5 reasons why young people are seeking old ways of doing church.

Religious Candles and Cross

When I was young, there was nothing worse for a church than to be “traditional”. We stripped back the liturgy, swapped the organ for a drum-kit, and replaced the hymnals with Hillsong. We unceremoniously dumped the icons, architecture and rituals that had fed the church for hundreds of years. We were desperate to present a cool, socially acceptable, “relevant” package for modern culture.

Today, something unexpected is happening. There is a small but distinct movement of young people abandoning the smoke machines, multi-purpose buildings and celebrity pastors of recent church models, and heading back towards traditional worship services, where sacraments are central, buildings are beautiful, and the liturgy has a historic rootedness about it. Gracey OlmsteadRachel Held EvansAaron NiequistBen Irwin and Erik Parker have written illuminating articles about why young people are embracing “un-cool” church and becoming “liturgy nerds”.

What is going on?

Every person’s journey is different, but here are a few reasons why those who have grown up in evangelical churches are increasingly drawn to high church practices and historical forms of worship.


Young people today have been marketed to all their lives, and they can see past gimmicks and tricks. They don’t need church to pretend to be something it’s not – an entertainment venue, a relationship course, a nightclub. They find it refreshing to enter a building which openly proclaims itself as a worship space, to take part in ceremonies and rhythms which unashamedly focus on worship. They’ve swapped the salesman’s pitch for simple sacraments.


In an era of continuous rapid change, young people are seeking to feel grounded and connected to their past. This is why retro and vintage fashions have made such a comeback in recent years. Farmers markets, knitted scarves and cardigans, typewriter fonts, nostalgic photo effects, thick-rimmed glasses and Op Shop clothing are the new “cool”. In the midst of chaotic change and technology, there is a strong desire to be rooted and grounded in traditions of the past.


God cannot be contained in a 30 minute sermon. Or even a 45 minute one. We worship a God we cannot see, cannot truly understand, cannot adequately explain, cannot prove. Ancient forms of faith allow us to return to a sense of mystery, rather than containing God in a box made of words.


Shane Hipps points out that icons and images are replacing words as the main method of communication. This generation are deeply visual and iconic. The word-centred, book-dependent communication style of previous generations has given way to a love affair with symbols and imagery, which are far better expressed in ancient liturgies than in contemporary worship.


Sacramental worship offers a hands-on, multi sensory, participatory act of community. The simple, everyday rituals of a bath (baptism) and a meal (eucharist) are tangible and interactive, inviting God’s people to actively participate rather than passively listen.

The departure of young people from “new” churches to “old” ones can be deeply confusing to many who grew up with strict denominational boundaries. However, it has the potential to lead to healthy, restorative spaces for many of God’s people. After all, we are all one church. As Brian Zhand expresses it; “we need the whole body of Christ to properly form the body of Christ. This much I’m sure of: Orthodox mystery, Catholic beauty, Anglican liturgy, Protestant audacity, Evangelical energy, Charismatic reality — I need it all!


102 thoughts on “5 reasons why young people are seeking old ways of doing church.

  1. I don’t really think it’s the smoke machines and drums, either way. It’s the feeling that you belong, and old people doing arcane rituals makes many newcomers and younger people feel left out and not knowing why things are happening that way. But different people doing the same things won’t actually be the same, and so it may not then feel alien.

    In the end, people are visual as well as aural, we feel more than we think, and we are motivated more by passion and idealism than cold logic. An evangelical church, especially a Reformed church, will generally appeal to only a small part of the total human being, and will leave most people feeling cold and unmotivated.

    For me the answer to that isn’t going back to retro worship, but making it more personal/interactive and being inspired together to follow Jesus whole-heartedly rather than just being told the same things I’ve heard a score of times before in a sermon.

    I don’t think I’m necessarily typical and I’m certainly not young, but that’s a few thoughts. Thanks.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Eric. I also am inspired by interactive/mutual ministry opportunities in church, rather than retro worship – but I have been curious and interested in some shifts in our local church and globally that I am observing, particularly amongst the younger (millennial) age group.

      I’m a Gen X-er in my 40’s, and I don’t see myself ever whole-heartedly embracing high church liturgy (especially as I have theological issues with the hierarchy systems associated with these systems), but I am increasingly seeing the value in making sacraments more central than sermons.


      – Kathleen

      • Yes, I agree. In the 1980s, we attended a Pentecostal church (the precursor to Hillsong) for 6 years. It had lively worship, great music, hundreds of enthusiastic young kids, etc, but overall, I think the thing I appreciated most in their services was communion, every week, led by one of the young home group leaders. It was both a reminder of Jesus and a sharing of a young changed life. And like you, I find these more encouraging than a sermon.

      • Hi Kathleen, thanks for this piece of analysis. Like many of your posts I find much to agree with it. Your point about communion becoming more important than sermons has been true for me too, and your general points about valuing certain older practices. I do think you need to be a bit more careful with some of your generalisations, especially when you claim to have noticed certain things happening ‘globally’. That makes you sound like an American, if I may say so. There may be trends from evangelicals in mega churches becoming drawn to some aspects of traditional liturgy in America, and Australia, but certainly not much evidence in the old UK that I’m aware of, and as for the rest of the world……, are you sure?

        • Thanks for the feedback, Ian, your point is valid. There is no research in this area that I am aware of, and the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard and read is from Australia and the U.S. The U.K. has an entirely different story of denominational dominance, and therefore probably has different issues and changes going on (some great stuff happening in the U.K., by the way, from stories I’m hearing).

          Thanks for pointing out my tendency to generalise, blessings,

          – Kathleen 🙂

          • Hi! You say it’s a different story in the UK, but I live and work for a traditional Anglican church in London, having grown up in an evangelical environment, and this article absolutely describes me and some of my friends.

            I know you can’t generalise from my anecdotal evidence, but it’s certainly something I recognise.

          • While the research is still being done, I don’t think there can be any doubt that what is true here is true in the UK as well. My degree is in religious studies, & I had an emphasis in new religious movements. I also I am a Christian anarchist and Mennonite who attends the Wild Goose festival religiously. (pun intended). The roots of much of emergent Christianity in its current form can certainly be traced to the revival of Celtic Christianity in the UK. This is specifically true of the Goose. Thanks for the article.

        • Having recently waved goodbye to my twenties (*cue wailing and mourning*) I’m probably not quite young enough to count as “young” anymore, but this article really resonates with me in the UK. I left the church in my early twenties because I was so fed up of feeling like every service was an exercise in manipulating the emotions of the congregation. Church was great fun, and I always left the service on an emotional high… but it wasn’t any different from the emotional high that you get from a pop concert or a nightclub. I figured, “What’s the point? There’s nothing for me at church that isn’t at concerts and nightclubs – and at least they don’t pretend to be more than they are.” After getting married, my husband introduced me to more thoughtful, reflective and intellectual forms of worship. We now attend an Anglican church – it’s not super-liturgical but I feel more free there to love and interact with God using my “heart, soul AND MIND”, not just my emotions.

