Jamie Brown

Worship At A Crossroads: Congregationalism Versus Performancism

The worship wars are over.

The worship wars were a battle between organs and guitars. Choirs and praise bands. Robes and blue jeans. Hymnal versus projector. Traditional versus contemporary. Old versus new.

They were mainly about style. The genre of the music, the instrumentation, the attire of the pastors, the vehicle for musical notation (or lack thereof), the authorship date of the songs.

And now, by and large, those wars have subsided and a delicate peace has settled in. Churches either went full throttle in one direction, and left any detractors in the smoke (and those detractors found a different church), or they went the “blended” route and offer multiple service styles in multiple venues in order to appease the factions and prevent them from killing each other. A small amount of churches survived the worship wars with their worship ethos in tact. Good for them.

Now we are at a worship crossroads.

This conversation isn’t so much about style. It transcends style.

This is about substance. It’s more about the “And so?” and less about the “And how?” It’s more about the heart of the leaders and less about the preferences of the worshippers.

This is about a fundamental distinction between two models of worship leading (irrespective of the style of music). The first model views the congregation’s engagement as integral. The second model views the congregation’s engagement as incidental. The first model I call “congregationalism” and the second model I call “performancism”.

Congregationalism: a model of worship leading that views the engagement of the congregation as integral to the success of a worship service.

Performancism: a model of worship leading that views the engagement of the congregation as incidental to the success of a worship service.

Engagement: the congregation’s active participation, in unity and with comprehension, throughout the majority of a worship service.

Gone are the days when the argument could be made that organs equaled bored congregations and guitars equaled revival. That argument has been destroyed over the last two decades as the embrace of “contemporary” expressions oftentimes resulted in drastically diminished congregational engagement in worship.

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