Worship style surprises

“If we put up screens in worship, I’m quitting Wilshire!”

Guess the age of the person who said this at a recent gathering at our church.

If you surmised this must be the stubborn opposition of an older adult, you were wrong. This was the statement of a 16-year-old girl. And many of the other youth in the room would have readily echoed her sentiment.

Ironically, just the day before, I had conversation with a delightful senior adult couple in our congregation who were sincerely concerned that we ought to create a contemporary worship experience in order to attract young adults for the future. The church’s future “is not about what I like,” the woman said. And if it takes “contemporary” worship and screens in the Sanctuary to bring in younger folks, she is willing to make that sacrifice, she said.

Both the teenager and the older adult defy the stereotypes we hear about the so-called “worship wars” in America’s Protestant churches. That’s the problem with stereotypes and drawing blanket conclusions from isolated evidence.

It has become an article of faith in American Christianity that if the church is to survive, we must chase the all-elusive young adult by offering worship with praise bands, words projected on big screens and hipster preachers speaking from anywhere but from behind a pulpit.

This maxim simply isn’t universally true.

When I told the senior adult couple that our church actually attracts young adults who choose us because we don’t have contemporary worship, this was surprising news. They took comfort in what I said, but it was almost shocking to them. And no wonder they were surprised: People who care about the church only hear these days how successful contemporary worship has become.

But there’s so much more to the story. Think of it this way: Millions of American young adults shop at Walmart. Does that mean that every retailer in America ought to become just like Walmart? Certainly not. No one in his right mind would draw that conclusion. And yet, this is the same faulty logic that causes pastors and church leaders to believe the only way to grow the church is by copying the Walmart-style churches.

There are plenty of young adults who don’t shop at Walmart. In fact, I know some who refuse to shop at Walmart simply because it is Walmart. Other retailers know this and work hard to present an alternative. So why shouldn’t some of our churches also work hard to present an alternative to generic contemporary worship?


Mark Wingfield

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About the Author
Mark Wingfield is associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and author of the book, “Staying Alive: Why the Conventional Wisdom about Traditional Churches is Wrong.”

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