    • My nephew in his early 30s, started a search for a reverent Catholic liturgy near him. He attended the local Roman Catholic Church but said “too happy clappy”. He then attended a Melkite Catholic Church and loved it. He and his bride got married there yesterday

  2. After growing up in a “very Catholic” home in the 1960 – 70″s, rejecting it in my late teen years as hypocritical and just amiss in general. Adopted a party life-style for a decade, then returned to church around age 30 after getting married and raising kids. My wife was Lutheran so that is where we went. Then got saved in in 1998 at a random evangelical church service while visiting Detroit on business one weekend. Got very active in serving and small groups at the famous mega Willow Creek Community Church. Joined to serve a couple different start up churches in High Schools. Played drums on “worship teams”. Lead various small group bible studies. The last thing I tried to do was start an evangelism ministry (they had none) in the small local church I was a member of. They treated me like I was starting a business. I had to fill out applications, develop plans and goals, and apply for funding. All I wanted to do was have some evangelism training studies and go out to community events and spread the Gospel. I thank God for this final experience with institutional church. It opened my eyes to the complete error of “going to church” and believing that system is God ordained and biblical. Institutional church is a sham on the well meaning believers that attend and financially support it. Believers of Truth and Life can pursue God and His Kingdom without the trappings of the non-scriptural, man made tradition of the institutional church system. Institutional church is a detriment and stumbling block for the Body of Christ and Ekklesia of God. Believers please wake up! Jesus did not come to die on a cross for you to “go to church” one day a week. Don’t GO to church, you ARE the church, BE the church. God is not hanging out in church buildings waiting for you to show up and sit in a chair, sing a few songs and listen to a bible scholar attempt to make the bible relevant to you, pay the professional christian money and repeat week after week. Man has trained you to do this. It is not what Jesus and the Apostles taught and modeled for us to follow. New Testament model is a family, meeting in homes daily, around a full meal, interacting face to face about how the indwelling life of Christ is moving them. God destroyed the the Temple system, made YOU a priest, and Jesus The High Priest. That’s it. We are all equal in The Body with one Head, Jesus Christ. You are the clergy, there is NO laity. There is no need to have money sucking staff, programs, and real estate. Think of how much more you can give and serve the poor, the sick, the persecuted, the elderly without that institution to financially maintain.
    ” Remember when Paul went door to door handing out flyers inviting people to his church? Remember how hard Peter and Andrew worked on putting together that special program for the service? Remember how hard John worked on getting that sermon just right? Remember how hard Matthew, Mary, and Philip worked on getting the music perfect for the worship? Remember Martha working her tail off preparing for Children’s church? Remember Thomas so diligently heading up that team of ushers and greeters? And where would we be without people like Lydia, Philemon, and Mark filling up those pews week after week? Oh yes! Easter Sunday…nothing beats doing it by the book!” – Loren Rosser

    • Thank you for your story, Chris. Like you, I am passionate to see God’s people wrestle with what it means to actively be the church, rather than passively going to church.

      Blessings in your continuing journey,

      – Kathleen

      • I wonder how active Jesus followers were when they listened to him preach? I am assuming that the atmosphere was pretty solemn and focused at the Last Supper and that they did not complain that they were not entertained. But then I could be wrong

        • Hi Larry, isn’t it wonderful that WordPress keeps its eye on this thread and tells me when someone new has commented? Otherwise I may never have seen your comment.

          “I wonder how active Jesus followers were when they listened to him preach?”
          Well we don’t know that he “preached” that much in the modern sense. The Jews tended to dialogue or argue a lot more (you see that most in Jesus vs the Pharisees in John) so his hearers were probably very active. And his other characteristic style of speaking was of course parables, which were short, interesting and made a point.

          “I am assuming that the atmosphere was pretty solemn and focused at the Last Supper and that they did not complain that they were not entertained.”
          Well the Last Supper was a Passover feast, which had lost of ritual and interaction, all with meaning, and it had wine and food. I don’t know how solemn it was, but I’m guessing it was likely solemn at times and loud and fun at times, but all the time with a millennium-old meaning underneath it all.

          But I think the point about being entertained is that while you may not want to pander to people, we want to communicate to them, and it is surely foolish to use poor methods of communication when better ones are available.

          Do you disagree?

        • There is truth in what you say, and also some humor: indeed, I doubt that the disciples complained about not being “entertained.” That’s funny in a way.

          “Entertainment” in religion is largely (although here and there in Europe especially England) an American church phenomenon that’s been around since at least the 19th century “tent revivals” across the Midwest Plains states and the West primarily where life was rugged, difficult.

          Preachers of varying denominations like Baptist and some Methodist preachers held big outdoor revivals in what to us today would be called circus tents. There was great emotionalism, very simple spirited hymn singing and altar calls to turn your life over to Jesus Christ.

          In the days before media entertainment, folks packed these revivals. Such “entertainment” churches (although none of them would have used that term and would be insulted if you called it that) focused on the preacher, lots of singing with big choirs and you can find these well into the 20th century.

          There were emotional preachers in the 30’s -40’s like the glamorous Amy Semple MacPherson in Los Angeles in her Angelus Temple (which still exists in Echo Park), you had characters like Billy Sunday and others. Probably the only exception to these “shows” have been the authentic evangelical preacher
          Billy Graham and his revivals.

          Until a few years ago in Garden Grove, California (not far, interestingly from Disneyland) you had the “Crystal Cathedral” with the famous minister Dr Robert Schueller and his tv broadcast “Hour of Power.” Today it went bankrupt : Catholics bought the property and converting it into a Catholic Cathdral for Orange Couny. But Schueller packed them in, it was mega but traditional in a way, protest worship, huge pipe organ and lots of choirs, solos and “entertainment” with lots of clapping after musical “performances.” It was “feel-good” about yourself religion, hymn lyrics that mentioned too much “sin” we’re rewritten in a more positive tone. After Schueller was too elderly to preach the church fell apart amidst Schueller family quarrels about the church.

          Today now, we have “mega churches” with rock bands, praise choruses, stadium seating and giant screens and a minister usually preaching in a shirt sleeve shirt, jeans and sneakers or loafers guys usually in their mid to late 30’s. They are successful in doubt about it. A rock band replaces the traditional robed choir and you follow the music on the screens which turn to all kinds of beautiful imagery but always one screen to see the preacher up close, because there are usually several thousand in attendance. They are carrying on the American tradition of entertainment worship. I’ve been to them to see what they’re like. The preaching was indeed biblical and interesting I will admit that.

          And yet, at the other end of the church spectrum, a Catholic Church a few miles away from my home restored the old Medieval Latin Mass with Gregorian chant, incense, bells. The 700 seat beautiful 1900s Gothic sanctuary is packed…and not with older folks with gray hair like me…sure some are but 70 percent were under 45 I’d say. The worship is mystical and transcendant. The 1000 and some year old Catholic Mass in Latin pulls in the people who long, as do I, for solemn worship…I went a couple of times and the worship is beautiful and an environment for prayer. I’m not Catholic but I have a strong family background in Catholicism so I “get it.” I was amazed at the young families and lots of children. I’d say 600-700 people there. sure it’s a special niche in American religion but they’re doing something real in worship that is drawing in people to these ancient forms of worship which have over a millennium of tradition behind them.

          Younger people rightfully so, see through cheesy gimmicks in church worship. Some attempts at “entertainment” in many mainline churches are indeed awful, awkward and downright embarrassing if not silly. I can do without gimmicks in worship.

          I do not have to be “entertained” unless I go to the movies which I do enjoy!

  3. I’m happy with this trend, in general, but some of the reasons that other people are turning to ancient church liturgy are not the same reasons for which I have come to appreciate it. As a Southern Baptist I grew up with a revivalistic worship service that began with the “song service,” proceeded to “the message” and ended with “the invitation.” Communion was quarterly, scripture readings were short and served “the message” and the prayers were a means of transitioning from one portion of the service to the next. The invitation was the pinnacle of the service. It was an unstated sacrament and it was a time to respond to God. In retrospect, the problem I have with the invitation as the pinnacle of the service is that it is totally random. I always found myself a little bit unsure about what I should do in response to the word of God. My internal monologue sounded like this almost every Sunday:

    “Should I stand and pray in my seat or should I go down to the altar and pray? Oh wait, it looks like Mrs. So-and-so is having a real moment with God with the tears and everything… but if I go down now, someone will think that my case is a little more serious than it really is… oh man… but does my unwillingness to go down mean that I am being unfaithful to God? What should I do? Oh well, this is the last verse of the song, I guess I will surrender all… again. Wait, now that I’m here at the altar I’m not really praying because Mr. So-and-So came and put his hand on my shoulder and now I’m afraid that everyone thinks I’m rededicating my life to Christ or something.”

