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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Chuck Reed says on

    At my age I am more concerned about how loud the music is as opposed to whether its traditional, contemporary or whatever. I also may object to something that doesn’t pass the standard for what we believe. Other than that…let’s sing.

    • Our state Baptist paper recently carried an editorial about the excessive volume in worship services and Christian concerts. He noted that this problem occurs in various genres, so he wasn’t just bashing contemporary music. I lose patience with musicians who don’t care about the volume. Some people, such as my wife, have medical conditions that make them very sensitive to loud music. When worship leaders tell them to “suck it up”, are they really acting in the spirit of Christ?

      • Clyde Reed says on

        Downloaded an iPhone decibel meter app recently. Checked volume of worship music last week. The needle was jumping into the red area on a regular basis, hitting 99 db on some occasions. Generally speaking, extended listening over 85 db can eventually cause hearing loss. Why aren’t seminaries teaching this?

        Are we planning to have a “healing service” to restore the congregation’s hearing?

        Unfortunately, OSHA apparently has no jurisdiction over rock bands and worship bands.

  • Could it be multiple worship styles are a true reflection of our world’s culture: consumerism/materialism, self-centeredness, and lazy unspiritual leadership?

    Consumerism/materialism – In John Stott’s last book he penned, “The Radical Disciple,” he says, “Here then is God’s call to a radical discipleship, to a radical non-conformity to the surrounding culture. It is a call to develop a Christian counterculture, a call to engagement without compromise.” He then defines materialism as a preoccupation with material things, which can smother our spiritual life.” Skye Jethani in his book, “The Divine Commodity,” makes this observation,
    “Consumerism is the dominant worldview of North Americans.” And later he zings us all with this statement, “Consumer Christianity, while promising to strengthen our souls with an entertaining faith, has left us malnourished with an anemic view of God, faith, church, and mission.”

    Self-Centeredness: If you were to view this worship issue through the lens of The Great Commandment, you may discover those who are adamant about their style of worship, their style of music, their version of the Bible, etc. (their desires, wants, and preferences), it is a reflection of the true motivation of their heart: a low love for God and a low love for others.

    Lazy, Unspiritual Leadership: We all want the easy button; therefore, most would succumb to the least amount of resistance – multiple worship services. But you say, “that’s an enormous amount of work, resources, people, and skill!” And my answer would be, “yep, you are correct but you haven’t addressed the deep heart issue!” I contend a pastor has now missed the opportunity to disciple the body of Christ in deeper spiritual issues of the heart, unity of the body, loving one another, having a heart for the community, for the lost, and for injustice. The pastor has missed the opportunity to lead God’s people to seek His face, confess, repent, and seek His ways. The pastor has missed the opportunity to stand up to be the spiritual leader of the body modeling Christ himself. The pastor missed the opportunity for the body of Christ to become an Ephesians 4 body – that’s the hard work that can only be accomplished through Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church.

  • It is sad that the worship wars are still going on and God is never glorified in them. If I am correct what we now call traditional music was at one time contemporary. And many of those “traditional” favorites of today were not readily accepted by the traditionalists in the day they were written. Southern Gospel, that so many churches like, was not readily accepted by many churches as it was considered too worldly. I believe it was Isaac Watts who complained to his father about the boring music in church and was challenged by his father to write better music. His music was condemned by the “traditional” church as worldly and sinful. But today is sung in churches all across the world. The piano was not allowed in many churches as it was a bar room tool of Satan, and today almost every church has one in it.

    I have heard the argument that contemporary music is just “entertainment” music. Yet if we say we only like a certain music to sing in that church, is that not also entertainment music as it is what we want to sing whether it be traditional or contemporary.

    The truth is we all like to sing those songs that God used to touch our hearts but to say that the traditional songs are the only ones that should be sung is saying that God stopped touching the hearts of song writers in the 50’s. Why must the music meet our criteria of what music really is? What happened to God’s criteria….that it glorifies and lifts him up in word. (I really don’t think he cares as to the beat or the tune of the music. Just whether the words being sung come from a grateful heart.)

