Some of us at First U Albuquerque have set ourselves to really figuring out what contemporary worship is all about. Since the churches which feature this new religious art form tend to be big, evangelical churches whose mission is to meet people where they are and lead them to Jesus, they tend to have worship at times other than Sunday morning at 11. That makes it a lot more convenient for people who serve on church staffs to visit and learn. (and the first thing we might learn is that a LOT of people prefer to worship on Saturday afternoon.)
Last Fall, we visited the home base of a multi site congregation of about 8,000 people. We noted
1. That the order of worship was dead simple. Singing, Prayer, Sermon, prayer, singing, and greet your neighbors. No affirmation, no responsive reading. No announcements (although the pastor sprinkled some announcements in at the beginning of the sermon). No offering (there was an offering box at the end of some rows). No story for everyone...it was all pretty much for adults. There were plenty of kids in attendance and a full posse of teens, but there were kids classes at the same time. The kids present seem to have been giving a goodie bag, but in no way was the sermon or the music "for" them. They were a passive audience, helped to behave well, and those who didn't like it had another alternative.)
2. The congregation was predominately what I would call "established" young adults in their 30's and 40's. However there were plenty of baby boomers and more than a few elders, many of whom seemed to be a part of three generation families attending together.
3. The music was Christian Rock. Sound levels were kept out of the painful range. (in two churches we went to the poor drummer was seated in a clear plexiglass box to keep the sound level down). The most interesting thing to me about the music was that it was clearly conceived of, not as a message, but as a prayer. A lot of it was a Christian Rock equivalent of "Spirit of Life, Come Unto Me". Only....it was repeated enough that it became, not a reminder of what we believe, but an actual prayer.
4. The messages were skillfully presented but quite thin. Not to mention covering things we didn't believe, like, that 90% of the people of our good state are going to Hell.
5. Did I mention that there were LOTS of people there, at this second of 5 worship services offered at that site that weekend?
6. Some of those people are someday going to say to themselves, "I just don't buy this!"...and walk. If this has been their experience of worship, they are not going to find my church's eclectic but more formal music interesting, no matter how much freedom they are looking for. Nor will it sound like "home" to them.
7. Therefore...we are experimenting with contemporary worship. So that we can be hospitable to the next generation of seekers, most of whom attend churches with bands, not organs.