Wednesday, August 15, 2012

To Be Or Not To Be: Traditional -vs- Contemporary

Introducing contemporary worship into a traditional church can be a little like getting two cats into unity by tying their tails together and throwing them over a clothes line. They are together.

It seems there are certain things that just don't go together: oil and water, Baptists and dancing, and traditional churches and contemporary music.

The young folks are bored and anxious to worship in a more relaxed and free-spirited manner and the "seasoned saints" are enamored with the order of the more traditional worship.  So here we stand, waiting with baited breath to see which service will win. Will the energy of the contemporary win out over the long standing and proven worship style of the traditional service? And vice vesra?

In thinking about this, I thought, "Why should one win out over the other?"  Is there a way that both styles of worship can coexist? I think that they can and eventually merge to create one unified Christian body.  How does a church steeped in tradition, incorporate contemporary worship without jeopardizing loss of members? How does a church create a careful balance of both old and new?

First, know the demographics of your church! Take a survey of who is in your church, the average age, gender, etc....You must be aware of the move that you take affects everyone and not just you.

Secondly, ask yourself what is your motivation. Is it be more popular with aspirations of grandeur or for the building of God's Kingdom? If God is not in the picture, it will fail.  Pray and search for the true answer.

Thirdly, start small. Too many times pastors will jump head first into something that they have no idea about.  Use your choir as a starting point and have your minister of music start to incorporate more contemporary songs.  Perhaps this can be done through your young adult choir or your youth choir. This may even be the start of a specialized praise team. Also, if you want your congregation to participate, hand out lyrics to those songs!

Also, you might want to designate a Sunday where it is completely casual. Take off your robe one Sunday (not first Sunday which is generally designated for Communion Sunday). Now, the majority of your "seasoned saints" will still come to church dressed to the nines and that is just fine. Do not admonish them for that and let them come dressed in a manner that makes them comfortable.  On the same note, casual does not mean "hoochie" or "gangster".  God's house is still to be respected and there should be a list of casual wear that is and is not acceptable.

Since I am an ordained minister in the AME Church I can only speak about our worhip liturgy. 

Believe it or not, you do not have to say the Call to Worship at every service that you have.  For example, if I am planning an afternoon program, I will start with praise and worship, and then straight into the afternoon hymn (which is usually very upbeat), on to prayer, scripture and song. No Call to Worship and no Decalogue. It's ok to omit these things sometimes. It does not make you less of an AME if you do this.

Finally, do not get rid of the old.  There are beautiful liturgies, hymns and prayers that add to the worship service and it's those "old" things that have carried us through. Do not cater to one or the other. You can not dismiss your past because you don't know how it might bless your future.

I'm not finished on this issue and will comment further in the future. I just wanted to share my thoughts on this issue of to be or not to be......


  1. This is good! We are still in the trenches of having both traditional and contemporary in our services. It is a challenge. Both my husband and myself love both styles. It takes a lot of prayer and communication to make it work. But even if you have done all of that, there are still some who will complain! Lord have mercy.

  2. Thanks Rev! I love the model that Willis has done and I see that it seems to be working for you guys. What really showed me that it was working is when Rev. Arnett expressed his joy over the change in worship. Here is a "seasoned saint" embracing the "new" and that let me know that you and Pastor B are cognizant that change can be good as long as it is in the Spirit. I agree that some will still complain, but I am always taken back to when James Cleveland introduced drums into the church. The people complained then, but now James Cleveland is a legend in the gospel world. It takes time, but I figure that a little mixing in small increments is better than dumping the whole bag of flour in not enough water. LOL!