Declining membership has remained an issue for many mainstream Christian denominations. In an effort to attract and retain younger members, a number of churches have begun to offer separate contemporary services, or at least blend some contemporary elements into their traditional services. Some have even considered eliminating traditional services altogether in favor of the more dynamic and youth-oriented contemporary worship style. The results of these conversions or adaptations, however, have been decidedly mixed, with some parishioners seeking out more traditional services elsewhere. Younger members of older congregations have also migrated towards churches and worship centers with an emphasis on contemporary services. Before joining a church, it is important to understand the differences between traditional and contemporary services and which version best addresses your specific needs and lifestyle.
- Many churches hold separate contemporary and traditional services. When looking for a new church to attend, pay close attention to the listing of its services in the local newspaper, telephone directory or outdoor sign. It is not unusual for contemporary services to begin much earlier than traditional services in order to fit into a traditional schedule of Sunday school followed by morning worship. This could be a consideration if you are not generally a morning person, since contemporary services can be very energetic and boisterous at times. If you prefer a contemporary style of worship, you might be happier attending a modern worship center with more conventional service times. Traditional services often follow a prescribed order of worship, while contemporary services could become a bit more freeform. Even if the starting time for worship is not an issue, for some the ending time might be. Some feel traditional services may be too scripted, while others feel contemporary services may be too open-ended.
- Consider you and your family’s spiritual needs. Traditional and contemporary services often address different needs for people at different stages in their lives. If you are a young single adult, or a younger worker with a growing family, you may find the contemporary services offer better fellowship with people your own age, and a more dynamic worship style that fits in well with your own energetic lifestyle. If you grew up in a traditional church environment, however, you may find contemporary worship to be a bit foreign. Worshipping in a traditional service with older family members may be just as spiritually fulfilling, especially if you find you don’t have the energy to keep up with the contemporary praise and worship style.
- Familiarize yourself with both traditional and contemporary worship traditions. While traditional services may sometimes feel ritualistic or spiritually dry, they are based on traditions and beliefs which have survived for hundreds of years. The traditional hymns of faith sung in traditional services often have profound and meaningful histories of their own, and performing sacred rituals such as baptism and communion often help congregations feel a connection with their collective past. A traditional service should not be rejected out of hand for lack of excitement, in the same sense a contemporary service should not be rejected for appearing too frenetic. Contemporary services also have certain traditions and methodologies which help to define their purpose and mission. Understanding the meaning behind the praise and worship songs performed in a more upbeat style is important to understanding the entire contemporary worship dynamic. Contemporary worshippers often seek a more direct connection with God, which means the service should not be bound by artificial time restraints or a restrictive order of worship.
- Ask present church members about their experiences with traditional and contemporary services. Sometimes the introduction of contemporary services into a traditional church environment can be a polarizing event, unfortunately. Older members will steadfastly hold onto their traditional services, while the younger members gravitate towards the contemporary services. When considering attending contemporary or traditional services in an unfamiliar church, it may pay to ask the pastor or leading congregants about the relative health of both camps. Contemporary services, especially in a formerly traditional church setting, may not be self-sustaining, since their original members may grow older and return to the traditional fold. Some traditional services may suffer as older members pass away and fewer young people take their place in the traditional congregation. Both contemporary and traditional worships have their innate positives and negatives, so you may have to decide which service best serves your present spiritual needs. Do you enjoy the energy and freeform worship of a contemporary service, or do you prefer the sense of history and ritual of a traditional service?
Choosing between a traditional and contemporary worship service should be a decision based on one’s personal spiritual needs, not on demographics. Some younger Christians may prefer the less frenetic pace and solemnity of traditional services, while some older Christians may feel more energized by the atmosphere of a contemporary service. Others may prefer to attend both types of services alternatively, or find a church offering a blended service with both traditional and contemporary elements. The fact remains that traditional services do not have to be brushed off as boring or mechanical, and contemporary services do not have to be viewed as frenetic or disorganized. Each style of worship offers believers an opportunity to learn more about their faith and grow spiritually.