A typical evangelical service is 4-5 upbeat encouraging choruses and a sermon. Generally there is not confession of sin, communion happens once a quarter, and generally all communal readings are avoided, liturgy is considered spiritually deadening, and if old hymns are sung, an apology or explanation is often provided as to how, although they are old, they still have some worth. Surprisingly, what is avoided almost more at contemporary evangelical churches is traditional exposition of scriptures. That is considered very old fashioned and certainly too boring for most people. What is provided are bullet points, life application lessons, and perhaps a brief connection to a verse at the beginning or end of what the pastor wants to share. In short, tradition– particularly church tradition– is not valued much.
Of course there are exceptions to this anti-traditionalism and anti-exigesis. But generally, tradition is more often than not thought to be the stumbling block for the young– either let go of your tradition (it is said) or prepare to lose the next generation. Guitar driven worship with practical and motivating life-application lessons are where its at.
I was talking to a younger friend recently who has been looking at various churches, trying to figure out where to go. He’s visited a more traditional liturgical service recently, and what attracted him was not the 45 minute sermon– it was only a 20 minute homily– and not the upbeat praise songs– they sang old hymns. The fact that the congregation together said two of the creeds (the apostle’s creed and the nicene creed) and the Lords prayer together, and the time of personal confession and then going up front for communion were what were real draws for him. He is not old, he is young– but yet upbeat guitar driven worship and life application bullet points were not where he was at.
One young parent friend recently said to me that really what makes or breaks churches for most young families is if there is a strong childrens ministry– because parents want a safe place for their kids to go during service so the parents can concentrate without distraction.
But another young parent said just the opposite– that he would like his kids to be expected to simply sit through the service and have the discipline to be quiet.
It is certainly hard to make everyone happy with the way one does things at church, and no matter what you do, someone will probably be unhappy. But still, many churches are driven by the pursuit of ‘relevant’ services which speak to the contemporary culture.
It is likely that evangelical churches are the best at incorporating contemporary popular culture into their services. That is because they try so fastidiously to avoid all tradition and anything that hints of ‘church culture’. But culture is simply impossible to avoid. Every business, every church, every school, every community and even every family has a ‘culture’– whether they try to or not. So when you do what you can to avoid connections to the past, all you have is the present– contemporary culture. So evangelical churches are especially adept at adopting contemporary culture– because more often than not, they have no other culture, or at least because they try to not have one, in the pursuit of contemporary relevance. Without any strong sense of the holy, and the me-centered focus of the (my)life-application sermons, and nothing but contemporary culture, one often ends up with an amalgamation which is often Oprah/Dr Phil meets a country-living aesthetic.
That, I believe, is unfortunate.
It is also why low-church evangelical churches are not the choice for many under-50 people who grew up in that type of church. In an age of uncertainty and rapid change, many of us are attracted to the stability of tradition, church spiritual habits, physical practices (going up for communion) and stained glass windows. And its not because we are looking for something more immanent– we are simply tired of the immediate-contemporary-immanent focus. We want something transcendent, and the meanings and symbols of more traditional practices and forms bring a sense of transcendent which is wholly lacking in contemporary culture.
From my perspective, this is why it is a dead end for the church to imitate and mimic contemporary culture– contemporary culture is devoid of the holy and transcendent.