    As a pastor this is what I have told and my church, if we only want to sing the songs that we like to sing then the worship has become about us and not about God. As long as it glorifies Him, God does not care what style the music it. Whether it is from a child banging on pots and pans shouting “Jesus Loves Me”, a congregation in Africa singing a worship song being played on their traditional instruments, a congregation singing with a piano, “Nearer My God to Me” to a congregation singing with guitars and drums, 10,000 Reasons if God is lifted up in those songs He is pleased. Yes, we have a blended worship service and God is moving in mighty ways in it because the bottom line is, the songs are about Him and for Him and not for our listening or singing pleasure.

    Lets face it, the worship wars are about us and not about God, and that is the way it has always been. It is about time churches start taking the “us” out and start putting God back in their worship. How sad to think that our style of worship can not be “all things to all men so some might be saved.”

    I am an older pastor who likes to listen to the old traditional music, but when it comes to singing praises to our God, what I like and want goes out the window. It’s time we got back to the “heart of worship” and that is God.

  • Cindy DeVane Reynolds says on

    As I started to lose my hearing recently, for the first time I understood what the elderly were talking about when they complained about music being too loud. I thought, “If you can’t hear, then how can you complain about it being loud?” I spoke with the ear doctor, and he said that when you lose hearing certain pitches, changing from different pitches suddenly really is irritating and feels as if one’s fingernails are scratching on a chalkboard. So for me, I think a lot of the “irritation” during some types of music is based on my hearing loss. Regardless of the music, I think one frightening part I am noticing in Florida is the lack of concern for the elderly. If churches do not show more concern for the elderly, then their children and grandchildren are not going to attend a service that lacks concern for their parents or grandparents. A compromise of blended music styles and worship styles seems to be a sign of love within the body.

    • That is PRECISELY the point I’ve made over and over. It’s not so much the contemporary worship that bothers me; it’s the attitude behind it. One prominent pastor actually suggested churches should use contemporary music because older people are more likely to accept it than young people are to accept traditional music. That kind of thinking bothers me. It’s basically another way of saying that the elderly are not important. Is this the mentality we want to encourage among young people?

  • terry wright says on

    I have been blessed by God to use my passion for music in church worship for more than 3 decades and Ive played everything from straight up Broadman Hymnal to stuff you might hear from a Stryper concert in the late 80’s. I have preferrences, but with very few exeptions, I like it all. That’s the problem – what we like. When worshiping God almighty is the intent as opposed to entertainment, and when seeking God is the object of worship and nothing else, what we like in music style will be of almost no importance to the true believer seeking God, regardless of age, demographic, or culture. Ive seen it while playing in church plants in the inner-city, in revivals in the African bush, in small country churches in Alabama and in mega-congregations. True believers seek and find God in all environments with or without music….and while music can be both a catalyst to, or a deterrent from worship, in the end music and style are not determinants of true worship we see in Scripture.

    While I understand the whole reason for having different worship services based on style I have never thought it wise or best…. the us and them mentality, lack of unity…. all said in previous comments. And while Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some…,” I’m not sure that should include using worship music as a marketing tool to bring in people or target a specific demographic. The preferences argument reveals either a lack of spiritual maturity in a church’s leadership, or their inability to properly disciple their flock in the most fundamental priorities of the elements of worship.

    In short, we have wrongly elevated the importance of music over other elements of worship, and relegated style as the tone setter for worship. Romans 12:1-2 tells us what true worship is – and it makes no mention of music. Music is neither the source, origin or object of worship – rather, it is the expression of a soul seeking God and His presence. Granted, I am a musician and love the opportunity to serve the Body in this capacity….but in all truth, if a particular style of music or even music itself is necessary for somebody to be able to worship God, there is something flawed in their relationship with God.

    A trend back to singular worship would be a good thing – churches need to be unified. Better though, would be a flock not coming back together simply through agreement or appeasement concerning music preferences, but in the corporate body of individual souls who are intent on seeking the face of God through the expression of ALL of the elements of worship… praise, prayer, scripture reading & preaching the Word, giving and communion. I was blessed to play at my church this past Sunday and watched 4500 people of all ages come on a holiday weekend do just that through every element of worship. This is largely because spiritual maturity, humility and worshipping from the heart have been modeled by the leadership and multiplied through disciple-making over the long term.