    Most of the time I left church dizzy, confused, and relieved to be out of that crucible, rather than with a benediction of God’s grace over my life and the joy of the new covenant spurring me on to love and good deeds.

    Communion is a much better pinnacle than the invitation. It is instituted in scripture, it proclaims the death and resurrection of Christ, and responding to the preaching of the word by FEASTING on Christ is so much better than vacillating in the pew while the music man manipulates my emotions with just the right chords and the preacher pleads for us to come and “do business with God.” I’m sorry sir, but the business is done. Jesus paid it all and now I’m going to His table to feast! I accept his invitation to the table!

    But I do not think that this means that the sacraments are “central” to worship. The table is the loftiest point. It is the view to which we are climbing, but the word is the mountain. Without the mountain there is no precipice, and the best views come from the tallest mountains. Clarity also comes from such a view. God is mysterious, but I do not hold mystery up as an attractive element that justifies a return to ancient worship forms. So, I think that the word (in the form of lectionary readings, meaty expository sermons, rich hymns, service music, responsive readings, confessions) is central to Christian worship, but the table is the pinnacle. Feasting at table with Christ is the right response to all these things.

    I am still Baptist, but the rest of the church has some wonderful treasures and the revivalistic tradition coming out of the second great awakening is a lot of rot, in my humble opinion. The smoke machines and lasers are a part of the natural evolution of it, and I’m ready to see it die.

    • I really relate to what you’re saying, Jacob – I remember the emphasis on the “invitation”, and I went up the front numerous times in my teens, until an older lady gently told me off. How else was I supposed to “respond”?

      I like your point about the word being central, and the table being the pinnacle. I’d like to add the concept of “one-anothering” as critical to our church life. It doesn’t get enough air-time or structured space in our gatherings – which is why I write this blog. I long to see churches prioritising mutual ministry, empowering God’s people to love, care for, encourage, pray for, and equip one another. The shared table is a starting point for this.


      – Kathleen

    • Jacob, you said exactly what I feel! I grew up Roman Catholic, floated around to just about everything non-Christian, and returned to the Church via the Assemblies of God. The music drew me in, but the lack of depth and pressure to “get it right” in public worship sent me looking for something else.

      The United Church of Christ gives me the diversity – from Mercersburg theology’s high church to Ursinus theology’s low church to the many local church customs and practices, it is a place where everyone is welcome. You just have to live the message of radical hospitality, listening to Aunt Thelma sing off-key, Uncle Mitch complaining about the Communion bread, and, basically, deal with all the tensions of living in a large family. It’s not easy, but it sure is an exciting ride!

  4. I was “coming along” when all this “alternative worship” stuff started. I hated it as a teen and, in my dotage, absolutely LOATHE it. I have always found it pretty shallow. Really, do you have to get your emotions all whipped up in order to worship and receive the teachings? Most of the songs are nauseatingly “simplistic” and often the words are shoe-horned, awkwardly, into the music (such as it is). The whole goal is emotional manipulation.
    An acquaintance once characterised Anglican worship as “that cold, distant Episcopal stuff”…I replied thru gritted teeth that “some of us find the liturgy warm, even sensual, and dignified.” She was one of those “Gee, I just really love you Lord” singers….I assume she still is, unless, like a lot of the people I knew when that “born again” thing was sweeping the Yuppies, she’s on to the next cool “spritual experience.” (I have gotten so when I hear the word “just’ in an extemporaneous “prayer” I break out in hives LOL)
    Sorry to be such a curmudgeon, but, I’ve lived a long time and learned what is worth keeping and what is better left out in the rain. YES, I admit that some of the “worship” songs have something more going for them and are worth hanging on to, but, so much of it is, as I said, shallow and faddish. No “staying power.”

    • I hear you, Nancy. I personally love a wide range of music, modern and older (man, some of those hymns have the most “staying power”, as you put it), but I find the emotional manipulation aspect quite creepy.


      – Kathleen

    • I was going to leave a post, but Nancy covered everything perfectly (except that I ended up in a Lutheran church instead of an Episcopalian one).

      I’m an introvert and the emotional ploys and outward shows of feelings really turn me off. I’d say that most introverts shut down with the modern, loud, emotionally charged (and substance low) performances in many churches. The book Quiet even mentioned this. If 40-50 % of the people are introverted, that’s a large amount of the population that won’t connect as well in the “modern” church

    • “(I have gotten so when I hear the word ‘just’ in an extemporaneous ‘prayer’ I break out in hives LOL)”

      Oh, you mean “Lord Weejus” prayers? “Lord Weejus wanna praise you… Lord Weejus wanna thank you… Lord Weejus wanna ask you…” 😉 Sorry, that was a little snarky, but I came to the traditional worship / liturgical / sacramental tradition of Christianity through the Episcopal Church in 1989, at age 24, and felt like I was coming home. No other form of worship seems nearly as nourishing or satisfying: spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, or aesthetically. Compared to the dignity, majesty, and reverence of traditional liturgy, “contemporary worship” feels to me like cotton candy compared to Thanksgiving dinner.

  5. The key word in this article is “small.” Whether this grows into anything worthy of being called a movement is not known at this time. Barna research certainly doesn’t support the idea that young people are flocking to traditional churches.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, Tony. I was careful to use the word “small”, and I suspect the statistics wouldn’t even show up, because they are overwhelmed by the continuous movement between churches and away from churches in general. I used the word “movement” to indicate people moving between models, not as a statistical phenomenon.

      I wrote this article because it’s something I’ve seen in my local church, and been curious about, and noticed more and more in what I’m reading from others. I’m getting plenty of feedback from this article that it is a real experience for individuals, even though it’s numerically small. It also may be expressed as a shift within “modern” churches towards some “older” forms of worship, eg. a greater emphasis on the sacraments of communion and baptism, a return to icons and architecture to enhance liturgy, etc – and this wouldn’t show up in the statistics at all.

      • Many of the “emerging church” and alternative church leaders say the phenomenon you write about is real. I haven’t seen it all that much, but I accept their observations.

        • I think this article is dead on! I am a bit older than most responding to this post, but I’m happy and not surprised by this. I grew up in a “very” Southern Baptist church, a “very” hell fire and brimstone atmosphere. We went at least 3 times a week, sometimes more. I was the president of our youth group, but as I got older the sermons, are as they are called preaching, left me feeling hopeless. In all that I tried to do in in my daily life was to be perfect for my savior. By the time I was 17 I just threw up my hands in despair and turned away from the church. I could never live up to their standards of God’s will for my life. After many years away from the church I married and had 2 children, I felt that there had to be a better way to instill morals, commitment, and a love of a God that loved back than to take them to the type of church that I attended growing up, (personally I still think I’m recovering from PTSD). I found the Episcopal church just in time. I fell in love with the liturgy, sacraments, and acceptance that all are welcome at God’s table.
          In saying all of this, my daughter who went to one of these “mega churches” with a friend years ago, came home and asked me, why were they playing Aerosmith before service? My first thought was oh no God please, and then she turned to me and said “that wasn’t church, more like a party!

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  7. I am a member of a High Church within the Anglican Continuum. I have seen a marked interest in the formal, liturgical style of worship among young people. While still young myself (I guess I am a Gen-Xer), the interest I see is from people much younger, particularly in the 22-35 age range. Hierarchy does not seem to be an issue. What is an issue is that in the High Church form of worship, they have found a simple, yet deeply moving form of worship that they can relate to, with music that reinforces that worship. I have always said, and continue to believe, that when all the pomp and circumstance of the praise and worship movement is exposed, those truly seeking a relationship with Jesus Christ will see it for what it is and come home.

