Viewpoint: Contemporary vs. traditional, It doesn’t matter

Linda BW

By Linda Wilkins

When I was 9 years old, my family started attending a Southern Baptist church. This is after we left a Methodist church and visited several churches. My parents liked the music and preaching at this new church, and I went with what they liked. As a third-grader, I went to church because my parents did.

Soon, I started making my own decisions about my faith. On June 5, 2002, I made the decision to follow Christ — not because my parents wanted me to, but because I wanted to.

Church activities had always been a part of my life, so that didn’t change. As my faith grew, I started recognizing and understanding how churches work. I understood that the people are what make a church possible — everyone has a job to do. I jumped at chances to volunteer and be involved because I saw it as a chance to fellowship with other believers. Eventually, I realized the impact churches can have on the local community.

Because I’m from Georgia, I haven’t been able to be as involved with the church back home since coming to Baylor. It’s been difficult — everytime I went home, I felt as though I’d missed out on everything. I couldn’t go to events that I’d always loved. I felt like my relationships with people inside the church changed as they lived their lives in Georgia and I lived mine in Waco.

One of the biggest changes was adding a contemporary service on Sunday mornings. After taking a few courses on communication in ministry at Baylor, I saw this as an immensely positive thing.

My church had always been good at the traditional. Sunday mornings were similar every week — a hymn to start, the pastor’s prayer, a few more hymns, a song from the choir, the sermon, the time of giving and then the invitation. The predictability of the church used to soothe me. It was a time for me to rest every week.

Then I became discontented. I wanted the church to change it up. I saw the empty pews and wondered if they were empty every week or if the church was emptier than the last time I was home.

With the new contemporary service, I was ecstatic. I was able to go to one of the first contemporary services. I wasn’t expecting perfection, especially because it was so new, but I did want to see something different.

I saw some of the youth on stage, new faces, some guitar work and new songs. For a church so deeply rooted in the traditional, I was happy to see an attempt at something out of the norm.

My parents had switched to a more contemporary church after my sister and I graduated out of the youth group. Their church service made the new contemporary service at the old church look stoic. Loud music, keyboards, banjos, drum solos, different singers every week, etc., made up these services. My parents love this church because it is different and they feel truly lead to worship.

They have encountered criticism since their decision to attend this new church. It’s brought up the deeper issue of contemporary vs. traditional church services that seems to be plaguing churches all over the country.

I’ve heard church members and read blogs online from traditional churches who argue traditional is the only way to worship. Contemporary, they claim, is too much like a concert. How can anyone focus on God when the band is pulling all the attention to the stage?

Then I’ve heard advocates of contemporary services declare traditional services outdated and tired.

While both sides hold some truth, churches should be mindful of the fact the membership is what keeps them running. Some give and take is necessary as the Christian faith grows and preferences in worship change.

There should be a type of compromise between the two. Traditional services don’t appeal to everyone, particularly some in the younger crowds. Contemporary services may be too loud or different for some people. That’s fine. That’s completely OK. It’s up to the individual person to decide what church they feel called to join — and what church is going to help them grow in their faith.

Simply going to a church because it’s where your family goes isn’t a good reason. There is something to be said for having family time and fellowship. But our individual faiths are much more important.

Some people feel guilty for leaving family and friends. Some people feel guilt over wanting to change churches in the first place. Isn’t the church a place of worship? Won’t leaving imply this worship service is bad? Some people believe disagreeing with a style of worship is sinful.

This is not the case. There are times in everyone’s life when they feel disconnected — even from a church they’ve always attended. There are numerous churches that people can attend and prayerfully consider joining. If this means joining a contemporary church over traditional, then so be it.

As long as a church’s mission is to serve and love God and people, then how can anyone condemn it as a bad church? Its style of worship may be different, but the goal is the same.

Ultimately, Christians are part of the body of Christ. We are supposed to work as such, using the gifts God has given us.  Our mission is to make disciples while we relentlessly pursue God.

Arguing over which type of service is better is trivial. As it states in 2 Corinthians 4, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Churches are meant to be God’s people gathered on earth. Squabbling about a worship song is simply a distraction.

Linda Wilkins is a senior journalism and religion double major from Tyrone, Ga. She is the editor-in-chief and a regular columnist for the Lariat.