Back Stage: What’s Driving the Top 5 worship Trends

Back stage: What’s Driving the Top 5 Worship Trends
By: Rebecca Barnes

Trend 1: Atmosphere

A healthy church atmosphere should be welcoming. But what this means in terms of the physical space and the sensory experience of worship varies by community, generation and other demographics. However, one clear trend emerges (no pun here) in an attempt to use different lighting to create differing experiences. From candles to rock concert lighting techniques that may even include fog machines, disco balls, strobes, video integration and more, the high impact visual experience of worship is important in today’s culture.

Dr. Keith Drury, assistant professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University, writes that contrary to the bright lights of the Boomer generation’s typical worship experience, younger generations prefer a dimmer room that feels more private.

“Worship is not something to watch or listen to,” Drury says. “For them it is something to sense.” He lists more multi-sensory ideas for a worship atmosphere that appeals to younger people, such as mementoes to hold, scented candles or incense, or physical actions to perform.

Trend 2: Theology

Healthy churches should be in a constant state of evaluating why they are doing what they are doing to minister. Worship services require constant questioning about the underlying theology behind everything from song choices to seating arrangements and more. And since the seeker-friendly movement has made many congregations particularly attuned to the needs of people who experience their church for the first time during worship, the theology of reaching the lost is also a critical consideration for worship today.

Theology has led to some radical revisions of worship style and format, i.e. the Solomon’s Porch unplugged living room style service. Tony Jones, a leading spokesperson for the Emergent Church, says congregations shouldn’t sit staring at the back of people’s heads if they believe the gospel is about reconciliation.

“These are theological decisions,” Jones told Emerging for Existing conference-goers in Denver last year.

Of course, a worship service is only one venue for expressing Christian faith. And the multi-faceted experience of following Christ cannot be condensed to fit into this usually programmatic piece of church. That said, theology should be an active part of the conversation among worship programming teams, musicians, leaders and others.

The tension between an excellent performance and a participatory and equalizing expression is often where theology and culture rub in today’s church worship trends. While a really good show is appealing for 21st Century Americans, belonging and participating are key aspects of biblical church culture. How that plays out in worship, especially with a nod toward what the visitors may think, is a common concern among worship leaders.

According to Sally Morgenthaler, consultant and author of “Worship Evangelism” (Zondervan 1996), for churches intent on appealing their worship service to a particular demographic “worship packaging (the image, the sound, the delivery) becomes everything, while the stuff of worship (what Jesus called ‘spirit and truth’ in John 4:24) becomes a memory.” Morgenthaler encourages worship leaders toward both a culturally relevant and authentic worship experience. And lately, (as recently as Rev! Magazine’s May/June 2007 issue) she writes about how “worship must finally become, as Paul reminds us, more life than event (Romans 12:1-2).” That speaks to the earlier point about worship being only one part of the Christian life. Even if done well, with relevance and authenticity, it cannot be the only thing a church does.

Morgenthaler’s ideas on the panacea of worship have shifted lately. Again from Rev! she says, “When I wrote ‘Worship Evangelism,’ I’d had no intention of distracting people from the world outside. I only wanted to give them another way of connecting to it. I certainly had never meant to make worship some slick formula for outreach, let alone the one formula. I’d only wanted to affirm that corporate worship has the capability to witness to the unchurched if we make it accessible and if we don’t gut it of its spiritual content on the way to making it culturally relevant.”

Trend 3: Music style

George Barna’s latest research for his new book, “The Seven Faith Tribes,” offers the best explanation I’ve heard lately for why the particular type of music used in church worship is often the biggest draw or the biggest turn-off for congregations.

As a foundation for his argument, Barna explores the social changes of America over the past 30 years and summarizes, among other effects, a shift from the common good to an emphasis on personal good. The change impacts churches by creating members who act like consumers evaluating churches according to their own tastes. It also impacts churches that become savvy marketing machines pandering to demographic segments. While targeting a particular market can be a good way to reach that group of people, catering to the runaway self-centeredness of American culture can make church-goers oblivious to others, as well as to serving in the church, to humility, and to a host of Christian spiritual disciplines.

However, the other side of the music style question is about cultural interface. How can churches today engage the culture wars and all if to do so contradicts the nature of Christian community? Well, there is music.

Kyle Campos, worship leader at Life Connection Church in Phoenix, and content manager for, blogged recently about the importance of continuing to try and hit a moving musical target in worship that compels current culture.

“The culture around you is moving creatively,” Campos writes. “Music is not stagnant. If you stand still you make yourself increasingly irrelevant to the culture around you and isolated in your church bubble.”