    • I think this renewed interest in liturgical worship is more prevalent amongst millennials, as you are observing. There are significant cultural differences between generations, and millennials tend to show through their fashions that they have a strong interest in being grounded in traditions of the past and living simply (hence the fascination with beards, vintage items and retro clothing). As you point out, the high church worship forms offer a simple, yet rich experience for them.

  8. Training at an Anglo-Catholic seminary a huge number of us had grown up or come to faith in more evangelical congregations. That was 13 years ago. Certainly in the UK there was a movement about 15 years ago and today a huge number of missional gen-x anglo-catholic clergy came through that journey. But at the time I got the impression this was part of a larger cycle – one that repeats every 15 or 20 years.

    Some of my story is here:

  9. I agree and pine for the days when the vicar faced east and intoned the beautiful language of BCP and we sang the traditional hyms of Ancient and Modern.
    “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate. He made them high and lowly and ordered their estate ” As the C of E we were confident of our position in the social order and our loyalty to Queen and Country.

  10. I, am growing weary of, and bemused by, the incessant bashing of the “contemporary” worship style by the loyal, committed supporters of the “traditional” style of worship. This is an increasingly familiar phenomenon that appearing in blogs of late.

    Ironically, it is the committed traditionalists authoring articles boasting of their love of the (legitimate) traditional liturgy, with its time honored traditional hymnody, and the time honored organ as the sole instrument accompanying the singing of the time honored hymns by authentic worshipers (themselves). More often than not, (correction: always) they present their preference of the sacred “traditional” worship style in the context of their disdain of the “contemporary” worship style, what with guitars (electric, mind you), and God forbid, those drums! Oh, and let’s not forget to make special mention of the singers — blatant entertainers. Blasphemous!

    The authors, without exception, vehemently justify their disdain with their holier than thou insistence that the “contemporary” worship style is shallow and not theologically sound. As as such (by there ‘judgement’) is not God-worthy.

    It is obvious that the true purpose of their essay is to justify their belief that only the time honored ‘traditional’ worship style is authentic. They make their case by showing disrespect to their brothers and sisters in Christ are shallow in their worship (because it actually isn’t worship), therefore unworthy of respect by God or themselves. The contempt unmistakable.

    I will add that I’ve yet to see any worshiper steeped in the “contemporary” style write a piece expressing contempt of the ‘traditional’ worship style. I challenge anyone here to find such an article and post the link here. After all, such must exist; I just haven’t seen one yet.

    • We wrote that blog post with our feet. It takes a lot of doing to get “high church” right, just as it does to get “alternative worship” right. Either can be boring and even ridiculous; either can be a way to center and find both peace and urgency. BUT I think you’re correct in saying that the scorn mostly goes from old and toward new. What I see is that both are losing ground quickly with young adults in the USA.

      • “It takes a lot of doing” to get it right. Yes, true of any kind of worship. The pitfall of “traditional” is that it is sometimes on cruise control set by some previous generation, and the current community doesn’t put in the work, or have the know-how, to get it right for their own place and time. They just keep doing what they do, whether it feeds their community or not. Longevity of practice is not always faithfulness. Complacency or even fear can predominate over attentiveness to Spirit.

        • I believe it was Cicero (but could have been another of the old Romans) who complained bitterly of how `the youth of today is going down the drain’ ……. just so it has been ever since, only today the `older generation’ is markedly younger than it was just a generation ago….

  11. The premise of this post indicates that young people are turning away from contemporary worship services in favor of traditional services in droves. However, the statistics simply do not bear that out. The congregations of mainline churches are becoming increasingly thin and increasingly grey. The contemporary worship environments provide something that invites new members and inspires regulars with an intense worship experience that transcends the music and the lights. After spending most of my life (58 years) at mainline churches, my wife and I switched to a contemporary church last October and we haven’t looked back. For the first time, we feel alive as Christians and excited to be a part of the kingdom.

    Unfortunately, many of the mainline denominations spend more time worrying about protecting their particular brand of Christianity than being Christian. However, most of us who make up the body of the church are not concerned about other denominations. The enemy is on the ridge with flags unfurled and swords drawn, and our wagons are circled. Now is not the time for us to be aiming our arrows at each other.

      • Another Amen BPatman!!!! Particularly succinct was your comment that Christian churches are more concerned about keeping their brand alive rather than keeping Christianity alive.

  12. I am one of these “young” people (29 year old) longing for the tradition and liturgy of traditional churches, but in reality finding churches like that is very hard. I have come to the point that the emotional manipulation gets old. Authenticity is absolutely needed. The moment I “smell” pride in the preacher I switch off. The lack of solid theology in evangelical churches is scary. The emergent church seems to have infiltrated so many mainstream churches… let’s love people like Jesus did yet ignore sin and throw away doctrines.
    I remember reading about Amy Carmichael who was starting a women’s bible study… people said to her why doesn’t she include crafts as a part of it to get more women along… to which she replied she would prefer 2 women wanting to read the word of God than 100 wanting to play. I agree wholeheartedly. I’d prefer to be in a church with a few people genuinely desiring to learn from the truth of God’s word than a big church of people just wanting to feel good emotionally.
    In the meantime I read a liturgical daily reading guide and maybe one day I’ll find a liturgical church to join.

  13. The premise of the article is that there are some young people going back to “traditional” churches. I support the contents of this article as an 18 year old member of a traditional mainline congregation.

  14. I do see this happening, but I would like to see some research into the backgrounds of those who are part of this trend. My hunch is it doesn’t apply to the lower-income or less educated demographics. I also suspect many of those going back to traditional churches are probably not recent converts, and have a long background in some church, whether it was the kind with smoke machines or a “traditional” one. We need to stop figuring out how to bring all the right Christians into our churches, and start figuring out how to reach the elephant in the room…the growing majority of Americans who don’t even know what our “churches” are about.

    • Sean I agree with your hunches about the kind of people finding value in the Christian year and some of the traditional forms of worship. However I’m not so sure about your perception of people’s lack of knowledge of the churches. After all millions of Americans go to church, you have a lot of freedom to express your views, run TV channels and huge number of societies. I imagine Americans have a very good idea about what churches stand for.

