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Should Churches Have Multiple Worship Styles?

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 began 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 a.m. time slot, while the younger members (with little children) had to drag themselves and their half-dressed, unfed kids to church by 8 a.m. 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, which 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.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.