Are traditional worship services better than contemporary?


Any Christian who has visited many churches today will almost certainly notice that over the past few years there has been a growing trend toward contemporary worship services. Many older Christians will probably not like a lot of the contemporary worship services today. They will likely prefer traditional worship services.

By “contemporary worship services”, I am primarily referring to worship services built around contemporary Christian music and having a style of worship that is particularly appealing to youthful Christians. Contemporary Christian music is sometimes very loud with an on-stage band playing instruments like electric and acoustic guitars, drums, and electric keyboards rather than just pianos and organs. Churches having contemporary worship services will usually also have a worship center designed specifically around a contemporary style of worship. There likely will be a stage at the front large enough to accommodate the band plus several singers who will act as worship leaders. There will also be one or more large screens displaying either close-ups of the singers and band members or the words of the songs being sung on stage. The stage itself might lack a traditional-looking pulpit, choir loft, and baptistery. When traditional pianos and organs are present, they might be located on-stage rather than down on the main floor where the congregations sit. Also, the congregational seating arrangement might be tiered stadium seating with fabric theater-type seats rather than wooden pews.

Contemporary worship services tend to generate a lot of excitement among the worship attendees. There might be much more hand-clapping and congregational participation than one might experience in a more traditional service. One of the singers (usually the one in the center if there are multiple singers) might act as the primary worship leader and encourage congregational participation in the music. Such services sometimes also feature actors performing short skits to illustrate Bible truths. I have even heard of services having one of more dancers performing short dance routines that presumably emphasize the happiness and spiritual freedom of being a Christian.

By “traditional worship services”, I am referring to the more familiar range of worship services in traditional church worship centers with the traditional Christian hymns sung in traditional ways and accompanied by traditional pianos and organs. The stages will usually have traditional pulpits and choir lofts. At the back of the stages, there frequently will be traditional baptisteries (assuming a denomination that practices immersion baptisms). There will usually be just a single worship leader who will also serve as the choir director. Seating will usually be in traditional wooden pews on flat (i.e., not tiered) floors. The pews will have racks along the backs to hold traditional hymnals and possibly also copies of Bibles.

Traditional worship services when compared to contemporary worship services will usually feature a much lower music volume. There will probably not be much hand-clapping or congregational participation (except for the occasional Amens!). As suggested at the outset, one would expect that churches having traditional worship services will have a greater appeal to older people because older people tend to prefer to hear their music through their ears rather than to also feel it through their bodies!

Of course, many churches with traditional styles of worship have been increasingly incorporating some contemporary features into their services. Large screens are growing in popularity as well as the use of some non-traditional musical instrumentation (like guitars, and even drums). Certain contemporary songs might even be sung, but they will usually be ones having a moderate beat and sung with moderate loudness.

The messages from the pastors of both contemporary worship services and traditional worship services might actually be very similar, and the doctrinal positions identical. In other words, it is not the messages or doctrinal positions that determine whether a Church has a contemporary or traditional worship style. It is primarily the music.

So, what does God think about contemporary worship services? Will He likely reject such worship because it is loud and unconventional? I suspect that many of the older and more conservative Christians will likely believe that He will. In fact, I am sure that some of the most conservative Christians will believe that the loud music and lack of a traditional church atmosphere is satanic in origin.

However, I believe that it is important to understand that God cares more about what is in a person’s heart (Psalm 44:21; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 17:10; Acts 15:8) than what style of worship he prefers. In fact, what a person claims to believe does not matter at all to God. What matters to Him is what he actually believes in his heart. It is very possible for a person to be a respected member of an excellent Bible-believing conservative church and yet be completely estranged from God. Such a person might believe all the right doctrines, abstain from all outward sins, and say all the right things in the presence of other Christians; but if he has never truly turned his heart over (unconditionally) to God, he has never truly been saved regardless of what he says and does. Being a Christian means that a person has humbly acknowledged that he is a lost sinner and has sincerely asked God to save him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, it is not the style of church service that is important to God. It is the sincerity and spirituality of the pastor (or pastors) and attendees of the church that is important. If a person’s heart is not right with God, it will not matter what type of church he attends. He could attend one with a contemporary worship service or a traditional worship service. Neither will be of any benefit to him. On the other hand, if a person’s heart is right with God, whether he attends a church with a contemporary worship service or a traditional worship service will depend upon which he feels most comfortable attending. If he feels closer in his relationship with God when he leaves a worship service than when he arrived, the service was beneficial to him. But if he does not feel closer in his relationship with God, the service was not beneficial. Every Christian should show a progressive increase in the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in his life. The characteristics associated with the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; and the church services a Christian regularly attends should increase those characteristics in his life. Church services should never increase his anger, frustration, resentment, or hostility toward the secular world or cause him to reject, criticize, or judge either himself or anyone else. It would be better for him to not attend a church service at all than to attend one that makes him a less spiritual Christian.

The bottom line is that we should attend church services that contribute to our becoming better, more spiritual Christians. If the service we attend does so, and is one that is contemporary, then that is fine. If it does so, and is one that is traditional, then that is fine also. The important thing is that we enjoy the service and become better Christians.

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