  15. Thanks again Kathleen, for kick starting this very interesting question.
    As you know, I haven’t attended a bricks and mortar church, so I’m at a disadvantage to understand most folks context, and certainly to comment on much.
    However 🙂 I have gathered with wonderful (and a few not so) believers most theological backgrounds for 40 plus years, and as such, have some understanding, although I hesitate to package and name it as any recognized skill set.
    All that preamble to say this: From where I stand, it appears the deck chairs are being shifted, as it were, and not much new is happening.
    In other words, the two solitude’s in the denominational church (liberal vs conservative or right vs left?) continue to offer each new generation the same old tired choices of beans and rice or rice and beans. Both sides are the establishment, with official history, a name and a pedigree. Both exercise considerable influence in the civil life of western civilization and world affairs. Both camps have prisoner exchanges every few generations, which necessitates carving out new psycho-social territory and tweaking their respective political constitutions to garner bums in seats and votes in polls and elections.
    But outside these hallowed temple walls, lie the great unwashed horde of sinners and publicans, tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans and the pagans. They may come in and join, but there is a price.They must submit to the loud and authoritative ‘men’ behind the curtain, who wield (usurp) the scepter(s) of God as (one RC) Vicar and (thousands of Protestant) wannabe Vicars, and they must choose one of two sides, or start another hybrid.
    But in this cold war atmosphere, it seems fewer are doing so each generation in the west, while in the far east, many new eager believers are added daily to the church. It seems that millions are fed up with the hamster wheel circus and are abandoning the building edifice complex, for the wilderness.
    I think the search for meaning and purpose in those who choose tradition and orthodoxy is similar to those who head for the hills of leaderless uncertainty and even un-orthodoxy. These un-churched and churchless are and will find each other in the wilderness. Like Davids motley crew of indebted malcontents fleeing Saul’s threats, these homeless will eventually constitute a formidable army of peaceful outliers. Also like ancient Israel, the effect will be, and already is felt in the collection plate, and by extension, in the institutions governed by the men behind the curtains. Increasingly, these men are one faceless, corporate man, who can change hats to speak to whichever crowd needs motivating, but they all work for the same boss.
    And almost mischievously, as if waiting for the right century to revolt, tens of millions have walked away from Oz, to home school, home business, home church and home grow many trade services, high end products and quality
    food, just at a time when the many tentacles of the Industrial Complex octopus is finally within reach of controlling everything and everyone.
    As the Net (of the men behind the curtain) spreads over the earth, many use it as assemble a new (or rather a re-newed) citizenship of pilgrims and aliens to the world.
    Compare this to 1 Chronicles 12:38, when Davids wilderness gang had been welded into an army with one heart; a perfect heart, and the singular mission to make David the (only) King. No more Vicar (Saul) or vicars, or wilderness tabernacle, or division between the tribes. Instead of tearing down the old system, they built a new one; a better one, and let the people see the glory and justness of David, which then put into stark contrast how poor and beggarly was the system they had been conscripted into.
    Its been a few millenniums since God’s children had one perfect heart and the singular mission to crown Jesus as Lord and Savior over us together.
    Could this exodus and upheaval be the beginning of our family reunion?
    I’d like to think so.

    • As a trained choral musician I have been involved in the “inner workings” of worshipping congregations my entire life, from small and medium churches to very large ones. Yes, as a member of the choir, both as singer and as a music leader, and now even more as a children’s music leader. In every church I have ever served, paid and volunteer musicians also serve in many other areas of the congregation and are among its most active and dedicated members. I have lived through many “worship wars” in solid traditional churches and witnessed them fractionate congregations into “camps” of worship styles in an effort to provide “something for everyone,” earstwhile watering down the existing traditional worship services to create more common ground. In all of these instances congregations have “assumed” that the Youth and unchurched will flock to different worship styles, when in reality it is mostly the traditional folks who are ready for a change. Also, great confusion abounds when this “fractionization” happens, and people lose sight of what is truly important and, I might add, in a very self-righteous manner of defending worship styles.

      In my world, “truly good music is truly good music”, no matter what the style, so therefore “truly good worship is truly good worship”. It has sustenance and quality and binds us together in the body of Christ. Let’s not forget that “corporate” worship is to pray, speak, sing; etc., together as a body of people in Christ. We happen to live in a performance-driven (American Idol style ) society where people love to sit back and be entertained, and in each worship style I have experienced there are those who simply do not participate sincerely, putting worship leaders in a role of performing rather than leading. There is always a fine line present, and the most skillful worship leaders/musicians know how to lead rather than perform. Also, good church music elevates the spoken word in a unique manner, whether by a vocal solo with a guitar or a choir with an organ.

      The best experiences for myself is to be a part of a congregation who keeps Christ at the center, decides who they are (what style of worship fits them best) in their own community, and reflect this in their worship, “doing that” in the BEST possible manner and with GREAT intention. Confusion dissolves and congregations can then get on with the business of Christ in serving the community and one another. Subsequently, the light of Christ shines brightly in the faces of children as they lead worship, in the faces of the greeters on Sunday mornings, to those who visit shut-ins and nursing homes, the food pantry and homeless school volunteers, the youth who help feed the local homeless folks regularly, etc., all creating sustenance and change for the greater good in a community and leading others to Christ while furthering the Kingdom.

      AND, again, as a trained musician, in my experience the time-honored hymns are chock full of theology and meaning and provide a solid foundation for children and Youth with which to build upon for a lifetime of fully expressed worship in their faith journey. I do realize my view may be slanted (musicians and artists can be a little unique in society in general), but that’s my two cents. –In Soli Deo Gloria

      • Thanks for your perspective as a musician, Anne. The “worship wars” are a real and destructive force that damage the unity within and between churches. If only we could all worship God in spirit and in truth, and see the beauty in all our differences. One of the church groups I gather with don’t even sing at all, as we are so committed to spending our time “one-anothering” as our act of worship. That could set off another “worship war” with those who see singing as a crucial sacrament. Oh dear.


        – Kathleen

    • Hi Greg, thanks so much for your thoughts. I think I hear a hopefulness and optimism in what you are saying, and I also feel this “movement” between church “styles” is a reflection of something deeper – a negativity towards institutionalism, a rethinking of theology, a search for smaller community, a return towards simplicity? I do think it has parallels to the simple church movement and that there is a hope for unity and reframing the church in the future.


      – Kathleen

  16. i am in my seventies, I love the liturgy and relish that it is Biblically based. We
    attend a community style Lutheran church, have exchanged many liturgical forms for contemporary repetitive music with good messages. What keeps us there is that Jesus Christ is preached every week, and the sermons are all Bible based. I also like that we have pastors from different denominations.
    Our senior pastor has spent quite a bit of time in Sheffield, England where
    There is a successful movement of open church, home church, going out and
    doing as Jesus did. As a result of all of this modification, we have 30+ small
    groups, and a large Mission Beyond ( $ spent on effective outreach).)

    • I like the sound of your community, Barbara – there seems to be a balance towards unity, one-anothering and mission, rather than anyone holding too closely to “their way”. I find the work in Sheffield very inspiring and think all churches could learn from this model.


  17. yes Kathleen, I’m cautiously hopeful, because I trust the Lord to gather his lambs.
    I say cautiously because even my own idyllic church experience of yesteryear came to an unnecessary and deeply painful end, for the same reason recently failed churches do. I suppose had I been to an institutional church prior to conversion, I might have been able to compare our evolving fracture and been more strategic in my attempt to heal it. As it was, I ended up as collateral damage, and all at the hands of wonderful Godly folks who thought they were doing God a favor to keep things on track. And they were, but God wanted to rip up the tracks and do something different. Apparently only I and a few other saw this.
    It may be the case elsewhere in His family, but I dont know.
    And we are all doing something different of course, just not together.
    So, the point is, God will allow us to take too much time, miss the flares in the night, take the wrong fork in the road, and even die, because of fear, anger, selfish ness et al.
    But when He moves camp, and the pillar of light moves, or the cloud moves, He doesnt slow it down because some wanted to sleep in or take a longer bath.
    But there I go again, so I will sign off.
    cheers sister

    • Hi Stephen, thanks for the link to your article. Following the Praxis Conference on Twitter helped me become more aware of the shift going on. I’m sure it was thought provoking.

