A church changing its style of worship is not usually a decision taken lightly by elders or members. Although it may occupy only a small portion of the church’s outward mission, the worship style is deeply ingrained into the hearts and minds of the church’s members and is often a touchy issue to bring up. Many members feel strongly about worship styles, to the point that they believe those who worship differently are not following God.
My own church family has had its disagreements about this issue in the past, and whenever it comes up in a discussion, my ears tend to perk up. This is partly because I favor a more contemporary worship style than what is traditionally present in a Church of Christ, placing me in the minority among the membership as a whole (but probably in the majority among my own generation).
A lot of churches structure their Sunday worship in a way that is not particularly appealing to young people or to the unchurched. The style is often boring and predictable, and the songs include words that many of us don’t understand or use today. Even if we set aside the issue of instrumental music—I believe it’s permissible, but virtually all Churches of Christ still worship exclusively a cappella—it’s difficult for some churches to even embrace newer worship songs, an unconventional worship structure, or even a different way to lead singing. These are changes which almost certainly would enhance a church’s ability to reach the unchurched or younger CoC transfers, both of which are vital groups that a sustainable church must reach.
I’m not going to suggest that a contemporary worship style is the only thing needed to bring people to Jesus. It absolutely is not. However, evangelism has to start somewhere, and this is one way to help open the doors as wide as possible to begin that conversation.
At any rate, one of the arguments I’ve heard over the years against changing is that it represents “giving in” to any number of negative things: worldliness, pleasing ourselves rather than God, or consumerism. Jay Guin posted an interesting thought question today about the latter. He doesn’t bring his own conclusions to this discussion, but he quotes Ed Stetzer (whose original article I can’t find), who suggests that the reason for the change is important. Are we changing to accommodate the younger members’ tastes, or to engage new people? The latter motivation is what has to be present, in both his opinion and mine.
So with that in mind, changing to a more contemporary worship style has nothing to do with worldliness or pleasing ourselves. Although younger members may enjoy the newer songs, we can acknowledge that both older and newer songs can represent sincere and acceptable worship. Changing wouldn’t represent giving in to consumerism, but it would be much the opposite. Instead of choosing to only cater to our personal preference for older songs, we could make the conscious decision to worship in a way that both pleases God and opens doors to new relationships.
I believe that a strong desire to maintain the status quo of the traditional worship style misses the point on a few levels:
For some (perhaps a minority), it may represent a flawed theology of worship, to the extent that there is a belief that singing newer songs is somehow sinful or constitutes worship that is lesser or even unacceptable from God’s perspective. This requires corrective teaching that is not currently happening at most churches with a traditional worship style.
For others, it represents an approach to evangelism that is too passive, where evangelism is considered a lesser priority than the person’s own preferences in music. You could actually say turn the tables to say that this mindset is a form of consumerism. This also may require teaching, although when the discussion is put in these terms, I think most people will quickly understand the error in this mindset.
Still others may resist change in the name of “not causing division,” but this is another passive stance that represents a flawed understanding of the concept of division. Who is really dividing, if part of the church refuses to adopt a potentially beneficial change? There is another implicit argument here, that those who would choose not to support such a change are correct in saying that the change is sinful. This goes back to the flawed theology of worship previously discussed. “Causing division” is not what happens when such a change is made, unless the change is also sinful. In this case, it is not, and any resulting split is division caused by those against the change. Again, this may require teaching on the subjects of unity and division.
Lastly, people may resist because contemporary worship is associated with churches who are labeled “liberal,” denominational, or otherwise unfaithful to God. The thinking present here is that changing worship is part of a “slippery slope” that leads to other substantial changes to theology. Upon examination, this is clearly a weak argument—most “slippery slope” arguments are. Correlation is not the same as causation, and contemporary worship is not the cause of unfaithfulness. This requires either simple teaching regarding the slippery slope fallacy or necessitates the finding of a causal link between contemporary worship styles and unfaithfulness. I believe that link does not exist.
I would propose that Christians no longer accept these arguments in favor of an antiquated worship style. While it is undoubtedly pleasing to God when traditional worship is sincere, the same applies to a contemporary style that offers other benefits.