That said, Campos also acknowledges the inherent difficulty in pursuing the seemingly opposing paths in worship of attracting new people, making disciples and encouraging mature believers. He pushes churches to work through the stress of competing goals with courage.

“The tension between leading a congregation and staying relevant to culture musically and reaching the lost is intense,” Campos writes, “and we shouldn’t ever shy away from it.”

Most evangelical churches are stepping into the worship battle, if only for the sake of the younger generation. According to Drury, “Among evangelicals every generation seems compelled to make their worship styles reflect their generation’s needs and tastes.”

Trend 4: Technology
Technology often drives worship trends in today’s culture. Entire conferences, web sites and publications are devoted to an area that has become complex enough to require specialists, training and expensive equipment. Most worshippers today have very little tolerance for microphone feedback, out-of-sync PowerPoint slides or crackling speakers. On the other hand, the emphasis in electrically powered adoration also gives way to unplugged worship services featuring acoustic guitars, bongo drums and other effects. This contrasts the high-tech show with a campfire sing-a-long type of experience, which is especially appealing if people can get the podcast from the Web site later.
Consultant Anthony Coppedge works with churches to improve the tech side of their weekend services something he says requires more skills than ever.
Today’s church services rely heavily on project management of all the elements that transition a church from weekend services to weekend experiences! Coppedge writes on his Church Technology Evangelist Blog. Because the skills and philosophies behind today’s full throttle audio, video and technological worship services are not taught in seminary or Bible college, most churches need consultants or staff members with technical expertise.
Coppedge trains church leaders, staff and volunteers to combine the sermon, music, media, props, drama, print and web with a theme or metaphor. He also instructs churches in managing a creative meeting. “Crafting creative sermons week in and week out is tough,” Coppedge says. “Tying your sermon into a weekend experience is even tougher.”
Beyond a new worship experience, technology has created a new kind of church: the multi-site. With the advancement in video, broadcasting and Internet technology, thousands of worshippers watch a screen instead of an actual person or listen to a recording or rebroadcast of music instead of hearing it live.
This technology also has changed the way churches build facilities. Budgets for audio and video equipment can be steep, but more churches than ever are prioritizing high-tech solutions for the sights and sounds of worship.

Trend 5: Attendance
Who is coming to church these days and how are both the people present and the people absent changing worship? According to researcher George Barna, in recent times we have been counting attendees wrong. He attributes that to categorizing them according to traditional ways of thinking about church participation. Beyond churched and unchurched, The Barna Group released national survey results last spring indicating five new segments of church goers: 1. Unattached  people who don’t attend anywhere; 2. Intermittent  people who attend some church event once or twice a year; 3. Homebodies  attend a house church; 4. Blenders  attend house church and conventional church; and 5. Conventional  attend congregational-style, local church.
The largest segment by far is the Conventionals. The survey found that 56 percent of adults had attended a church service, event or class during the past month. The smallest groups are the Homebodies (3 percent) and the Blenders (3 percent), followed by the Intermittents (15 percent). Then there are the Unattached, who comprise 23 percent of adults or nearly one quarter of the nation with no personal interaction with a faith community.
Since worship is often the first experience this or any group have of a church gathering, many church and worship leaders have them in mind when they plan their services. And this leads to a worship trend to direct services toward the outsider, the unbeliever, the seeker, the Unattached.
Those who live without a regular face-to-face faith connection tend to be relatively isolated from the mainstream of society, Barna writes in, “Grow Your Church from the Outside In,” his book on the subject. “They tend to be non-committal in institutional and personal relationships, and typically revel in their independence.”
What this may mean for worship is up for debate. Probably it means at least an awkward greeting time and a lack of interest in filling out information cards. More information about this group indicated they are usually single males who are likely divorced. A continuing trend toward more stereotypically masculine worship elements (guys and guitars, motorcycles, animals, sports) and less feminine (flowers, pianos, soloists in chiffon) seems explainable in the outreach efforts to this demographic.
Further research from the Pew Forum indicates another issue for worship leaders interested in reaching the people who attend services. That is the large numbers of people who have changed their childhood faith or switched Christian denominations.
Key findings indicate that most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24 and most likely become unaffiliated with any religion. This group says they leave their faith because they stopped believing and are disillusioned with religious people and institutions. People who change Protestant denominations, however, indicate it was simply because they moved to a new community or got married.
Again, tying these findings to worship trends explains why youth worship has become more important to many churches. College-age services are targeted to people interested in experiencing authentic faith and receiving reasons to continue believing. Worship stripped of inter-denominational jargon and custom fits people changing denominations. In many cases, decisions about liturgy, hymns and prayer books have given way to worship that includes people who may not be familiar with one group’s traditions.

From: Worship Leader Magazine’s link page June 2008
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”