  18. Hi Kathleen, I found your article very interesting.
    Thank you for sharing. My point in writing is this: I am 67 years old. I grew up in a “high church” with all the hymns, liturgy and very short “sermon” (dislike that term due to its negative connotation of a parent giving a child a “sermon” about life). Just a lot of form, repetition and recitation. Hardly “worship” to me. That was as a Catholic of 40 years.
    After I accepted Jesus as Savior in my heart, I began attending a non-denominational church which had Baptist-type leanings. By that I mean bible-based, non-pentecostal. The minister “taught” and didn’t “preach”and I hung on every word. After a few years there my new wife asked me to join her church – a United Methodist church. That was 24 years ago and again I’m back into a lot of form, repetition and recitation.
    Our young people no longer attend church because I believe, as you point out, they want “authenticity”. However, there’s very little “authenticity” in a lot of sit, stand, sit, stand, etc., etc. recitation and a short sermon. I would love for our church to come into the 21st century and give the younger people a more spirit-filled service where the spirit has a chance to enter into hearts and inspire us to hunger more for Christ. Remember, there was a time that the current high-church services were once “new” and now they need to evolve once again to attract a younger generation. Please don’t suggest I leave my church because I’m not a church-hopper.
    I just pray that, as a whole, churches will recognize “why” people are leaving and not just recognize the fact that they are leaving.
    Again, I’m 67 years old and prefer a newer (non-showbiz) service where the spirit is present.
    I might also point out that I am the Communications Director for my church (having been in marketing for 40 years prior to retirement) and I hear younger people, including my grown children, saying they’d prefer not to hear an organ and 100 year old, “draggy” music (which they were raised in). I really believe the largest portion of the non-regularly attending Millennials would consider a contemporary service over the old “Traditional” service.
    Thanks for letting me post a comment.

    • Hi Tony, I appreciate your insights and observations, and they have great validity. There is plenty of evidence that young people are drawn to “age-appropriate” and “modern” forms of worship – and why wouldn’t they be?!

      I wrote this article because I’ve been genuinely surprised to see a small but real movement the other way. I only partially identify with this movement – my blog is advocating for non-hierarchical, organic, simple, interactive spaces in our churches, where we can empower and minister to one another, particularly the least of these. In the “church in a circle” we meet in, we don’t even sing, we share our life stories and then study God’s story interactively, and we end by sharing communion as a meal. A very non-traditional approach. On the other hand, this journey has led me to value any hands-on approach to learning, and many of the ancient forms of worship are participatory rather than passive. I see something to like in that.

      Thanks for your input. This article has “gone viral” compared to the rest of my blog, which shows that it is generating conversations and making people think.


      – Kathleen

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  21. Kathleen, great piece. As a church music director I now refuse to use the words “worship leader” since, for years I was ostensibly a paid rock star. My talk of “set lists”, “the gem”, and “impact” became so banal that I basically ran from contemporary evangelicalism in order to embrace something broader and deeper. That said, with no condemnation whatsoever to either my former self or to those friends still journeying there, I find myself seeking to bridge what I am now doing with evangelicalism once again. In the words of Henri Nouwen, we should be seeking not so much for relevance as significance. Thanks again for a clear and thought-provoking piece…R

  22. Hi. Thanks for the article and thoughts. I am not young (44 yrs old) but I grew up in a traditional church environment and left because of all the rules that the church said you must or else… When the Lord recaptivated me, I was in my early 30’s and went to a non-denominational church which was large with several types of services and I honestly, liked the modern/contemporary service but I also appreciated the traditional as well. So, I think a mix of both can be ok. Some modern mixed with tradition sounds just right to me.

    • I connect with what you are saying. I prefer a church where all types of church music can be sung if there are those in the church tha are familiar with the style and want to sing it. The word “blended” describes my take on how we should approach worship. The hymns should reflect the tradition and what is relevant to those who are attending that service or those the church hopes to reach.

      The main complaint that I hear about contemporary/Praise and Worship church music is that there are eleven stanzas. The stanaas are much more difficult to sing. Then there is the refrain or chorus which all the people can and do learn easily.

      Here in the South, many people have resisted singing all the stanzas. This was happening long before Praise and Worship. I there are three stanzas then the first and last will be selected. If there are four, then it is first, second and last.

      I am the worship leader in my church, a United Methodist Church. We sing the only refrain or chorus for contemporary or Praise and Worship hymns. Soloists, small groups and or the choir can sing the stanzas as part of an anthem that will be sung.

      Two words are important to know: One is authentic worship. Any style of worship and all styles of hymns can be used in a service. The service my be authentic and it may not. The other word is liturgical. More on it later.

      To have authentic worship, there must be worship leaders who know Jesus and visit with him from time to time! An authentic worship service requires the main worship leader, the one that gives the sermon, the message, etc. has to want to: Praise God. Make confessions, Give thanks that we have been forgiven, In some way affirm the faith. In liturgical churches the Apostles’ Creed is often used. However, affirming our faith can and should be an integral part of worship. Affirming the faith can be the foundation of the entire service. Visitors should know at kast part of what the people who are worshiping believe when they leave the service.

      Authentic worship will include prayers for the sick, lonely, depressed and so forth. There should be prayers for those that don’t know Jesus and our prayers should include that those who aren’t in a relationship with Jesus get an invitation to do so.

      Then there is commitment. In some way there should be an opportunity for people to make new commitments, to return to carrying out commitments we have committed to in the past.

      The spirit of God needs to be welcomed and be a part of authentic worship. A service where God’s spirit is not welcome is not an authentic worship regardless what is said or done.

      Authentic worship should be about God, not promoting some political or social agenda. The US has freedom of religion as well as freedom of speech. Authentic worship should not have as its foundation encouragement to vote for any candidate or any issue.

      There are committees of the church that can organize relief projects, help those in need, etc. Opportunities for service are fine to be announced and encouraged.

      When all is said and done, the foundation of the worship service is God, not God’s creations, etc. As I mentioned earlier there are components of worship that should be present: praise, confessions, thanksgiving for forgiveness, intercessory prayers, prayers of commitment and …

      The reading of God’s word. I don’t mean a reference to a Scripture verse here and there. An entire section should be read. Most Bibles use paragraphs in such a way that it is easy to know where one passage begins and when it ends.

      The Sermon should be about what God is saying to us through this Scripture passage. People need to hear what God was saying through this Scripture to the people then. And, the people need to hear or come to their own conclusion what God is saying in this passage to us, today and in this place of worship.

      Every style of worship has had authentic sermons as well as also having political speeches that go by the name of Sermon.

      The United Methodist Church is built on two pillers. The liturgical heritage of our mother church the Anglican Communion (Episcopal) and evangelical.)

      Planning worship is very serious for me. Our pastor is committed to both pillars. I like our worship because there are no, “We don’t do that in this church.”

      Liturgical – the real kicker. Liturgical means the word of God. The liturgy for Communion in the Catholic Mass, the Episcopal Divine Liturgy, The Methodist Great Thanksgiving and the Lutheran liturgy mostly is the same words.

      Why? Liturgy means the word of God. Nearly all the main part of the communion itself is taken right out of the Bible. The Baptist churches that I have attended have had the pastor say those same words in the most important words of Holy Communion.

      The reading them from the Bible doesn’t make them any better than reading them from the liturgy of a denomination. They are still the same words.

      The rest of the service may be vastly different. The part I am referring to are the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.

      Music is secondary to having authentic worship. The main point is that the people can relate to what the hymn is saying. Some styles of music are not appropriate for some congregations.

      I’m glad that I try to use a little of all styles of music in an authentic worship service.

  23. I am a millennial and a full time senior pastor. I have seen this trend and have taken part in it. However, I agree that this is all very generalized. Here’s how I’m experiencing it: I love the Lutheran Book of Worship, I love the BCP and other rich liturgies. I use them often in our Sunday worship services. However, I feel no great desire to convert to either one of those traditions. I do feel that they have something valuable to teach me and so I incorporate those lessons into.our church’s worship and it has been marvelous. But we do not avoid contemporary worship. We aren’t wealthy enough to afford the whole praise team thing so we just get by with a piano. But I like to use a variety of contemporary options that aren’t necessarily the “shallow” options many people decry. I suppose if there is a “trend”.it might be better to say that the trend is a.movement away from style as a.measure of authenticity and toward content. For me, ancient liturgies are deeply meaningful, because I love their history and symbolic purpose. But they are no less meaningful than thw original songs my father has written in more than thirty years of ministry. It’s all about the content.

