House Of Worship

Worship Disruption: Intentionalists, Modernists & Traditionalists

Good? Bad? Unsure? Part 1

The worship experience these days is quite diverse. Historically, leaders in the Christian faith have provided a form of worship that was steeped in tradition grounded in routine and stability. Many churches still embrace a traditional form of worship.

However, some Houses of Worship (HOWs) are disrupting the traditional form of worship and are embracing the perspective that disruption is necessary in order to keep worship from losing its edge, and to maintain the interests of today’s congregants who are heavy media consumers.

Disruption is a vital technique used by many industries to induce changes, creating new experiences that will engage consumers. For example, let’s look at Apple, which is possibly the most well-known market disrupter. After an initial period of exploring its various features, people eventually get comfortable using their iPhone. Personally, when I reach this level, some complacency sets in. I continue to use the iPhone, but I no longer spend much time “exploring” it.

Then Apple releases a new version of its operating system (iOS). Within a few hours, you would think the world had blown up if you are using social media. At first, social media is ablaze, both praising and criticizing the changes caused by the disruption. The result is that, again, we spend more time exploring our iPhones. I believe that this is exactly what Apple wants us to do. But, in time, this disruption again becomes the new normal…until the next iOS release.

I am seeing a similar type of disruption in the worship experience created by HOW leaders in the United States, particularly in the Christian faith. Progressive church leaders are making an intentional effort to create a fresh worship experience every week. This means that, every week, new music, new teaching and new dramas are presented to the congregation. In addition, the use of video projection, lights, sound, staging and props play a huge role in creating and delivering these new experiences.

There are a lot of reactions from church leaders and congregants to this type of worship disruption (straying from tradition). Thus, we should ask, “Is it good, bad or somewhere in between?” and “What does it mean for our industry??

If you are not familiar with the Christian church, then you might not understand why breaking from tradition is an issue. I assure you that it is a big deal, and there certainly are implications for our industry. Thus, I believe that we need to better understand this issue. To that end, I have talked with worship leaders who are disrupting traditional worship, and I have talked with church leaders who have observed these new worship experiences to gain their perspective. I have also spoken with congregants who regularly attend this type of worship experience and with those who attend other types of worship services. To better appreciate what this is all about, I have created a context here that will help us understand the intentions of the leaders who are using this form of disruptive worship.

After aggregating the conversations, I found three primary perspectives among the leaders. I have labeled them as intentionalists, modernists and traditionalists.

Intentionalists (disrupters) are leaders who create a unique mini-Broadway musical or highly mediated concert type of worship experience every week. They believe that their congregants desire this. The pastoral team and the media team plan every detail, placing high demands on the staff and volunteers to create this experience. The congregation is introduced to new songs, teachings and information every week. These leaders believe that, by creating new (often hyperactive) worship experiences, they can maintain the interest of church members and they will attract new people.

Modernists use many of the same technologies as the intentionalists, but are more conservative with their use. Their stage is brightly lit and the audience light level ranges from dim to moderate. Modernists typically sing, teach and pray. They may sing modern songs or they may sing hymns. Modernists may use moving lights (or not) and theater lighting, but typically in ways that highlight special events that occur during worship.

Modernists believe that it takes a lot of work for musicians, who are primarily volunteers and who have limited time, to learn and then play a new music set each week. Thus, they draw from songs learned over time. Modernists believe that the congregants need a few weeks to learn and embrace a new song. Once they are familiar with the songs, the meaning will “take root in their soul.” They believe that, when the message takes root, people will want more, and thus, will return each week, possibly bringing family and friends.

Traditionalists follow historic forms of worship. They may sing hymns or some contemporary music. They use little, if any, specialty lighting. They may have a good, but simple, sound system and little or no use of video screens. They embrace and practice a historical, traditional or liturgical view of worship. Technology does not play a significant role in their worship experience.

There is much more to these findings that we should understand. Next month, I will explore the responses gathered from leaders and congregants to better understand their perspectives about worship and what this means to our industry. Until then, I would like to know what you think about disruptive worship. Send comments to

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