What makes a service contemporary?

A pastor was sent to a declining church in an urban area, and the first year he convinced the congregation that they needed to start a new contemporary service. He also asked that they put in a screen. They agreed to the service but not the screen. The second year they agreed to put money for musicians into the service, and agreed to move the furniture a bit to create less formality.  Still no money for a screen.  The third year, they put more money into the music at the contemporary service. On his own, the pastor set up a portable screen down front on All Saints Sunday, at both services, and showed on the screen the photos of the saints who had died during the year.  They did not limit it to church members, but invited the whole congregation to submit pictures of loved ones who had died during the year.  That Christmas, one woman whose husband had died, and whose picture was shown at that service and at his funeral, donated $10,000 toward having a screen in the sanctuary.  During the fourth year, more money trickled in and the Church made up the rest; by the next All Saints Sunday, the screen was installed.  The fifth year, the church had agreed to divide the total music monies between the two services (instead of the traditional service receiving the lion's share) and the music was again upgraded at the contemporary service.  After five years, and all these changes, the pastor expected the service to be a huge success with lots of new people.  But the church had only experienced a modest increase in attendance for its efforts. Why?

The pastor was at a loss,  so he talked with the few young adults who had started coming since his arrival, and one comment really intrigued him.  "The music may be contemporary, and I admit they aren't bad," a friend said. "We love it here, and we love you; but frankly the church just doesn't have a contemporary vibe".  Before you read further, what do you think that means? How would your own leadership interpret the statement?

As their conversation deepened, the pastor discovered these factors:

a. Their ushers were all 'experienced' from the traditional service.

b. A few of the existing leaders criticized the service to people inside and outside the congregation, saying that it really wasn't even worship.

c. Their nursery services were several notches below what young parents expect today.

d. The pastor preached the exact same sermon at both services.

e. Though the congregation wanted more young people, they did not want anything else at their church to change.

Like American culture in general, church culture is hard to define, and even harder for people to agree on a definition.  But the five items above are clear signs that if your church wants to feel contemporary, all five of these items had to be addressed at the leadership level.  New training is required for all the welcoming team at a new service.  Bad mouthing another ministry in the church should be off limits for any elected leader.  Not a good nursery? Forget getting young families; end of story.  If your sermon really connects well with your traditional service, don't think you can deliver the same sermon at a contemporary service.  It's convenient for the pastor, I know.  But generally it won't work.  Contemporary has to include the message itself, not just the music.  It includes how the congregation participates in the service (as opposed to liturgy), and if liturgy is used, it needs to be written for today, with a mind to whomever it is you are trying to reach... using their language and addressing their concerns, their hopes and their dreams.  The bottom line is:  just wanting young people, even REALLY wanting young people, won't take you very far.  I guess it's better than not wanting them, but it doesn't make your church open and inclusive.  Being willing to change is essential, because one thing remains constant:  

New People Bring New Ideas

This one incontrovertible fact is why your church must transition to an understanding that ongoing change is at the heart of the Christian faith.  Study church history and you will discover that it always has been, even if it takes a resurrection or a reformation to make it happen.