up, and younger folks love it as much as I do. That’s just one example, but I think if we worked at it, we could develop a worship format that would be acceptable to most people.

  • Our church has a contemporary service on Saturday night and two traditional services on Sunday morning… this can tend to separate the congregation(s) and makes for a difficult time providing proper Christian Ed to those that attend Saturday night. It would be difficult to handle contemporary and traditional on Sunday morning due to sanctuary constraints. That said, while we follow a reasonably traditional Lutheran order of service, both the liturgical portion (Kyrie, etc.) and the hymns vary from old standards to those more contemporary.

    My only personal issue is the presentation at many of these “Contemporary” worship environments. If you only give me words on a screen and no notes, I will not be participating. If you want me to be open to new hymns/songs of praise — let me see what it is supposed to sound like without having to anticipate where the melody goes, when the refrain is sung, or worse yet, guess what’s next based on the whim of the musical leader.

  • I have no quarrel with contemporary worship per se, but I do have a quarrel with people who insist on doing contemporary worship and nothing else. They always tell us, “The style isn’t important” and “God can be worshiped in more than one way”. True enough, so why do they insist on doing nothing but contemporary music? This year’s SBC had a pretty nice mixture of styles, but the Pastors’ Conference was almost exclusively contemporary. The same holds true with convention meetings in my state.

    I’m not saying we should get rid of contemporary music. I’m just saying, show a little consideration for people who prefer other styles. Is that really asking too much?

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