The answer, my friend, is blowing in the worship winds

Here’s another article about what millennials are looking for in worship. I’m sure this overly analyzed focus group appreciates being written about again. As I have read and heard more stories about this age group, the more convinced I am that both everything and nothing that is being presented about them is true as it relates to church. It depends of which way the worship winds are blowing.

This time we are being told that the younger generation is actually gravitating more toward ancient, liturgical forms rather than contemporary styles of worship. I welcome this report, because it seems consistent with the expectation and priority of authenticity rather than presentation style. Many older congregations who have settled into a “traditional” form of worship should take heart in this report, but at the same not interpret this as having lifeless and stoic worship experiences. We ought not be afraid to smile when we’re singing about God’s love for us and what Christ has done on our behalf.

I’m encouraged to see college students attending our worship services, which is what you would expect considering there are at least four colleges in town, with one of them right across the street. However, it has always been a challenge to reach them. And our church is not alone, with a church right on the campus itself dealing with the same issues.

What I’ve determined is that worship is not about outreach. I do hear talk about worship style and trying to secure one set approach which will serve as the pied piper and bring this generation in. This conversation about style, while important, should not be the primary purpose of worship. Worship should be about worship, and with that in mind do have a kinship with Kyle Matthews in his approach to this topic in “The Silly War.” Some of these worship wars, however, don’t turn out to be so silly when one person tells me he is looking for more contemporary worship while another in the same service wonders when we’ll see an appearance of the Gloria Patri. Folks leave church over such things.

I suppose the lesson in all of this is that there will never be a solution to the worship question. The reason for this is that style deals with preference rather than principle. The principles of worship relating to proclamation, prayer, scripture reading, and praise to God are essential elements, and there is more than one way to experience this in a worship service. What happens is that we confuse preferences with principles, or make our preferences everyone else’s principles. For example, I don’t think hymns are necessarily a thing of the past, as they have all that rich theology. But, we don’t have to sing them to a funeral dirge or the same way every time.

This time the worship winds are blowing towards the liturgical model,  but I’m waiting for another article to talk about how the institutional church isn’t connecting with millennials.  It’s a mixed bag, but the conversation is worth it. The church can set its sail to go wherever the prevailing worship winds might take them, or it can remember that worship is often a subjective experience and we ought not be blown too much in any one direction.

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