Was Blended Worship Ahead of Its Time?

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Few worship trends have died quicker than the idea of blended worship. In fact, many of us may have even missed it. So, let me remind you. About a decade or two ago, when contemporary worship was just beginning to hit a tipping point, traditional churches all over were wrestling with what to make of this new movement, and what unfolded is often referred to as the “worship wars.” In the midst of that heated moment, a handful of sincere but perhaps naïve peacemakers spoke up in congregations everywhere suggesting that rather than warring over style, what if churches simply blended the two styles – contemporary and traditional.

Like most compromises the idea of blended worship was unpopular from the beginning. A few congregations risked it, believing it to be the only option left to them besides splitting in two. The Sunday worship experience that emerged in many of those settings had a “I get mine, then you get yours” spirit to it; a little Tomlin for me, a little anthem for you, a screen for me, a pew for you. The result in most communities was that no one was happy and the worship wars were exchanged for worship whiplash. In the end, most churches did away with the blended experiment and chose one specific style or offered two separate services.

The church I currently serve decided to offer both traditional and contemporary styles and has been doing so for the past ten years. This month will mark another significant moment in the life of our church as we launch of our first multi-site campus. The process of becoming a multi-site church has also been challenging and raised a number of questions. Perhaps the most frequent question I receive as the campus pastor is about worship style. The assumption most folks have is that this new site will be like our current contemporary service but perhaps a bit darker, louder, and hazier; more contemporary – maybe “modern.” But that’s not where we’ve ended up.

The Sunday morning worship experience at our brand new campus might best be described as blended – but it’s different than the blended services of a decade ago. Perhaps the most significant difference is that our community didn’t arrive at this form via a reluctant compromise, but rather a deep sense of admiration for the strengths of both contemporary and traditional worship styles. Unwilling to live without the gifts of either, we began to experiment with combining the two in an effort to create an environment both rich in tradition and accessible, reverent but still expressive. Discerning which elements to include on any given Sunday and how to incorporate them artfully hasn’t always been easy or smooth but it has been rewarding. Lately, we’ve begun to receive a number of visitors from both our contemporary and traditional services who all seem to be surprised and even delighted by the worship experience. No longer a war but a love fest. Perhaps blended worship was just ahead of its time? I guess we’ll see.

Image attribution: maxuser / Thinkstock

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Justin is the Campus Pastor of Church on Morgan, a multi-site community of Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, NC and holds a M.Div from Duke Divinity School and a M.S.W. from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He and his wife Nicole have two children, Levi and Stella.

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