Does your church offer multiple worship services, each with a different style? One traditional, one contemporary? Plus a children’s service? An option of contemporary services, with one featuring “praise music” and another being more “emergent”? Lots of large congregations offer this kind of variety. But evangelical church musician Jonathan Aigner raises a warning.
He has written a post at his Patheos blog entitled How Offering Different Worship Styles Contributes to Church Decline. His criticism is not that all of those different kinds of services segregates the congregation into different age- and interest-groups, whereas the church needs to be a place where Christians of all generations, social classes, and personalities come together. That’s the problem I have heard raised, and it deserves consideration. But he raises an even deeper issue.
When the church caters to everyone’s preferences, it creates the impression that the church and thus Christianity cater to everyone’s preference. That is, that Christianity is all about you and what you want. This undermines Christianity and weakens Christians, Mr. Aigner says. And it leads to the decline of the church because individuals can pursue their own preferences far better without it.
From Jonathan Aigner:
When we tell our people that we’re here to connect them with God through their own preferences, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.
When we suggest that corporate worship is about fitting everyone just right, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.
When our strategies for church growth hinge on making the worship life of the church fun, entertaining, and easy, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.
When we design worship services to flow seamlessly like a theatrical production, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.
He cites the example of Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz, which has become influential for the emergent church. Mr. Aigner quotes him favorably when he said, “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” But then he notes that Mr. Miller, while still a popular Christian teacher, has stopped going to church:
A few years ago he wrote a blog post entitled, “I Don’t Worship God By Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere,” in which he asserted that he doesn’t feel intimacy with God through singing, he rarely attends church, and most of the most godly and influential Christians he knows don’t regularly attend, either.
So the person who inspired many of these alternative worship services no longer attends any of them! As have “most of the godly and influential Christians he knows.” And this makes perfect sense, if Christianity is just about “me and Jesus,” why does anyone need the church at all?
But we do.
See also what Mr. Aigner calls for to churches to set things right. He recommends “finding Jesus where He said He would be.” He says churches need to recover the liturgy. And to put a new emphasis on the Sacrament: “Holy Communion is the great antidote to the emotional manipulation the modern church loves to employ. It sets the body of Christ like a burning coal on our lips and in our stomachs, and we begin to see things just a little bit differently.”
This non-Lutheran evangelical sure sounds like a Lutheran. And it’s ironic because he is recommending measures that Lutherans have historically followed, even as some Lutherans are embracing the evangelical approach to worship that he is criticizing.
To be sure, different traditions will have different theologies of worship and different worship practices. Those have to be respected. (But note why Mr. Aigner urges jettisoning the terminology of “traditional” for worship services.) Would Mr. Aigner’s concerns be met if a congregation just settled on one style and used it with everyone? You pastors who employ different worship styles, can you answer Mr. Aigner’s worries?
Illustration from Music Academy via Google Images, Licensed for reuse.