The contemporary church

When I was in elementary school I remember going on a trip with my family and a few other families to observe “contemporary services” at a few churches in Birmingham, AL. Our family was at a large traditional church at the time, and they were considering the possibility of adding a contemporary service.

Contemporary services are second nature now. Everybody has some form or variation. What’s interesting to me, though, is how churches think that having a contemporary service automatically makes them more likely to grow and reach young people. The thought is that by having a guitar on stage and letting people wear jeans that somehow young people will want to come to church. (Ironically, these are also often the same people who criticize churches for “entertaining people” and watering down the gospel.)

Contemporary services may have been a big deal to previous generations, but most everybody in my generation thinks of the contemporary church as normal. I don’t know anybody my age who would be shocked and marvel at a worship team, or who would be surprised they could dress casually. The contemporary church is not the draw it used to be.

The problem with this is that churches are just getting back into the same traditional cycle they tried to leave. Fifteen years ago, services geared towards college students were new and exciting. Today, those services are the norm. Nothing new has emerged for students (at least that I’m aware of).

It doesn’t take an expert to see that something else is coming. Something new is going to emerge. Based on a few conversations I’ve had with church leaders who are a little older than I am, I’d say it has less to do with a style and more to do with an attitude of intentionality. To use Rick Warren terminology, it’s going to be a purposeful process of moving people from “come and see” to “come and die”. This really excites me, because I think that’s what I’m most gifted and passionate about.

You’ve probably seen this same dynamic I’m talking about, so in your mind, what’s next? What’s the new thing coming? What big shift will the church take? How should the church change? What’s the next “contemporary”?



7 thoughts on “The contemporary church

  1. Great thoughts Nate. I’ve always been entertained that many ‘contemporary’ churches have become the very thing that started the modern church movement…traditional, stuck in their ways, and afraid of change. Our methods need to change but our message must never change! My prayer is that when the next thing comes I’ll be much more open and supportive then many ‘traditional’ churches were to us.

  2. I agree, yesterday on our way to church, we saw the “contempary” church signs. I told my wife that I was sick of seeing the word “authentic”. Unsure of what they think makes them “authentic” but more times that not, they think it is the pastor standing on stage with a coffee cup, in jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt. This Generation and myself included are just sick with video clips, rock music and watered down sermons that leave us with nothing solid to get us through the week to live. We better get ourselves together as the body of Christ or soon we are truely going to be relics that this next generation will put on a shelf and never think twice about.

  3. Good post Nate.
    I have been at churches that have added contemporary services with only the idea in mind of attracting young people without alienating the older. Like anything”new,” if we keep playing the same old tune, that’s what it becomes…old. I like the quote that you used from Rick Warren. We have to move people beyong the entertainment buzz, and on to discipleship, and what life looks like after that. Inviting people to come and die has to be about Christ. Too many congregants are willing to die on the sword of contemporary music vs hymns, for instance.
    Certainly we can keep tweaking the worship service to draw people in, but what are we really doing with them after they come? If we aren’t teaching them Christ, then we are only entertaining them and sending them out of worship service out into a dangerous world, with a very temporary and artificial high. We should be offering them much more, something much more permanent.

  4. Nate – I think you say something important in your reply to Glenn. You talk about a commitment to Scripture and solid teaching, which is dead on. But let’s now downplay the allure of contemporary to all of the “traditional” outcasts (of which I include myself and my wife).

    They do a far better job of alienating the masses! But to their credit, most also do a much better job with instruction and structure – two important elements.

    What about a hybrid of the two? That is why I enjoy Grace’s mission of “Gather, Commit, Serve.” It can always be fallen back on. I think we’re missing some of the structured individual development at Grace.

    At the end of the day, though, it is hard to outline for the masses what is, at its core, a very personal journey.

    Good article – thanks for the read!

  5. Nate: I am a 58 year old pastor of a small town church who started reading your dad’s blog about a month ago and just now looked yours up. I have read some old posts (obviously) and had to comment about this one. At my age, I have seen many trends come and go. some good, some not so. Personally, I like a more uptempo service (notice I did not say contemporary). But I also believe there is a strong need for expository, biblical preaching. I think sermonettes for Christianettes will not cut it. I foresee not only a road back to expository preaching but also a renewal of interest in hymns (maybe redone but still the old hymn). I see this next generation becoming tired of flim flam and old cliche-ish type of Christianity and wanting to get dirty and involved. At least that is what I am hoping for or the church will become a pale imitation of itself. (It will always be here because Jesus promised it but we will lose our effectiveness and influence). Good post.

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