3 Reasons Contemporary Worship IS Declining, and What We Can Do to Help the Church Move On

Our musical tastes don’t dictate how we worship, our theology does

“The most committed (and often the most obstinate) defenders of contemporary worship is rapidly becoming the older generation. While their influence remains in many places, it is waning. Within a few short years, contemporary worship will have lost its original impetus and driving force.”

 

Contemporary worship is in decline.

Some months ago T. David Gordon wrote a post entitled “The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music: Eight Reasons” that continues to be widely read and shared. While I don’t agree with Gordon on every point, what he says gives us hope for the future of the worshiping church. Alongside his reasons, here are the three main reasons I see for the decline (if not demise) of the contemporary worship movement.

Baby boomers are losing their influence. Or, as Gordon more bluntly put it, “my own generation is beginning to die.” Your parents, not your kids, are the biggest proponents of contemporary worship. I’ve seen this in my own ministry. The most committed (and often the most obstinate) defenders of contemporary worship is rapidly becoming the older generation. While their influence remains in many places, it is waning. Within a few short years, contemporary worship will have lost its original impetus and driving force.

Millennials are seeking old ways of doing things. This (thankfully) doesn’t mean a return to the church of the 1950s, but it (thankfully) means an increasing rejection of the church of the 1990s and 2000s. More emphasis is being placed on liturgy and community, and less on using corporate worship chiefly as a contrived evangelistic tool. Also, as I’ve cited before, most millennials (and I’m one of them, by the way) grew up not knowing anything other than contemporary worship, and we’re leaving the church faster than any generation before us. Even by its own standards (i.e., number of butts in the seats) contemporary worship is a failed experiment.

Contemporary worship is an unstable and non-theological movement. To be thoroughly contemporary necessitates a slavish allegiance to the new, the current, the hip, the cool, and the commercial. It requires a thorough rejection of what is old, passe, not current, not cool, and what doesn’t make money. The bright shiny objects that get butts in the seats must continue becoming brighter and shinier. This holy bait-and-switch tactic is wearing thin. This constant need to reinvent yourself is a pretty tough row to hoe for any church, and few besides the largest and wealthiest are able to keep butts in the seats with any continued success.

Yes, this is good news, but for those of us who have long been resigned to the wars, there is much work to be done. Here are a few ways we can shake off our weak resignation to the movement and push toward a more profound alleluia.

Resist the temptation to “contemporize” old or new songs. The commercial idiom is thoroughly focused on recorded, individual performance. It deemphasizes the human voice, and emphasizes soloistic interpretation, affected vocal production, and contrived performance. This certainly doesn’t mean we can’t do new music (we should), but that we must choose music that can be sung well by a congregation and without conformity to commercial forms.

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