The Fragmentation of Worship

Fragmentation is happening everywhere.

You used to simply hear music on the radio, then go to a record store and buy the music. The music world has fragmented: you still hear music on the radio, but you also hear it as the background to your favorite TV show, in video games, in commercials, on satellite radio, on one of those cable TV music channels and on the Internet. You buy CDs at Best Buy, Circuit City, WalMart and even StarBucks or you download MP3s online.

Look at TV—I grew up with ten channels; now there are hundreds…that is, if you’re still watching TV and not surfing YouTube, watching episodes online or buying DVD collections of your favorite shows. You can even watch broadcast TV whenever you want thanks to TiVo (remember years ago when you’d plan your week so you’d be home to catch your favorite Thursday night sitcom at 8pm?)

It goes on and on in virtually every sector. It’s when one main way of doing things fragments into a bunch of different ways to do the same thing.

The church is no different.

George Barna states in a recent article that “For decades, American Christians, who comprise more than four of our every five adults, assumed they had one legitimate way to practice their faith: through involvement in a conventional church. But new research shows that this mind set is no longer prevalent in the U.S.” Here’s the article.

You used to dress up in your finest and attend the local 1st Whatever Church with your family Sunday morning at 11am. The choices are now endless for the 21st century Christian.

If you want to attend church you have traditional, blended, contemporary and postmodern choices on Saturday night, three service options on Sunday morning and some on Sunday night. Saddleback Church has eight (yes, eight!) service style options: Classic, Gospel, Family, Rock, Singles, Ohana (hula music!) Spanish and Traditional!

A few years ago, they said the megachurch was on the way out in favor of smaller, intimate coffeehouse-type gatherings. Doesn’t seem to have happened—you can attend your local megachurch or be a part of the latest rage: the house church movement.

You don’t even have to physically go to church for spiritual edification. Barna’s research also shows that some people who consider themselves religious take part in non-typical religious activities. For instance, there’s LifeChurch’s Internet campus, or you can watch church on TV, or even listen to church podcasts. In a recent USAToday article, I was quoted about religious podcasts.

I have a friend who attends a local church mainly because his wife and kids love it. He doesn’t get much out of the sermons and admits he gets “fed” each week by Erwin McManus’s podcasts. My friend’s physical body goes to church here in Greenville, but his heart attends Mosaic Church in L.A.

It’s now all about having options and choices. What’s fascinating is how quickly all of this has happened. Trends that used to take decades, even centuries, to play out now happen in months and years.

Remember, there was a time when the printed Bible was a novelty. When did the first stained glass appear? Who played the first organ prelude? There have been technological innovations in the church world for 2,000 years. These days, we don’t have the luxury of time to absorb the changes (and that’s why the traditional church down the street who refuses to have PowerPoint, praise and worship and a plexiglass podium is probably dying a quick death).

What are some creative ways your ministry can adapt and have a voice in this day and age?  

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Don Chapman
Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and WorshipIdeas.com. He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.