Worship services have changed a lot in my lifetime. When I was a kid, the worship service was the same every week – liturgy/hymns, choir special music, Scripture & sermon, liturgy/hymns. The first contemporary services kept the same structure, but updated the music and got rid of the liturgy and choir. For the next few decades, that model stuck, with the special music moving around to various places in the service order. In the past 10 years, however, I’ve seen a marked decrease in the use of special music in church services. The intense secularization of our culture has prompted a response, and has caused a shift away from music for “watching.”

Rick Warren summed it up: “More people than ever before understand not only that worship is the top priority of life, but that it is about participation and not a performance or spectator sport.” I would guess that shift will continue and actually intensify as our society continues to polarize – with two exceptions. Churches that directly target the unchurched – not nominal believers, or the “de-churched,” but actual unchurched people [ie no church background whatsoever] – continue to use special music [in particular secular songs] as a “handshake” to the first-timers. It’s a way of saying “I understand who you are and what your life is like.” The most traditional churches will also continue to use special music, because that’s the way it’s always been throughout the lives of those attending. It’s a way to say “I acknowledge the value of holding on to meaningful traditions.”

Where would I fall? Probably primarily in the “worship-only” camp – although, I think there is value to pull out a special music song every once in awhile – during the offering, when communion is being passed, a fun classic rock opener on Father’s Day, when you have the perfect song to set up a particular message – but not very often. Things that you don’t do all the time have more of a potential for actually being special…


Use special music sparingly

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