What’s Old is New…Again
I was speaking to a young man who has three small children. He was telling me how he and his wife decided to start attending a church that offers more "traditional worship" for, as he put it, they realized their children were not receiving the kind of substantial nurturnig in the faith that Lutheran liturgy and hymnody provide. It was a very interesting conversation, one I’ve had over the years with more younger people than I can even remember. Here is a story from Texas on this phenomenon from another denominational perspective.
Posted on Sun, Mar. 05, 2006
Old-time religion is good enough for many
The joyful noise got contemporary, and some faithful craved tradition. Churches are heeding the call.
writes for the Dallas Morning News
DALLAS – A funny thing happened last summer at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas. A shipment of hymnbooks arrived, and not by mistake.
Lake Pointe is a megachurch with contemporary-style worship. Years back, it dissolved its choir and got rid of its hymnals in favor of Christian "praise" music, played by a rock band, with lyrics flashed on big screens.
But in August, sensing demand, the church debuted its "Classic Service," an early-morning alternative with choir, piano, organ and lots of congregational singing – out of those shiny new hymnals.
The first Sunday, Pastor Steve Stroope and his staff prepared a room for 200. Nearly twice that many came, forcing a move the next week to the church gym. A second batch of hymnals was ordered. The service now regularly draws 300 to 350, with chairs covering the basketball court.
"We’ve scratched an itch," Stroope said.
Call it a counterreformation, or a rearguard action in the worship wars. But more and more churches that cast their lots with contemporary worship are beginning to innovate through tradition, giving folks some old-time religion – especially hymns.
Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., founded by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, is famously and influentially contemporary in worship style. But last September it added a Sunday service called "Traditions," complete with hymnals, to its several worship options.
"Although it is not one of our larger venues, it is extremely popular with those who attend," said Gerald Sharon, part of Saddleback’s pastoral staff.
Across the country and across denominations, there are churches that feature contemporary worship but offer a traditional option. Quite a few, including Allentown Presbyterian in Allentown, N.J., and Spokane Valley United Methodist in Spokane Valley, Wash., use classic to describe the service.
"Classic makes me chuckle. It sounds like oldies rock for boomers!" said Mark Miller-McLemore, an assistant professor of the practice of ministry at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville. Others, including Stroope, said the word reminded them of Coca-Cola
Classic, a term born of the New Coke fiasco.
No one can dispute that the contemporary-style worship has helped churches grow by pulling in "unchurched" young and middle-age people, who tend to like the informality and rock-influenced music. It is still far more common to see a mainline church experimenting with a contemporary service than a contemporary-style church trying out tradition.
But some students of the contemporary style say that much of its music lacks the melodic sophistication of enduring hymns, or the poetry and doctrinal depth of lyrics penned by such writers as Charles Wesley ("Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"), Isaac Watts ("When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"), Fanny Crosby ("Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine") or Thomas Dorsey ("Precious Lord, Take My Hand").
And while traditional worship can be stiff and uninvolving, the contemporary experience – music, big screens, mood lighting – is often derided as "church lite."
Stroope, 52, describes himself as equally fond of contemporary Christian music and hymns. He signed on as Lake Pointe’s pastor in 1980, a few months after it was founded by seven families in an abandoned bait shop. Now, Lake Pointe has 10,000 members and a $12 million budget – and the contemporary-style worship is clearly one of the reasons.
But as Stroope watched the church grow, he worried that a percentage of its loyal members were gritting their teeth through the electrified praise music.
"We just really felt led that there was a group of people in our church that come out of the builder generation [pre-baby boomers] who very graciously, because they love everything else about our church, tolerated our style of music," Stroope said.
"I just realized that we had grown to such a size that we probably had a critical mass of those folks."
To run the classic service, Stroope recruited the church’s senior adult pastor, Lyn Cypert, and hired Don Blackley, a veteran Dallas-area Baptist minister of music.
The choir has done Southern gospel, various hymn arrangements and some fairly new pieces that have made their way into choral repertoire, including one by acclaimed British composer John Rutter.
"I’m challenging the heck out of this choir," Blackley, 64, said. "There’ll come a point when we’ll do something from Beethoven and Handel, but it’ll be sprinkled in. We’ll find ourselves more often doing gospel and hymns."
As for the worshipers at the Classic Service, they, too, skew senior. Jerry Walker, 66, of Rowlett, is among the regulars.
"What’s incredible to me is, you’ve got the freedom and acceptance Lake Pointe offers, yet now you’ve got the traditional service, too," he said. "The music that’s in the contemporary service – well, it’s just harder for me to sing along with."
Quite a few middle-age folks attend the Classic Service, along with a sprinkling of younger adults, such as Brad and Cindy Bianucci, who take their three small children. The music draws the Bianuccis, as it does Oria Mason, 50.
"If I was 20, I’d still be coming," he said. "I love to hear good ol’ gospel. I was brought up with it. It sticks with you."
On a recent Sunday, the choir sang a hymn familiar to most Baptists – "I Surrender All." But the arrangement, by Mark Hayes, was different and arresting, beginning with a bluesy alto solo, moving to accompanied four-part singing, then to a brief a cappella section, then to a rousing finish by singers and instrumentalists alike.
And when it was over, some deep-voiced men in the congregation provided a classic response.