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W Is for Worship – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Oct 092007

I have began visiting churches in the South Loop where I live. I have been processing their services theologically by writing about them. I have decided that I am going to post what I find. But I thought that the first post should be a general overview of worship styles in the United States. There are three main worship styles: traditional, contemporary, and liturgical.

I grew up in the traditional evangelical worship service. This includes singing traditional Protestant hymns accompanied by a piano, organ, and if the church is large enough a choir. Normally four or five songs are sung, the pastoral prayer is given, the offering taken up, and the sermon preached. There might also be an altar call after the sermon. Communion was served once a quarter, so it didn’t become an “empty ritual.” But there are many traditional congregations that practice communion monthly. The service is done from scratch Sunday to Sunday with the pastor (and staff if the church is large enough) picking out the songs, picking Scripture to preach from, and prayers.

The contemporay worship service has comtemporary choruses and sometimes songs (they’ll even throw in a hymn once in a blue moon). They have the praise band and team leading the singing part of worship. These services will also incorporate dance and drama. The sermon is usually about a felt need and there is a lot of PowerPoint presentations. The sermon also tends to be interactive because outside of singing the congregation tends to be sitting and observing for a lot of the service. Of course offering is taken up, and like traditional churches, communion is observed monthly or quarterly. As with the traditional service, the contemporary service is created from week to week.

Liturgical services have a set order every week written by the denomination or church. Normally there is a book of worship with prayers, Scripture readings, and responsive readings for that Sunday (the Catholic Missal or the Anglican Book of Common Prayer are examples). This service also uses the lectionary, which contains four readings for each Sunday: Psalm, Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel. All four readings are read during the service, and the priest or pastor preaches on one or more of the readings for that Sunday. There are a lot of different forms of active worship in liturgical services for the congregation: reponses to the priest or pastor, singing, prayers, responsive readings, praying the Lord’s Prayer, and reading one of the Creeds. This kind of service also does not revolve around the sermon as do the former two services. Everything in this service leads up to Communion, which is celebrated every week.

These are the three main styles of worship. Of course, many churches use a combination of two or all three. My favorite order of worship can incorporate elements of these three worship services. That will be the subject of my next post.

Related posts:
A Via Media for Worship

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  3 Responses to “W Is for Worship”

  1. […] posts: W Is for Worship […]

  2. Te rich tradition of liturgy offers answers to contemporary service structures. I been visiting various congregations both emergent and innovative to get a flavor of what is happening in the post-Christendom context. Two things immediately come to mind.

    First from your article, responsive elements seem to be lacking in many venues. What happens after what seems to be an important message at some Sunday services is little in terms of an adequate response. I suppose there is the option for some to go online to the congregation’s blog to comment or perhaps small groups take a moment to reflect on the previous week’s message—I cannot say. In short, adequate responsive elements seem to be lacking.

    Second, I have become somewhat critical of many “contemporary” worship songs because they often focus on the individual in worship rather than highlighting the reality of the Gospel. The over use of first person pronouns tends to isolate the worshipers into a private devotion or no worship at all rather than promoting the unity the Spirit seeks. Salvation comes across as overly personal at the expense of celebrating the good news of God’s loving act in Jesus Christ for the whole world. If seekers and the de-churched are a main constituency for which the music must involve, it seems to me that blending or inviting them into the mix of the church through the use of language may serve as a catechetical approach of training them to be participants in the body of Christ while turning them from a narcissistic individualism we often lament.

  3. I agree with you. Have you read what I thought about my experience at Willow Creek Chicago? I pretty much say the same thing you did in this comment. Thank you for stopping by.

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