At roughly 2:30 of <a href="“>this video, which is very, very good, the Lutheran Satirist makes reference to Lutheran youth leaving contemporary worship services for Presbyterianism. News alert: God’s frozen chosen have been defrosted ever since the First Pretty Good Awakening inflamed the English-speaking Calvinist soul.
Aside from what this video may say about Presbyterians, it does raise questions about the generational divide of contemporary worship. Steve Thorngate thinks the video’s point about using contemporary music to attract the young misses the point of contemporary worship. First he quotes the creator of the U2charist:
The U2charist is a demonstration of one way that liturgy can bring people together to celebrate what God is doing in the world to bring justice for the poor and reconciliation for the world. It is by no means the only way to do so, or even necessarily the best way for your congregation. If your congregation doesn’t really know or like U2, it may feel forced and awkward to use their music without substantial adaptation in liturgy — and if it feels forced and awkward for you, that’s probably going to come across to anyone who does visit your church for the first time for a U2charist. That probably wouldn’t be the best sort of circumstances in which to try such a service; there’s little that’s cool or fun about a bunch of people doing something that they think is no fun at all because they think it would look cool to others.
Thorngate chimes in:
The people I know who have planned and executed U2charists, etc. aren’t thinking primarily about outreach-to-the-kidz either. Neither are the people I work with in my side job as a church musician, where we do several such events each year.
Now, this is a church where youngish adults are already overrepresented, and where the musical culture is nontraditional and eclectic. This is key: the pop-star-themed services are organically related to what we do every week, not some gimmicky departure from it. The morning service makes enthusiastic use of a wide mix of pop music. A U2charist makes sense there, and they’ve done several. The evening service—the one I help lead—is more invested in folk, roots, and country-rock music. A Dylan-themed service (Bob, not Breuer) makes more sense in our context, and I’ve planned and led a couple. We’ve also talked about doing a Johnny Cash-themed service sometime.
Attendance always goes up for these services. But that isn’t really the point. The point is to proclaim the gospel from a new angle, to engage in a fresh way—by taking something that is already part of what we do and giving it a one-week special focus, as other churches do with any number of things. In a context where popular music styles are the norm, and where we decline to observe a strict separation between the sacred and secular when choosing source material, this is a very natural thing.
Thorngate is probably right. Contemporary contemporary worship is no longer aimed at teens. It is now the accepted form of worship for former teens who have now become adults. And that’s why the worship wars are over. We have crossed the rubicon and entered the world of eclectic liturgy, sort of like the United Colors of Benetton.
Still, the Lutheran Satirist is right that contemporary contemporary worship is still cheesy and that the key to retaining the youth is faithful parenting and faithful preaching. If that happens, young people and adults aren’t gullible about the appeal of U2 or LeCrae or Faure in worship.