As a pastor, I’ve always been amazed (and stymied) by the almost constant struggle between the traditionalists and the progressives. I’m using these terms for lack of something better. Just so you know where I’m coming from, let me give you a couple of quick definitions.
The traditionalists are the ones who want things to be the way they always were (at least in their memories). They want the old favorite hymns, readings from the Psalter, and a bulletin that lays out exactly what the order of the day happens to be. Then there are the progressives. They don’t want anything to be like the good old days. These folks want all the latest worship music, free-form-spirit-led services, and no readings from anywhere (except maybe a poem by Maya Angelou).
I’ve been around a rather long time. I understand both sides (and all those folks in between). I’ve always listened to them and tried to march to their drumbeat. That, of course, is impossible. But, hey, what are you going to do? I’m just a preacher, not a magician.
We all want to attract new people to our worship services.
These folks all have one thing in common. They want to attract new people to their worship services. One side says, “We’ve got to return to the ways that attracted all those folks we had in the past.” The other side says, “No one wants to attend a stuffy old service like we used to have, we’ve got to beef it up.” Okay…
The fact of the matter is neither side seems to know what they’re talking about. They only know what they want. A quick study of today’s church will show both of these approaches work under the right circumstances. There are mega-churches that cater to one or the other of these groups. They are (by attendance terms) successful.
On the other hand, the opposite is true as well. There are plenty of struggling congregations who hold to one or the other of these philosophies with similar results—they continue to struggle with low attendance.
Does worship style really matter?
So what’s my point? It’s simple. The style of worship is merely a personal preference. If you do either of them well (and I stress the word, “well”), I suspect you will be pleasing in the Lord’s sight. Your neighborhood might not be attracted to it, but God will know you have worshiped. Our big problem is not our style of worship. It’s our belief that somehow our style of worship is going to be our big attraction.
A while back, I attended a Small Church Seminar. The speaker came up with an interesting term. He averred that small churches who don’t grow any larger can have “dynamic equilibrium.” Chew on that one for a bit. His point was, we might not be growing numerically, but we can still be a dynamic congregation (regardless of our style).
The deeper question is not our worship style. It’s our approach to everyday ministry. Dynamic churches have a good approach—dying congregations do not. (To be continued.)
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]