I see the 3 main reasons for the decline (if not demise) of the commercialized "Praise & Worship" model.
(1) Younger generations are seeking old ways of doing things. This thankfully means an increasing rejection of the church of the 1990s and 2000s. More emphasis is being placed on liturgy and community, and less on using corporate worship chiefly as a contrived evangelistic tool. There is a burning desire to move past the shallowness of contemporary evangelicalism.
(2) Contemporary worship is an unstable and non-theological movement. To be thoroughly contemporary necessitates a slavish allegiance to the new, the current, the hip, the cool, and the commercial. It requires a thorough rejection of what is old, passe, not current, not cool, and what doesn’t make money. The bright shiny objects that get butts in the seats must continue becoming brighter and shinier. This bait-and-switch tactic is wearing thin.
(3) It's a failed construct. Even by its own standards (i.e., number of butts in the seats) commercialized, contemporary praise & worship is a failed experiment at the congregational level. While it may fill ostentatious megachurches and suit their money-changer business model, it is an AstroTurf approach when congregations work best with grass-roots approaches.
Here are a few ways we can push forward toward a more profound understanding and experience of corporate worship.
- Choose music that can be sung well by a congregation. Corporate worship is about a time of gathering together, not about conformity to commercial forms. The "Praise & Worship" music that the Christian industry produces deemphasizes the human voice, and emphasizes soloistic interpretation, affected vocal production, and contrived performance.
- Stop conditioning attendees to be spectators. Look for liturgy, not entertainment. Worship is supposed to be the work of the people, not the jesusy entertainment of the masses. Music in worship isn’t supposed to be a vehicle for emotional manipulation, sensory gratification, or hooking an audience. Be a church where music serves the liturgy, not the masses.
- Reduce the influence of the commercial worship industry. It should disturb us greatly how much of contemporary worship is driven by money. It leads to a Sunday morning flood of poor compositions, both musically and theologically. It leads to what Michael Raiter calls “Hillsongization,” when everyone sings the same songs in basically the same way. It leads to the quality of a church’s “worship” being judged solely by how good their cover band is. It leads to a further loss of the importance of gathered worship, and the understanding of “worship” as more than just cool music. It leads to the mentality of, “With my iTunes, I can worship anywhere!”
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