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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  • Michael Jones says on

    Hi everyone!

    The thing that almost no one is mentioning is that God does not seem to care what we sing or if we sing. I understand Paul’s scripture about coming together and singing song, hymns and spiritual songs, but they were meeting in homes in the Middle East. We wouldn’t recognize that musical style if we heard it and would probably hate it. does it really matter is we sing hymns, choir songs or modern worship music? Nope, it doesn’t. What we are dealing with is traditions in mostly America. Most of Europe dealt with this after the first world war that broke the back of European Christianity. They just do whatever they want to do. That is the answer here.

    It doesn’t matter biblically WHAT we do as long as we agree to do it. I do agree that blended worship will create factions. The Pastor sets the standard and if he turns that over to a musical director with no input, the Church is in big trouble. Music directors are usually musicians and as such have STRONG tastes that may or may not match the congregation. If you have all grey hair and you turn off the lights and rock the stage with guitars and heavy drums, you are pretty much through. If you have mostly young people and sing all hymns you will bore them, whether it has strong theology or not. It’s not what they hear when they are not in Church and it sounds weird to them. You have to do what the makeup of the Church dictates. If you make huge changes, you are also through. Churches that have the mosts success are Churches that start a certain musical tradition from the ground up and stick to it. Find a music director that matches the style you want to do and do your music with intent!
    The big takeaway here is that God does NOT care what you do, YOU care about what you do. Traditional people will NEVER change. They still have the same car, the same house, the same clothes, eat the same food all the time and listen to the same music when not in Church. Young people are not usually as traditional, but some are. They may like praise and worship music with guitars. (Most don’t even come to Church for music. The best contemporary praise and worship music is somewhat hokey compared to the urban and pop music that a lot of them listen to) Statistics show that people do not come to Church for music, sermons of fancy lighting. They come to Church to connect to other people and require excellent childcare) . To sum it up, Jesus does not care what style we sing in or if we have guitars or organs. That is an American tradition.

  • The worship wars still exist. I’m only in my 40s and I have stopped going a long time because in my small town, it is nothing but contemporary. Even many people older than me prefer that. I was raised in a traditional church, and I loved the hymns we would sing. It doesn’t seem like anyone likes hymns anymore and I do not feel comfortable with the other style of music. And the loudless, that’s another thing. Talk about a headache. Even with earphones on and sitting in the very back, it was too much. At least I tried. I could feel it in my chest even, it hurt my ears too. I have never been one to go to anything loud, so my ears are more sensitive. To me it all seems conforming to the world.It seems they are more concerned about getting young people to come to church then older people.They say it is all about witnessing. There are old people out there who need witnessed to also, and they may not like the new stuff, either. They cannot be excluded. Music was originally about worship, not witnessing. Someone witnesses to you, you decide to go to church, and you worship if you feel conviction.Some of the young people, if they just come for the music, that may be the only thing they come for. They may not get converted anyway. When I was young, no one had to play rock music to get me to go to church. I loved the music just the way it was. Also the style of dress has changed, especially for ladies. The way I see some people come to church dressed, it doesn’t seem like the church is set apart from the world as it once appeared to be. I see too much skin, t-shirts that glorify alcohol and marijuana or have cuss words on them, etc. No one would be allowed to dress that way in the church I grew up in. But where to find a church like that today? I hope one day to be able to move where I can access a traditional service. I don’t think there is any length I wouldn’t move to just to find one, if they keep disappearing. I may be few, but I know there are still more of me.

    • These particular postings begin in 2014 and now I just read 2019. This tells me that the music in our churches is definitely an “issue” whether we want to acknowledge it or not. I grew up in a traditional church where not only was there harmony in our music but also in our beautiful community of believers. The church we attend now has a brand new sound system with all of the bells and whistles the music director enjoys. Problem is, and i don’t apologize for my opinion, the music is so loud that we leave with a headache and a very negative feeling. My husband has major health issues and cannot enjoy the confusion and loud drums so he comes in the service just before the sermon. We’ve been married 56 years and this is the first time I have had to sit alone without him. He has tried over and over to get beyond his sensitivity. I do believe that Satan is working through our music issues or this issue would not continue on.

