Should Churches Have Multiple Worship Service Styles? Consumerism or Contextualization?

I'm often asked about whether churches should have multiple services. It's a big question because it addresses issues of preference, consumerism, and mission. I've been thinking about it and wanted to ask your help to ponder it further.

This is another one of those areas where the pendulum seems to be swinging. When "praise choruses" were being introduced into corporate worship around the 1980s, churches that begin to use them were typically considered to have "blended worship," whereas churches that did not had "traditional worship."

After a few years of "worship wars," many churches decided to create multiple services based primarily on worship styles or worship preferences. As a result, the "Traditional Service," which normally had the backing of the older members (often with those who gave most of the financial support to the church), got the coveted 11:00 AM time slot, while the younger members (with little children) had to drag themselves and their half-dressed, unfed kids to church by 8:00 AM or earlier in some cases.

In many of these situations the reasoning for the multiple services had nothing to do with any kind of strategy. But it also isn't fair to assert that in every case people were simply looking to have their consumerist needs met. Some were, and some were not. But, I think this requires some thinking.

First, I do have an issue if churches have multiple services for the sole purpose of being the "style buffet" for the membership. Too many churches have fully consumed consumerism, a trend that desperately needs to change if we are ever to engage our context wisely. It has proven impossible for us to constantly feed our own preferences and have any appetite left to help the actual needs of those outside the satisfied family.

Not only is the situation symptomatic of consumerism, it leads, in a practical sense, to issues of budget. To do multiple services well means staffing for different kinds of music that can mean multiple employees each gifted in their particular genre. If all musicians are paid as well, then a church may find itself with a tremendous outlay for salary and resources simply to satisfy the preferences of the membership. With nearly 7 billion people in the world--many of whom have never heard the name of Jesus--I find the idea problematic. But, until our people are taught to find their contentment solely in Jesus, rather than having their preferences indulged, this will only continue. If you're simply coming because this is 'my kind of thing,' then it's just pandering to the consumer preferences of Christians.

Yet, I also think that some churches have moved to multiple services for more strategic reasons – like engaging their community. (I am not addressing multiple services of the same kind/style here, those provoke much less debate and concern.) But, I am considering multiple "styles" of worship in one church. Though there are complicated issues here, I'd encourage us to consider one of the main concern has to be motivation – why does a church create multiple services?: to pander to consumer needs or faithfully engage additional people. The fundamental question: is the idea motivated by consumerism or contextualization?

When multiple worship services with different styles are created because a church has a desire is to create opportunities where people can worship God in spirit and in truth, their motivation is much better than simply creating consumer room. If their desire is to create a new place from which they can reach out to people in a certain cultural context, that seems a better-- even an appropriate-- motivation.

I imagine not everyone will feel that way, though.

It the right motivation is present, and this is an appropriate means of contextualization, then not only will traditional churches be expected to have a more contemporary service with the context demands it, but contemporary church plants might be expected to start a traditional service if it will be appropriate for their area. Thus, the approach isn't simply about starting contemporary services; it's about reaching the culture, no matter what kind of service must be started.

So, the same end – multiple worship service styles – are either a bad idea or perhaps a good one, based on the motivation that brought it about. The fundamental question: is the idea motivated by consumerism or contextualization?

At least one flagship church (Coral Ridge Presbyterian) recently stopped having different styled worship services, returning to a single service that blends orchestration, a band, a 50-voice choir and the 6,000-pipe organ. This is fine and I understand their desire, but I do think that pastors and theologians who forbid multiple-styles of worship services have locked themselves into an extra-biblical command that is not necessary and may not be the right approach at all times. It was right for Coral Ridge, but I would not want to make it a rule that multiple worship service styles are inherently wrong.

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Adapted from Ed Stetzer's weblog at

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