  24. I have a small anecdote to add to this thread. Every day I drive past a movie theatre where a church meets on Sunday. They have a banner in front proclaiming that they are “An awesome Church for the Ridiculously Awesome! Join us this Sunday.” My only thought as I drive by is that they may be trying a bit to hard to attract young worshipers.

  25. Good article – ith the caveat that it should read: “Why *some* young people are seeking old ways of doing church.” In my experience, many young people prefer a blend of old and new.

    author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

  26. I am very active in an Anglo-Catholic parish.
    I cannot speak for others, but for me, the solemnity of the traditional Tridentine Mass (sung mostly in English) speaks to me spiritually and moves me closer to God and His Son Jesus Christ.

    Some people have sought to “modernize” these long-standing liturgical practices. Many of these innovations often border on the ridiculous, such as: Clown masses, where the celebrant and altar servers dress as clowns (no kidding); yet another whereby the celebrant uses huge loafs of fully leavened bread covering at least half the altar; a raucous version whereby anyone and everyone can shout out any time as they believe the spirit moves them; yet another where by the celebrant danced in front of, around, and behind the altar and even down the aisles of the church to thunderous music played by an altar server using computer driven percussion and a keyboard – while wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap.
    Far be it from me to judge anyone’s heart, but this stuff is a bit much.

    • Here,here,I do like your style!Getting into God’s Word is the Key,Worship is for Him after all, not us,right? I do Love the Church, God’s people,to serve,to pray,to learn!But most of all I want to Love God and His people,To Witness, to have a Minister of God that I see,lives His Live,to JESUS,family,ChurchFamily, To serve,and to trust God for the outcome,,

    • I too have come back to a traditional Catholic parish that offers a Tridentine Mass. While I attend the Novus Ordo form (many parts in Latin), the reverence of the Tridentine Mass certainly carries over into all masses. And we have a lot of young people in the parish.

      Clown masses??? Wow, that had to be freaky. The silliest thing I’ve seen was one of the “Six Flags Over Jesus” megachurches in the Houston area advertising a live motocross event on stage as a part of their “worship service”.

  27. I think that many of us – even older folk like me – have a time and a place when different styles of worship fill a need. I usually go to a quiet, said, 8.00am Holy Communion service before going on to lead a Family Worship service where a variety of styles might be needed depending on who is in the congregation. on Easter Morning a 6.00am service united with our Baptist friends was beautiful and we sang 2 hymns unaccompanied out on the village green. But I also love a really rousing songs of praise type service with lots of rhythm and possible loud backing music!

  28. Coming from a Southern Baptist perspective, there is a lot here for thought and consideration. Indeed, I may well use Zhand’s quote this Sunday in my sermon. Part and parcel of the issues at hand deal with the comfort of people in a worship setting. Those who are not part of the community of faith should feel both welcomed and accepted by the those of the body present but also some “discomfort” because what they are viewing is something strange to them; going through the actions of worshiping a God with whom there is no personal relationship should feel strange and awkward, should feel to some degree on the outside. Yet, the Christians of that community must show warmth, love, and acceptance of them to help bring them into the fold. If one is not from the same tradition, there may be some awkwardness because of not knowing the ritual, but there should be a sense of community and connection with fellow believers, all worshiping God. We do, indeed, need something of all the traditions as part of our worship privately and corporately.

  29. I am curious to know if you are familiar with Leonard Sweet’s concept of living in E.P.I.C. times? The acronym stands for Experiential, Participatory, Image Rich and Connected. I see a lot of overlap in this post and his ideas. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to any additional comments you all may have on this.

    If it okay, I would like to also share this posting on my site with some additional comments of my own? If that is cool, thanks!


    • Hi Jason, I’m more than happy for you to share this article and continue the conversation. I’m surprised at how far this article has spread already – it obviously resonates with many people at this point in time.

      Thanks for letting me know about Leonard Sweet’s EPIC concept – I’ll have to read further. I think he and I are on the same page.


      – Kathleen

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  31. For me, the issue is less about liturgy style and more about the trend to (1) forget that we’re there to worship God; it’s not supposed to be about us but about God, (2) to see people perform instead of be servant leaders of worship, and (3) disingenuous/unauthentic connections — whether pastor: congregation, member: member, God/Holy Spirit: church.

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  35. An interesting discussion. I am a 70 year old Episcopal priest in the US, a lifelong Anglican who has been exploring fresh expressions of historically-shaped, sacramental liturgy for 48 years. I have always grounded my liturgical design and curation in the historic eucharistic shape, with the lectionary and the liturgical season as the starting point for whatever we might do, trying to be alert to what the Spirit wants to say in a particular place and time. So there is a givenness, a pre-existing context to the worship. We don’t just make it up. But that groundedness is like a chord structure that enables all sorts of improvisation, engaging all the senses and employing visual and performing arts, theater and storytelling, multimedia and film, movement and dance, etc. No form of symbol or communication is overlooked in the design process. It’s not that you use everything all the time, but that your repertoire of resources should ever remain vast and imaginative. I just curated an Easter Vigil using storytellers, drama, film, music from medieval to contemporary, a didgeridoo around the New Fire and congregational dance after communion. None of the mystery or tradition was lost along the way, but it also felt like a resurrection of holy imagination. Yes, tradition is rich and necessary, but it is also living and continuously unfolding and evolving. Let’s not simply return to some previous era’s idea of tradition, but discover what tradition wants to look like in our own time and our particular communities.

  36. I attended a Catholic Church with my grandmother. In my teens, I was ‘saved’ and attended charismatic churches and even spent a couple of years with YWAM. What I’m going to tell you is simply about personal feeling, which really isn’t a good yardstick for anything.

    I found that people would say a service was ‘good’ if it moved them to deep emotion of one sort or another. When tragedy and crisis hit, I felt very isolated and miserable because I simply could not ‘enter in’ and feel blessed or be joyful. It made God feel like He was light years away. I realised, in time, that I thought a church service should entertain me in some way and when it didn’t, I felt I wasn’t ‘being fed’.

    So I went back to the Catholic church where there is no suggestion the service is about me or how I feel. Its always about God, who is always the same. After the Resurrection, Jesus joined the disciples walking to Emmaus, and their hearts burned when he explained the scriptures, but they only knew Him in the breaking of the Bread.

    Any congregation is a mixed bunch. You’ll have happy people there, or an exhausted parent who has been nursing a sick child through the night. The family who have lost their jobs and fear homelessness. People who have just done well in an exam and others who have a bad cold and just want to go to bed. The minister has to gather all these people up and offer them to the Lord no matter what their circumstances. Nobody has the capacity to feel on top of the world all the time and speaking only for myself, it is easier to live a Christian life that does not depend on emotions. And yes, having rules helps me because I know I have to do certain things whether I feel like it or not.

    Remember that God knows what we are like. He understands us and loves us and wants us to love Him, and if you can do that. no matter where you worship, I think He is pleased.

    • Yes. I’m in my early 30s.This is exactly why I left a lovely lively modern church. There was actually a mix of modern and traditional, but it was quite large with a lot of young people and very busy. Anyway, tragedy hit and I suddenly felt like I was out in the cold and became the sad sack of the hip young things. I found solace in the service at an Anglican church first of all where I knew what to expect (as nothing spontaneous!) and later joined a small untrendy methodist church which considers anything from the 70s modern (!) but gives space and time for reflection.

  37. I grew up in the Pentecostal Church and the church I attended only had communion 4 times a year. I left church for awhile and when I returned it was the Anglican Church that I returned to. Yes we do have some hierarchy but the liturgy and the deep theological understanding of word and sacrament are what drew me to the Anglican Church. I am now a priest in the Anglican Church and our church is filled with the richness of tradition along with charismatic evangelical worship which involves the congregation. Liturgy means the work of the people so if it is good Liturgy it has to involve the people! We are a group of people who love Jesus, share our faith with others, reach out to those in need, and minister to people where they are. Ministry cannot happen within 4 walls!