    • Thank you “Unfortunately Unchurched.” So sad that you are not worshiping with fellow believers. I’m sure that there are those who would agree with you about the Contemporary Music and they need you to join them for support. And our Lord desires your Worship. Find a time to meet together and sing the wonderful songs of worship. This will help you endure the terrible sound coming out of our churches today.

  • I have always believed that the “Worship Wars” concept is a fallacy. What wins in the end and what always wins is quality – who is doing it better? If there is anything we MUST accept as church leaders is the fact that like it or not a church service is a show. Now, un-clapse your pearls. It’s always been a show. A show for God? Yes, yes of course but it’s also a show for people, especially for today’s America. Good show – lots of people. Bad show – not many people. Stage, lights, sound, music, “costumes,” stage props – all aspects of a show, designed and used to create an emotion. Bad shows don’t move people, good shows do. If you do not know what makes a good show and are not intentionally creating a good show then that is why your service is not very well attended. Well attended worship services are well attended because it’s a good show and if you can’t accept or understand this, then you will remain small. Find out what makes a good show given the talents, resources, money and infrastructure with which God has blessed you. If you find you don’t have these things – work to get them. The Protestant churches in your town with large congregations all have what to that church is a good show and though there are many basic aspects of a good show (comfortable seating, A/c, cleanliness of building, a viewable stage, a PA system etc) each church has their own unique abilities as to how they put on a good show. Style has NOTHING absolutely NOTHING to do with it. A good show for one church might entail a large choir, who sings well, backed by a creative organist who knows how to make that instrument sing with creative intros and choral amens lead by leaders who understand timing and how to effectively plan and stage a worship service. Another church will have top musicians playing on non-acoustical instruments with lighting and video properly used. The end result of both: it’s a good show that moves people. NOTHING to do with style. A person’s particular preference in style should be why they choose a church. The problem comes when we work it the other way around – trying to do something to appeal to people’s ever changing tastes rather than focusing on quality according to your people and your resources. If you are offering two different shows in your church, all you’re doing is making people pick the better show (yes time and schedule matter, but not as much as we think. of course, a fraction of your people will attend an 8:30 service for the time alone, but we’re talking about the majority) which then forces people to assume that one style is better than the other. They don’t mean that. They mean the better show. The better show is the one with better attendance and more momentum. Traditional service getting the short end? That means you’ve slipped on the show. you have a choir that isn’t well staffed, has forgotten that good singing is imperative and an organist who forgot how to creatively and masterfully play a hymn. you’re expecting people to come just because it’s what we’ve always done and that doesn’t work, because you’ve forgotten how to put on a good show with choir and organ.
    Very rare is the church that has the resources to do 2 good shows on a Sunday morning – though there are some, certainly but this is why churches are finding that having multiple styled worship services is a bad idea: you’re creating an unintended, negative sense of competition not realizing that though the “new” might get a temporary surge, in the end whichever one is the best show wins. But of this I am absolutely sure: All growing, large churches have a good show and all struggling, declining churches have a bad show. The Hour of Power – good show! Joel Osteen – good show! Why people are attending or not attending your particular worship service has nothing to do with Style and everything to do with quality. And it just so happens the Millennials get this. One church that is easily accessible for everyone to see that does this very well is First Baptist Dallas. Theology aside, this is a church which continues to grow because they have refused to allow style to divide their church. They have dedicated themselves to ONE type of service and commit all resources and personnel to the putting on of the best show they can possibly do – a show that has something for everyone and is always, no matter what a good show.

