Notes from the Shore

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Traditional vs. Contemporary, and the Myth of Blended Worship, Part II

In this second part of my article on Traditional and Contemporary Worship, we get into the first of the fundamental concepts that define Contemporary Worship as I see it.

Part 2: Flow

“Flow” is used to describe the way the worship transitions from one activity to the next. It is also somewhat dependent on what two activities are being strung together. In the example given in part 1, the congregation is constantly being moved from one type of activity to another – singing to listening, sitting to standing. Flow depends on a continuity of activity, with more gentle transitions.

This is not to say that a service must strictly consist of just the music, then the intermediaries (offering, announcements, etc.) and then a sermon ended with a closing prayer. There is room for variation. I have lead worship services where the announcements and offering came after the first song. However, that was followed by an uninterrupted 20-30 minutes of worship. It worked because after the first song the congregation was not yet in “full-on” worship mode. Some had come in a little late; ushers were still seating people; conversations were winding down; essentially there were distractions – people were still getting centered.

This opportunity to get centered on God is the fundamental difference between contemporary and traditional worship. In the “traditional” worship illustration above, the congregation was never allowed to get into “full-on” worship mode. It takes more than a single song for most people to get there. (An exception to this is when the congregation is mature enough that when they come on Sunday they have already prepared themselves to encounter God’s presence). However, the practice of scheduling the worship service such that the bulk of the congregational singing flows back-to-back, with as little down time between songs as possible, will help to establish the flow that is a benchmark of contemporary worship.

A second practice that aids or hinders flow is the way in which a song list is constructed. As a rule, congregations react best to starting with exuberant praise and gathering-type songs that are higher tempo and energy. “High Praise” as it is sometimes described, is a very corporate activity. Talk to people who are in the habit of worship at home, by themselves, and you will find that most of them spend most of their time in more intimate, quieter worship.

Once this excited “high praise” has run its course, congregations are generally ready to move to a quieter, more intimate time of worship. This time can be closed out with a time or prayer, or moving back into a more exciting song of praise. It’s also a good time to transition into a time of intercessory prayer. It’s the jumping back and forth that should generally be avoided. Again, these are not hard and fast rules, but rather general guidelines that work in many, if not most situations. It has also been my experience that it takes, again, a more mature congregation to adapt to variations from the methodology.

Next time we will explore the second, and more important, concept of Contemporary Worship  “Connection.”

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