    I find it interesting that in areas of the world where the Church is being heavily persecuted, we never hear any arguments being waged over worship music and style. Is this just a Western Church argument? The underground church in China, and secret house churches in the Middle East are bound to have old, young, traditional and contemporary elements too. Could it be that the silver lining of the threats they face is the blessing of being drawn to seek from their souls, the true heart of God, His presence, His provision and His protection? My bet is that worship style and music preference is not high on their list of issues. In reality, it should not be for the Western Church either; I am confident that some day, it won’t be…..

  • A. G. Faulkner says on

    I have been a Baptist my whole life, very active, deacon, Sunday School teacher, missions leaders, etc. With all the focus now on being entertained, I only feel like I have truly been to a worship service when I attend an Episcopal service. The approach to God is done with reverence and humility, not cheering and clapping. It is very sad when I hear someone say “I need more than Amazing Grace”. How dangerous is that kind of theology?

  • Adam Davis says on

    First of all, for those of you who think music is superfluios or secodary, tell that to the hosts of heaven. Secondly, music style is not about right and wrong, it’s about personal preference and effectiveness. The style of church music a person prefers is totally subjective and there is certainly nothing in the Bible that you can point to and say this style is good or this style is bad. The question then becomes, what is most effective? I believe that in the next ten years most traditional churches will be dead, even in small towns. When people say “traditional,” what they really mean is 1950’s style church. Young people and families today are simply not interested in or excited about going to a 1950’s style church. This is especially true since people today are more mobile than ever. Driving 20 or 30 miles to an exciting, contemporary church is not a problem. Churches today have to be less focused on their past and more focused on their future. This means modernizing, contemporizing, and thinking outside the box in order to reach more people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Since music is a focal point of the service, this is a vital area to contemporize. The fact is many old hymns have little or no meaning for young people today. This doesn’t mean that young people are wrong or misguided; it simply means that they want music that speaks to them. There are many songs written today and in the last ten years that are theologically sound, honoring to God, musically well written, and that exalt Jesus. There is no reason why churches should not be using these songs in their services. The Apostles grew up speaking Aramaic, a regional dialect. However, when they began preaching the Gospel and writing the New Testament, they used Greek, a practically universal language. If they had insisted on using the language they grew up with, their influence and effectiveness would have been very limited. The same is true for churches today. Churches that insist on singing old hymns and doing everything the way it’s always been done are severely limiting their influence and effectiveness. There is nothing wrong, in and of itself, with singing old hymns just as there is nothing wrong with singing contemporary praise and worship. However, there is something wrong with a church that is not doing everything it can to reach as many people as possible with the Gospel. I realize that many churches are concerned with alienating their older members. However, more mature believers should be willing to set aside their preferences and biases for the sake of reaching more people with the Gospel.

  • Thom, I am curious to know if posts on worship receive more replies than say theological/polity posts.

    I really think that our unwillingness to be satisfied with the stylistic selections of our pastoral staffs (staves? 🙂 is an unwillingness to move in the direction that God is leading through the people He has called to lead. I am an associate pastor and I seek our senior pastor’s guidance for direction in content on a regular basis and I believe the music should emphasize and enhance the message that God is delivering to us during the gathering every week. This means that we will use hymns, psalms and praise songs to do this. But, our style is created by our members who are involved in our musical ministry. Our drummer is 14… he doesn’t listen to music from the 1800s. Our bass player’s dad is a pastor and he grew up with a wide range of more traditional styles of music. Some musicians are trained, some are not. We sound like the people who are playing the instruments and leading vocally. Stylistically we sound like the people God has called to lead on their instruments and with their voices and I see it as my responsibility to encourage them and to stretch them to grow. Our “style” is the style of the members itself and I kinda like that.

1 4 5 6 7 8 10