    • (if you check out FBC Dallas you will notice that yes, they do have a contemporary worship service, but upon further inspection you will find that that service is predominately attended and focused toward teenagers and seekers and is designed to “move” people into their main worship service in the larger Sanctuary. As a very large church will a great set of resources (they have two sanctuaries) they are able to pull this off and it acts as more of a youth worship experience as opposed to a separate, alternative worship service. Members of that church understand that when you go to church at FBC Dallas you’re going to the “Celebration Service” which is the main core worship service of the church).

  • Watch Roger Scruton’s “Why Beauty Matters” on You Tube and think about how it relates to the Christian worship service. The link between the Sacred and Beauty.


    Now think about how, since the 1960s, the Christian worship service has essentially been made “uglier” and “uglier”. Why? For what purpose?

    What happens to things that are made ugly and inhospitable for humans? It’s abandoned. What has happened to the Church since the 1960s has it has become progressively uglier? People are leaving in droves.

    The Church worship service must be made beautiful and sacred again, if you want people to return to the Church.

    • Michael Jones says on

      People are not leaving in droves because the service got more contemporary. They are leaving because they have lost their faith. Do you not see that even though people claim a great religious faith, they rarely demonstrate it? It’s not the service that did it. People simply no longer believe like the older generations did. According to every statistic, religious faith is moving to the Southern hemisphere. It is almost gone from Europe, and America just goes to Church mostly for tradition and it is mostly a social gospel. That is the ONLY reason the word of faith movement gets any traction.- American materialism.

  • Stan, all denominations are in free fall attendance-wise. They are hemorrhaging members, which is usually why they have entertained the liberalization of the church, because that’s when Wormtongues in the Church suggest these things. “If you liberalize the service, more people will come. If you ditch the traditional liturgy, more people will come. If you rip out the organ and sell it to the scrap dealers and put a band stage where the altar used to be, more people will come. ”

    It doesn’t work. The Church is still hemorrhaging members and is virtually irrelevant today. The Elders no longer come to church because they’ve gotten the message that they are no longer wanted, just like anything old is no longer wanted. The young are cut off from the Elders and the traditions of their past.

    This is not an accident. This is intentional. You have enemies within and outside the Church. You’ve been deceived and are it is all nearly lost. We must rediscover and reclaim our roots.

  • Born and raised Lutheran here, though I haven’t gone to church in a long time, it’s changed so much. 40 years old now.

    What’s really going on is something that’s been happening since the 1960s. The liberalization of the Church and the destruction of the foundations that support it.

    The Church is on its last legs. The destruction of the liturgy music is one of the last things to be destroyed. The Church is rotted through with “leaders” who are compromised and are pushing the Church into irrelevance.

    How can the Church be a sanctuary from the world when it sounds like the rest of the world? When it’s music sounds like rock music? When its services look and feel like any other service from any other denomination?

    This is intentional and it is intended to destroy the Lutheran Church.

    Just like removing “Boy” from Boy Scouts and letting in girls is intended to destroy the Boy Scouts and make it irrelevant.

    Why? Because the enemies of the Lutheran Church, and of Western Civilization generally, are deliberately destroying every institution that supports and perpetuates Lutheranism and Western Civilization.

    Because they hate us and want us gone. And in the past few decades we let them do it to us. We have to reclaim and return to our roots.

  • I don’t think there should be an either/or situation. Why can there not be an approximate balance between the two? My former church had excellent balance between contemporary and traditional in the past. They had awesome soloists and a very talented choir. Now we listen to contemporary music only for 25 minutes before the sermon. Now they begrudingly only sing traditional songs on Christmas eve. Gone are the marvelous soloists and talented choir. We walked away from their viewpoint.

  • Call me naive, but as a rookie worship director, why can’t I pray over the service and choose songs that are 1. Scripturally-based; 2. Theologically sound; 3. Doable with our personnel; and 4. Supportive of the pastor’s teaching? Do I need to make sure I have a certain number of hymns vs modern songs? I make the best of transitions and keys after that and trust God to use my paltry offering of gifts to lead others toward His presence.

