Lessons Learned From Starting A Contemporary Service In A Traditional Church

Worship is so precious for so many reasons, but one thing that impresses me is that we are all so different and we come into worship with differing mindsets and expectations, yet we all leave feeling equally loved and equally saved by the Almighty One.  I cannot think of any other mass gathering where this is the case.  If you go to a ball game, some will leave happy (their team being the winning team) and others will leave angry (fans of the loosing team).  Not true in worship.  Everyone leaves a winner. 
  1. In spite of those who will tell you otherwise, most under 60 will enjoy it, most over 60 will not.
  2. There are members in your church who will fight against it more than your Pastor will.  It’s simply not about personal preferences.
  3. The hardest part for the congregation will be to follow the flow with the repeats, multiple endings, codas, etc.  Add as many instructions as you can in the bulletin to help in this regard.
  4. You will most likely see children swaying to the music and dancing around as much as their parents will allow.
  5. People will understand the lyrics instantly.  Some will see this as being too simple and others will rejoice saying “hallelujah!” 
  6. It is very difficult to put chords to hymns because almost every note in the melody line will be a different chord.  If you haven’t been able to put your finger on it yet, this is the reason why hymns sound foreign to the unchurched who listen to chord based music on the radio.  A seasoned guitarist can find his way through the chordal mud to accompany most hymns.
  7. You should use at least one hymn in a trial contemporary service.
  8. If it’s your first attempt, please don’t use electric guitars or drums.  We’ve been using contemporary service formats for almost 10 years at my church and have still not made this transition.  We are waiting for “contemporary” to be completely and utterly out of world-wide vogue and traditional to be the new thing, then we’ll take the plunge. 😀
  9. Traditionally minded people don’t like change, so if you do attempt a contemporary service, pick a format and don’t deviate from it.
  10. The Pastor should dress the same way he does in the traditional services.
  11. If you don’t use a video screen in the traditional services, don’t use it in the contemporary service either.
  12. Do not put the band in the front.  Put them in the back and out of sight.
  13. Keep the volume down.
  14. Don’t rename your contemporary service to something like “relevant”, “uber”, “celebration”, “passion”, “diverse”, “natural”, “the journey”, “elevation”, “illumination”, “new generation” or any other word that ends in “tion.”
  15. The contemporary service planning needs to be spearheaded by someone who is into contemporary Christian music.
  16. Focus on an ADDITION to the current worship music versus elimination. 
  17. Train members how to sing contemporary music. Consider involving the teen and youth groups if possible. Start off with simple tunes. Start by having the band offer the songs as pre-service selections and during the offering for several months before asking the congregation to sing.  
  18. Ease into the change slowly; perhaps with one service per month, or even one song per month.
  19. It is a very dangerous thought to think that God prefers only one style of music or one accompanying instrument.  The fact is, God is the creator of variety.  If He didn’t like variety, we would have only one type of tree and one type of bird.
  20. Both hymns and contemporary music have God’s fingerprints all over them.  Both can be useful.  Both can be worshipful.  Both can be reverent.  Both can be profoundly biblical.  Both are needed.  Both are important.
  21. A few commandments:
  • Thou shall not mess with “A Mighty Fortress” on Reformation Sunday.
  • Thou shall not mess with “Now Thank We All Our God” on Thanksgiving.
  • Thou shall not mess with “For All the Saints” on Saint’s Triumphant Sunday.
  • Thou shall not mess with “”Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” on Trinity Sunday.
  • Thou shall not choose any song with a lyric that is repeated more than three times unless it’s “”holy, holy, holy” or “hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”
  • Thou shall not choose songs with sounds in the lyrics like “la, la, la”
  • Thou shall use any hymn that your Pastor calls a “Lutheran Gem” 💎 when requested to do so.  Trust me, this is a strong hint.

…and get ready because we are going to worship the almighty, the uncreated, the timeless, the ageless, the awe-inspiring, life giving Lord that beautifully crafted you and me; that loves us dearly, that continues to love us despite our continual sinning, that has saved us, that has given His life for us, and He deserves to be worshiped in every language, in every nation, in every tongue, in every style, by every generation, and with every musical instrument ever created.  And yes, this can still be done in a heart pounding unity of faith.  In fact, that might just be what’s happening in heaven as we speak.