(Photo: Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church / Abe Cardenas)
A Florida megachurch has axed its traditional and contemporary Sunday worship services, refusing to continue down the wide path of segregated worship.
Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale now offers only one service at 10:15 a.m. with, essentially, blended worship – that means no more separation based on age, likes and comfort.
The aim by church leaders, including Senior Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, was to unite the congregation and demonstrate the power of the Gospel.
"The best way a church can demonstrate unifying power of the Gospel before our very segregated world is to maintain a community that transcends cultural barriers," Tchividjian said in a sermon earlier this month. "The church should be the one institution, the one community – this countercultural community – in our world that breaks barriers down."
Tchividjian, grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, has lamented that "segregation seems to be as prevalent inside the church as it is outside."
He recognized that many churches in the U.S. are following the lead of the advertising world by targeting specific age groups and employing the separate contemporary and traditional worship services model.
"That may be good business but it's bad worship; it's bad church," he stated plainly.
He listed some of the drawbacks of segregated worship. In a traditional worship service, the church inadvertently communicates that God was more active in the past that He is in the present, he said. In a contemporary service, the church communicates that God is more active in the present than He was in the past. But a church must communicate God's "timeless activity," he indicated.
The megachurch pastor also said he doesn't view separate worship services by style or age as any different from racial segregation, except that it's more subtle.
"Generational appeal in worship is an unintentional admission that the Gospel is powerless to join together what man has separated," he explained to thousands of worshippers at Coral Ridge.
"Since the Gospel is the good news that God reconciles us not only to Himself but also to one another, the church should be breaking down barriers of separation and not erecting them," he added. "[B]uilding the church on stylistic preferences or age appeal is just as contrary to the reconciling effect of the Gospel as building it on class race or gender distinctions."
It's been over a year since Tchividjian was installed as senior pastor at Coral Ridge, which was founded by the late evangelical Dr. D. James Kennedy. The megachurch has long offered two distinct worship services – one led by a contemporary worship band and another led by the organist. But the result was "the unintentional development of two different churches under one roof," Tchividjian lamented. And it wasn't healthy, he said.
Coral Ridge leaders began at the end of spring to discuss ways to unify the large church.
This past Sunday, the church broke down what Tchividjian called a thick wall and began worshipping together in one service. About 2,000 attendees sang a mixture of songs from the "Hallelujah Chorus" to "In Christ Alone" with the organ and worship band on one stage.
The congregation expressed their support and enthusiasm for the blended service as they applauded throughout the worship, according to one Coral Ridge member who asked to remain anonymous.
"Everybody liked it," she said.
Explaining the significance of removing barriers, Tchividjian told the congregation, "The only way to know God deeply is to have many different types of Christian people in your life since each person will reveal a part of God that you cannot see by yourself. That means this: that the great tragedy of segregation is not so much that we see less of each other but that in seeing less of each other, we see less of God."
The Coral Ridge pastor said he believes the move toward unity will "catapult us into a sphere of togetherness that is unlike anything we've ever experienced."
"God will bless it and as a result we will become a blessing – a bigger blessing – to this city," he said.