Replant Reality: ‘Don’t Ask Us to Change the Music Style’

By Bob Bickford

Revitalization/Replant Reality: We haven’t grown in decades, we don’t have any children, and we aren’t reaching our community. We fear we may close soon, and our community wouldn’t miss us. But don’t ask us to change our music style!

I’ve met more than one congregation that was so committed to their style of worship that they rejected any suggestion of change to their liturgy – even if that change could lead to a more vibrant and transcendent experience of exalting the living God in their gathered worship.

When did worship become about us?

Somewhere in history, the way people began to describe a church’s Sunday gatherings became both defined and intertwined with music. Worship was the music part; preaching was the centerpiece (unless you attended a “music-driven church”). And sadly, the most alarming part of this shift is that worship began to be defined as good or bad based on it being in line with our preferences or giving us some sort of experience.

Gathered worship is about God, first and foremost. We gather to declare his worth in confession and song. We meet for the purpose of hearing the word taught from the Scripture. We pray and respond to the truth of what we hear. Worship isn’t about us. It is about a living, holy, transcendent, righteous and eternal God.

When did we lock in on a particular style?

In the ‘80s-‘90s many churches were engaged in what came to be known as the “worship wars.” Today, many believe those wars are over.[1]  What happened? In part, at least initially I think, we sorted our churches based on style. As the dust settled and membership rolls shifted, we no longer had the major tensions from those earlier decades. The apparent peace brought with it something perhaps even more damaging to believers and their churches: entrenchment. Tensions had ceased and dialogue ended, but gone were the helpful challenging comments and critiques about our worship gatherings that God worked in and through. Congregations locked into a style or preference – and for many that’s just fine.

What is God calling us to do?

I believe God is calling us to wake up and understand that worship is more than music and style. Worship is the passionate declaring of God’s worth and glory. It is about engaging with the truth of Scripture. It is about understanding our place and our response, considering who God is and what God has said.

My good friend, Dr. Joe Crider[2] says this: “If your church’s concept and definition of worship is woven together by a thread that looks and sounds like music, your church is missing out on what biblical worship is.”

What if every church, regardless of its style of worship or liturgy, determined to re-evaluate their worship in light of God’s glory – and then plan worship elements that illuminated, inspired and mobilized God’s people for mission?

I think we would see fewer churches be worshipping out of preference and move to worshipping with passion.


Published June 9, 2023

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick