Sometimes I wonder if some of the issues I have with worship styles is that it’s usually done as an experiment to see what happens. The problem is, the way that it is done is little more than an experiment designed to fail. The church we visited had a sensational service with professional quality sound. Then the preaching fell flat. It seems to be the norm with a particular type of church to do a similar ‘bait-and-switch’ tactic; the contemporary style is the bait, the complementarian emphasis is the switch. I think a lot of people can see through that and as much as they like the music, they can’t stand the teaching.
But most churches don’t really have the resources to pull it all off – sound systems are expensive and with so much money put into making a bigger building, there’s not as much left to use to put together a contemporary service. One previous church had to use second-hand electronics and they had a novice sound technician to run it. Another church just used a basic projector hooked up to a laptop run through an even cheaper soundboard. Because the first church had actual musicians, they were able to pull it off. Because the last church didn’t – it wasn’t able to gain the approval of the elders who won the hard-fought battle to restore their beloved hymns.
If you’re going to have contemporary music, then you have to really do it right or not at all. Think about it – would you tolerate a sermon from a pastor that was consistently sub par? That went off on tangents, was out of order, used Christianese in the wrong way? Why would you think that doing contemporary would work if it’s done in much the same way? Granted, contemporary is tricky. Too loud and everyone risks permanent ear damage, too quiet and it’s difficult to follow along. But when it hits that sweet spot and is just right, there’s really nothing quite like it.
But even if one does the music right, then their theology has to be a winner in order to keep the momentum going. Pop psychology can only get you so far, and when you happen to have a crowd of Berean-like Christians who really know their Bible you can’t really get away with anything that’s shallow. If Contemporary styles are losing people, then it’s probably because that they’re not the sort of people who like Contemporary, the style is being done incorrectly, or the preaching could do with a little improvement. The thing is, The same thing can be said of Traditional styles. If Traditional styles are losing people, then it’s probably because that they’re not the sort of people who like Traditional, the style is being done incorrectly, or the preaching could do with a little improvement.
My problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is that pretty much every church in this region is traditional, but I’m just the sort of person who doesn’t like traditional churches. It’s as if there’s some cosmic force that declared that all contemporary churches in this county would be doomed to failure and could only succeed if they convert to traditional – for it seems that every now and then we run into churches that ‘used to do contemporary, but it didn’t go over well.’ That’s why I think that when it’s done as an experiment – it’s designed to fail. For lack of quality equipment, trained sound technicians, skilled musicians, and talented singers; these churches just didn’t have all the pieces they need to get it running well. How could they? They’re small country churches that just can’t afford to do it well or do it right.
But that’s only a part of the equation – people have to want it there. If five people want contemporary music and fifty do not – guess which one tends to win? The majority. Even when the split is closer to 50/50, that’s very nearly half of them who would be much happier if it weren’t there. They might not purposely sabotage every performance, but a lack of participation, a lack of giving the offering, a lack of affirmation of the musicians sends a clear message: “I can’t stand what you’ve done to my church and I’m not going to approve of what you’re doing to it.”
But there’s something to keep in mind: the emptiest churches I’ve been to in the last several years were all traditional. The ones that had the most youth were the contemporary ones. If a church wants a future, traditional style will serve them only so well. Then it’s own experiment will prove to be the failure as traditional churches close their doors. One thing’s clear, if they want to succeed, they will have to design the experiment differently. They will have to make room in the budget for good equipment and train good people to do it right. They will have to want to see the hallways run wild with noisy children. They will have to want their church have a future for decades to come.