Monday, December 17, 2012

Contemporary Worship Destroys Congregations

I left the Lutheran Church right in the midst of its "Worship Wars"--the never ending battle between advocates of the historic/ traditional Liturgy of the Western Rite and advocates of the "do-what-you-feel", "happy-clappy", "Everything's gonna be OK", "Raise your hands" type of "worship."  I remember walking out of the church whenever the worship ensemble would start to play and figuratively dusted my shoes off at the entrance.  Sure, I was probably being rude, but I knew even at that age (I was in my late teens) that this was not worship.

While I was reading some of the other blogs out there, I came across this one from Fr. Peter's blog, Pastoral Meanderings. This congregation, a Lutheran WELS church, did everything it was supposed to do according to the church growth movement people.  It took out the pews and put in more comfortable chairs. It replaced the organ with a contemporary worship ensemble. It put in a coffee shop. It created a casual atmosphere. The pastor was stripped of vestments and replaced with polos and khakis.  Sermons were replaced in favor of kids' messages.  Sin was replaced with "God loves you anyway so why strive to be better." Attendance peaked at 50 and then declined to nothing.  The church building is now for sale.

The pastor of the church is quoted as saying that this was the right move but at the wrong place and the wrong time.  If I may be so bold, it was the right move at the right time and right place, but the problem for its failure is that you didn't keep building on the high.

Contemporary worship and contemporary music is like being addicted to a drug.  Eventually, the same old stuff on Sunday mornings just won't get you that same "feeling" that will last for a long time.  Then, what happens?  Congregants search out for a new high, a new church that will breathe new life into their desire for more contemporary tunes, more comfortable chairs, more varieties of cappuccino, etc.  What's worse is that the church in question realizes that congregants are leaving to "shop" around and so it is constantly retooling things so much that it cannot keep up with all the changes and the same result ensues but only delayed for a short time.

Now, I will grant that there are many churches that serve the traditional liturgy and that people may leave searching out a church that is even more traditional, that chants instead of reads, that does it in Latin versus English, where priests are decked out even more so than the last guy.   And many of these churches try to rebuild themselves as being more and more traditional.  But, this scenario is the exception that proves the rule.  I've seen very few traditional churches, whether in the Protestant or Catholic traditions, that try to go "more traditional" than what they are already doing. The converse situation is by far the more common and that is destroying more congregations than building new ones.  It's a failed model, but the CCW people just don't seem to get it.

So, you'll forgive me if I don't gloat a little that this church is no longer.  Some may say that because this church is gone that even those 50 people will not be hearing the Gospel.  To be honest, knowing the constructs of contemporary worship, I doubt they heard it anyway.  Contemporary worship is about pleasing oneself and doing it quickly.  When it doesn't serve that purpose, the parishioner trots off somewhere else to get his spiritual "high."  That's not worship of God, but worship of self. 


  1. I watched this happen to an LCMS parish. It started as a solid, liturgical parish that was shepherded by an older pastor, and when that pastor got the parish up and running, he retired. It was healthy at that time. Then, they called a guy out of Fort Wayne, with the understanding he was also solid, liturgical, confessional, etc. He began introducing contemporary worship, "blended services," etc. The Lutherans slowly trickled away, and the parish died about a year and a half after we left it.

    When we became Orthodox, we left a more solid WELS parish, but some of the same issues bothered us. Very low church, very pietist, and while not contemporary by any means, the liturgy was just sort of cobbled together out of different parts of the hymnal, so there was no sense of catholicity at all. We were a Church unto ourselves. Unfortunately, I fear solid, confessional Lutheranism ruined us for the watered down version, so we eventually sought out the theological richness that we had starved of for 5 years by then, and found it in Orthodoxy. Glory to God.

    1. Thanks for the reply, David.

      Let me ask you a few things: In the LCMS parish, where the worship was watered down, didn't the exodus of the Lutherans say anything to the new pastor? Also, if contemporary worship was happening that does seem to imply that there were a number of people in the congregation happy to go along with it, right?

      What, if anything, happened to this pastor in terms of consequences? I don't want to suggest that pastors should be evaluated like stock brokers based on how many clients they have and/or lose, but surely a pastor instituting his own rules and style would be looked at by the district president, right? Also, how much power does a pastor have in LCMS parishes to change things to the way he wants it done?

      I'd really appreciate hearing your take on this. Thanks.