How does worship music style relate to congregational growth?

In the past half century, perhaps no other Christian ministry innovation has been more influential and polarizing than contemporary worship. It has been maligned, celebrated, blamed for church splits (especially during the “worship wars” of the 1990s), credited for congregational growth, accused of fostering shallow, religious consumerism, praised for catalyzing spiritual revitalization among individuals and movements, and so forth. Another example of its contemporary significance is how worship commonly delineates one Christian community from another. Arguing that the choice of worship style has become as defining marker of evangelical communities and functions as a veritable ichthus, Greg Scheer posits:

…denominational loyalty has all but eroded, replaced by music style. It used to be that a family would move to a new town and look for the nearest Baptist or Episcopal church, but now they look for the nearest ‘contemporary,’ ‘blended’ or ‘emerging’ church. And how do they know that the Methodist church down the road is an Evangelical boomer community? Because it advertises a ‘contemporary’ service (95).

In part one of this short series exploring research related to the diffusion and influence of the contemporary worship, I will point to some recent findings as it relates to current congregational practices and correlations to congregational growth.

But before we get to the research findings, we begin with the arduous task of defining what we mean by “contemporary worship” (let alone the confusion about what worship means!). In their forthcoming book, Lovin’ on Jesus, Lester Ruth and Swee Hong Lim provide a helpful and concise history of contemporary …

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