  • It is not only the music but the way the whole church body has changed. People come late to our church regularly. Coffee is served in the back of the church and people go back and forth from their seats to get refills. Sometimes donuts or such is also there and people eat that in church. Some people bring in their 12oz purchased Coffee. Some people bring in their diet pop and drink all thru the service. Then they go out to the bathroom during the service. People have tatoos all over them. They have purple and green hair. You can’t help but be distracted by all the going on and no respect for being in church. If you go to a concert they close the doors at start time and do not let you in to intermission. When I heard the rock bands from the 70’s I said to myself that when
    this music hits the church I am not going. Well here I am and still going but the guitar
    players at our church are terrible and mostly just strum the chords and bang on the guitar and the music loud and it definitely takes away from the spiritual worship in music. I think most of the music played is about little stories about life and not praising and worshiping Jesus and glorifying His name

  • I’ve been part of this blog for a while and do not know if I have posted this before but here’s the issue to me- worship, praise, testimony. Each of these exhortations are for His Glory BUT each is distinct. Worship is all about a meditated focus on God, Praise is more a proclamation and testimony- to fellow man. Our music scripturally should follow in form and function (purpose). Ironically there was a man who traveled the Christian school circuit years ago about “styles” of music and approached it as a study hooking high schoolers up to instruments proving that heavy beat music impacted our physical being with their heartbeats paralleling the beat. He did not condemn beat but he did point out that you cannot worship and have a heart that is racing as it is a physical focus. I never forgot that illustration he gave. That is when I learned that there is a place for different types of music. Heavier beat music is a distraction; however, it CAN unify in function within praise or testimony. The problem is that I have experienced the contemporary-only form of service where worship was impossible as I define it here. The dB level sky high and the thumping beat flowing through the body. I came as a youth to the church without having to hear the secular sounding music. Why are Millenials different?

  • I’m a 65 year old Praise Band member in our church of about 700-800 members. We have a 9am contemporary service with an average attendance of 180 that I and my wife helped start about 10 years ago. There’s also an 8:30am traditional service that attracts about 50 members on Sunday and an 11am traditional service that has around 180 attendees on Sunday.

    I was 13 years old when the British rock invasion occurred in America. I grew up listening to Rock and Roll and learned to play guitar at age 12. During my teens and early 20s I held down a career and played in a top 40 band on weekends and that was an activity that led to a falling away from church after being out late on Saturday night. I never lost my faith in God, but as young people often do, I fell away.

    When I married I quit the weekend band gigging life and started back to church with my wife. After a few years some church members my age began to connect musically and we started to jam here and there. That led to some musical contributions to an occasional church service. I was amazed at how well our songs were received and we kept it up for a few years.

    As small churches began to die out ours fell victim to older members passing away and families with children moving to larger churches. We finally had to close the doors.

    My wife and I and a friend who played bass at the old church decided we’d try to move to a larger church and start a praise band. We moved and began to network with other musicians in our new church. There was a church wide picnic at a local lake and we all took our guitars and a keyboard and held a jam session down by the lake using acoustic instruments. Soon, a crowd of church members brought chairs and sat under the tent while we played.

    That started a movement within the church for a contemporary service. The preacher didn’t really think we’d have much interest and suggested that we start our service in the small social hall that held about 80 people.

    We practiced and worked up a set list and the day came when we were to have our first service. By the end of our first song the social hall was filled to over flowing and the rest of the crowd was standing outside looking in.

    We continued to have the 9am service there and finally the preacher agreed that we should do this in the main church.

    That was ten years ago and we are still drawing 180-200 people and filling the family life center. Our 9am contemporary service is about the same size as the 11am traditional service.

    Actually, both services have grown. Before the start of the contemporary service we had enough in attendance in the traditional service to fill the Family Life center at 11am. Now, 10 years later we are still filling it twice on Sunday morning at 9am and 11am. God has provided the means and the vehicle to grow our church.

    We never know God’s will until we feel the need and recognize the opportunities that God is putting in front of us.

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