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  39. (1) I was catechetized with the Westminster Standards in the thinking, scholarly, reputable and Confessional Presbyterian tradition. It took work to learn and get that perspective. That “work” is probably a turn-off to those wanted a buzz without the hard work. (2) I moved towards Anglicanism about 35 years ago from the Confessional Presbyterians. This was the faith-perspective of my Canadian ancestors from 1811 to 1931. Dad always spoke very highly of some Anglican scholars and was profoundly influenced by a Canadian Anglican Navy Chaplain with whom he sailed in the U-boat warfare between the Allied forces and Germans between England, Canada, and the US. As such, I was not reared in Anglicanism, but soon took to the liturgy (the older pre-1979 BCP). I never looked back, although the mainline Episcopal tradition–at the seminary and leadership levels–has been impaired and perhaps ruined by 19th-20th century liberalism. (3) My 4 children were reared in the Westminster Standards and with the old Anglican “Book of Common Prayer.” (4) None of us–children included–have ever or will ever be involved with the gummer, strummer, drummer and dumb-down, easy-buzz, and hot tub Jacuzzi enthusiasts with small theological interests. It interests concerning my own children (3 in the late 20s, 1 in the early 30s). They’ve been around the head-bangers and head-swingers in their travels. They’ll have no part of it. (5) Additionally, I hold graduate degrees from credible Presbyterian and Episcopal seminaries, including ordination and military chaplaincy. Retired now. (6) I somewhat predicted some sort of shift, once the younger crowd realizes the overall shallowness, lack of theology and more.(7) It also helps, from an educational perspective, to have a wife with an M.Mus. in the pipe organ and sacred music. She’s working on her doctorate. We’ve had many discussions about this since about the 1990s. (8) Glad we never caved to the empty-head and head-banger approach to the Sovereign God. I could say more. Just glad the 4 children saw it for what it was–a thinly veiled yet very obvious effort to stuff the pews while offering little else of depth, order, decorum or scholarship. (9) “Before” reading this “today” and “while” driving home from our Episcopal service, I said to my wife, “If I were young, began serious Bible reading, serious theological reading, serious church history reading…and if I grew up with this 7-11 stuff…and if grew up and matured…I’d be pretty angry at the fluff. (10) UPSHOT: we won’t be surrendering the “classics” of theology, history, confessions, liturgy and music.

    • I am 68 and old enough to have lived through all the drums, claves, burlap banners in church with doves and peace symbols, guitars, and bongos; thus passed the iconoclastic 60’s of my college years; all that nonsense came across as gimmickry personified. All the while, churches of all stripes continued to shrink, look like me with gray or white hair and depending on the ecclesiastical ‘franchise’ of the protestant spectrum the music, preaching and worship experience became bland at best, boring at worse. What I find fascinating is that a local Catholic Church which does the pre Vatican II Latin Mass, is packed to the rafters—and not with gray-hairs like myself although a minority are: I emphasize minority because the 600 or so people were in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, attentive. A very solemn and uplifting experience. Hearing young people make the chanted responses to the Latin I knew in my childhood was astounding as well as edifying. Worship was God/Jesus focused and not “let’s all say hello to someone we don’t know.” All that stuff is fake and contrived. And yet, the pastors afterward greeted people warmly. So that which is old—is coming back—dare I say the pearl of great price?

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  42. How enjoyable to read a civil discourse on the Internet! My church has three services, the middle of which is the contemporary service led by a band, and words and lyrics are displayed on a big screen. This service is attended by primarily millennials, but of course there are elder members who like that service as well. We have a smallish number of children attending the traditional services, but as part of our culture we attempt “cross-breeding” events whenever possible and appropriate.
    I guess we are blessed to have pastors who do not reuse sermons. That said, the same sermon I listened to when my first child was born might hit me very differently while I am working through some other life event. That is, to me, the beauty of God’s Word interpreted for us by those who have studied the life and times of Jesus and His Disciples – Knowing that the same words can help/support/challenge every listener in different ways. And in the context of the article, I think somedays the contemporary worship service fits the moods and needs of those in attendance, and on other days, perhaps when they are looking for something more calming or serene or just known from their childhoods, they attend the traditional worship service. Sometimes they attend a different worship service simply because of their schedules that day!

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  45. Great to hear so many evangical and fundamentalist churches put on a phoney face of happiness and incluseitivity as long as u envolve urself in the religion and are only accepted at the religion scribes and pharisees at least the more traditional churches are more honest and more pragmatic

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  48. Thank you for this wonderful post! My teenage daughter announced to me two and a half years ago that she wanted to become Catholic because she “doesn’t need a rock band at church or a drum solo at Christmas.” She felt that the reverent way the Catholics worshipped moved her soul. My husband and I began attending the local traditional Catholic Church and we were surprised at how wonderful it felt to be there. Before long, I was going to mass almost daily and walking forward for my blessing, I was growing closer to Jesus than I could have ever imagined. After a year of attending, we signed up for RCIA classes and last April all three of us were confirmed. I cannot believe that I went my entire life without the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother! Although I have been a Christian most of my life, once I began going to confession and taking the Eucharist, God changed my heart in ways that could not have seemed possible even a few months before. My daughter decided six months ago that she wanted to take up wearing the mantilla veil every time she steps into church. While nobody in our mass wore the veil when she took it up, now several of the younger ladies have also begun veiling as have I. I love humbling myself in front of my lord Jesus as I now know that he is truly present. My daughter took up playing the organ two years ago and now plays the sacred hymns on the pipe organ for mass. Because we live in a world where nobody follows rules, I am thrilled that my God has set boundaries for me. My priest reinforces these boundaries and isn’t afraid to talk about sin rather than telling me that everything is now acceptable because society is more open. I’m in love with the icons, stained glass windows, holy days of obligation, Stations of the Cross, Ash Wednesday, etc. This simple, traditional way of worship feels more authentic to me and my daughter and makes me feel connected to the early church.

  49. The more things change, the more they stay the same. All the superficialities mentioned fail to address the central issue of the very Word of God: his own condescending self-revelation. All the other aspects mentioned are irrelevant compared to what He himself has authored and promulgated through his apostles and prophets, Eph. 2:20. Kids will abandon tradition and re-embrace it ’til the cows come home and it will make no difference because God’s Word Incarnate and Written coextensive and observed by election are the Church’s One Foundation, Jesus Christ her Lord. Soli Deo gloria!

    • Worship, like God, is incarnational, and thus experienced in many ways, shapes and forms. There is no eternal liturgical template universally followed throughout all time. Thus we find not only vast differences over the centuries, but across contemporary cultures as well. One can prefer or feel more culturally at home in one’s chosen form (even while critiquing its inevitable limitations and inadequacies), but to speak of “tradition” as a fixed and universal form which others may only reject at their peril is not descriptive of the adaptive variety of Christian worship.

  50. I’m reading most of thee posts with great interest with a new church plant that will pick up al the lost people who once never missed church but got lost in all the “NextGen” stuff the selfishness of demanding what they never paid for we have st least 1000 waiting for the first service and keep on saying come on let’s go but Easter Sunday is launch day, people of all ages who want authentic worship, and the World, with the whole church gathering together in one place, no youth, no kids Zone just the whole family together for one service on one day, so we shall see and I will Liesl you informed, by the way I served as Associate Pastor in a church of over 25,000 people until it modernized itself almost out of existence including theological changes to suite the no absolutes world in which they thaught we lived and thousand drifted away and many do not attend church any more – tragic

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