There are many different churches in my community. I could choose to worship where Southern Gospel is the music of choice; or where the hymnal is sacred; or where baptisms still take place in a pond; or where a full orchestra plays; or at a church that is full-fledged, and completely high tech. I’ve got at least one of these types of churches within 30 minutes of my house.
Of course, my town is not that different from many others out there. Variety in worship style could almost be deemed as the drawing card for today’s churches.
In the past, a community usually only had one or two churches to choose from. The primary differences between them were how they received communion (wine or grape juice?), how they baptized (sprinkle or dunk?), or how the church was governed (deacons or elders?). Everyone, more or less, got along well- until it came time for the race to the buffet on Sunday afternoon!
Larger cities, of course, had more options, but everyone basically knew what to expect when going to church, denominational differences aside.
Today you can’t be sure of what to expect until you walk into the worship center and the first note drops.
Sometimes you leave the service asking yourself, “What was that?” The “contemporary” service seems to have become the Holy Grail being sought by every church that desires “success”. The question is “Why do we do what we do?”
I have attended churches that are “less than good” when it comes to contemporary style worship. In these instances, I always ask myself, “Why are they trying to do this?”
I think that many churches today are approaching the contemporary worship style for the wrong reasons. It seems that many of the big (successful) churches are contemporary in style. Two of the largest churches in the U.S. are contemporary, high tech churches. However, there are also several smaller churches that are reaching their communities with the gospel in very effective ways.
I mentioned earlier that there is a church in my community where Southern Gospel music is the norm. This growing church has been very effective at reaching both young and old alike. They make good use of their facilities and the technology they have at hand. They reach out to the community and do what all successful churches do: they tell people about Jesus!
Just down the street from this church is a large United Methodist congregation. Up until very recently, their worship style has been completely traditional. They are building, growing and reaching people with the gospel. Here we have two churches that are less than a mile apart, and they are both good at what they do. Neither one of them has a screamin’ band with a double kick-pedal for the drummer!
What it really comes down to is this: we must utilize what we have to the best of our abilities, in order to reach people with the gospel. There are so many different types of churches, because there are so many different types of people. If we all try to assimilate, we are bound to leave some people behind. As Christians, that is not an acceptable option. Paul said: ” I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22 (NASB) If everybody wanted the same style of worship then there would only be the need for one type of church.
What is the solution? Do we choose to be trendy and try to make the switch to contemporary/plant a contemporary church, or do we look at our community and do what will serve it best?
We tend to follow the path that carries the most glory instead of the path that best accomplishes our true goals. It is very tempting to choose the contemporary model. It is more flexible, it can be more lively, it is more casual and, for some, more enjoyable. The contemporary model is also more expensive, higher maintenance, requires more personnel, is more time intensive, and much harder to pull off!
To implement a successful contemporary worship service, you have to have three things in place. Top notch sound, lighting, and video; a talented, well-rehearsed group of musicians; and a dynamic speaker. All three of these elements are important. However, the technical systems are of utmost importance to make your contemporary worship experience a success.
Everybody knows it is about the people! Nothing in a church can happen without people who are committed and involved. However, if those people cannot be seen or heard then the point is moot. If the sound is poor and the people aren’t able to see what’s going on, they will leave with negative feelings about the worship experience. Of course, this is true regardless of the style of the service, but the scope is amplified when the worship style relies so heavily on the technology.
Many of us have likely been involved in worship services which weren’t exactly “moving”. However, the people on the worship team could have been doing the very best they could with limited resources.
Music or public speaking requires elements that sometimes cannot be taught. Technology, on the other hand, can make all the difference. Even if the gear is past its prime, it can still be put to good use. Audio technology in particular has not changed much over the years, at least not in practice. There are certainly new technologies for processing audio, but it is based on the transducers that have been around for over 50 years. In many instances it is not the gear, but the way the gear is being used that makes things turn out negatively. All it takes is a little training and a little practice. It may not always turn out perfectly, but it can almost always be better.
While a musician or a preacher might have to train for years to become presentable to a public audience, most church techs are thrown into a role simply because they are willing. The good news is that it doesn’t take a degree and years of training to become somewhat adept at operating a basic sound system. Of course, a professional can do a great deal more with the equipment than an amateur can, but a little training can go a long way.
Many churches struggle with their budgets and have a hard time allocating the funds for new technological systems. I believe that if people took the time to sit back, do some research, and explore the impact that new systems have on the worship experience, they would be willing to make the initial investment in top quality equipment. One of the great mysteries is; why churches are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a piano or an organ and then be unwilling to spend even $50,000 on systems to light and reproduce the sound of the instrument.
Here’s the bottom line. Unfortunately, if you want contemporary style worship, you have to be willing to spend some money up front. If you are unwilling, then you will do it poorly. The same is somewhat true for other styles. If the organ is to be the focus of your service, then you had better have a good one.
Either way, money spent on the technology that will accentuate your worship is money well spent. Stewardship of that type will not go unrewarded. In the end we must ask ourselves, “What is our motivation?” and “Do we really have a desire to succeed?” Evaluate, discover the needs in your community, and do what you do to please the Lord and not your fellow men. That is a formula that cannot go wrong.
It is great to try new ideas and incorporate different ways to communicate, but not for the sake of trying to be “hip”. Whatever your decision, the key is to use the tools around you to their full potential- in the way that best fits your own ministry methodology.