Since not everyone has been to one or is familiar with the concept of a “contemporary” worship service, I should probably define some terms and assumptions.
Contemporary worship is about lowering barriers, allowing newcomers to immediately feel integrated into the flow of worship without having to decipher the language, musical style or ritual. Contemporary worship does not require a change in theology or rejection of our heritage. It just asks us to act a bit differently – to get out of our rut and focus outwards instead of tending our comfort zones – in order that seekers feel comfortable when they first join our worship.
We have to be open to different ways of worship, in order to be open to people with different needs and expectations of worship.
Obviously, this is about growth. And, since our numbers have fallen by 50% since 1960 (as a percentage of the population), we should be concerned about growth. If we were to double the number of UUs tomorrow, we would only catch up to where we were 50 years ago. Meanwhile, there are around 150,000 UUs on the membership rolls of US churches, yet a 2001 study showed over 600,000 people self-identifying as UUs. (1) What?
In the summer 2010 issue, UU World had a special section on whether we should, could, or want to change – in the interest of growth – in response to the two major articles in the previous issue. (2, 3) In case we haven’t all read the memo yet, this is important stuff. And worship styles certainly play a major role in who feels welcomed and who feels like a skunk at a garden party.
If you walked into your UU congregation for the first time next Sunday, having never been in a UU service (or any Protestant worship) before, would you feel completely comfortable that you knew what was happening, what was expected, what you would get and give in it?
I will even go out on a limb and offer a quick test of openness to newcomers: if you feel completely comfortable with the music, atmosphere, liturgy and message for four weeks in a row, your congregation is unwittingly turning away people seeking a spiritual home. We don’t want our message to be “if you don’t get it the first time you come, you probably won’t be comfortable here”.
And that is what “contemporary” worship is all about.
1. Higgins, Richard. “Three In A Thousand”. In UU World (Summer 2008). http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/108007.shtml
2. UU World (Summer 2010). http://www.uuworld.org/issues/summer2010.shtml
3. Rason, Paul “Can Unitarianism Universalism Change?” and Rosemary Bray McNatt “Unitarianism Universalism Must Change”. UU World (Spring 2010) http://www.uuworld.org/issues/spring2010.shtml