Of all the things that bother me in so much of what is called "contemporary" worship, perhaps the thing that bothers me most is the practice of having multiple worship "styles" under the same roof. This is a fairly common practice and it is justified by giving people what they want but the damage it does to the congregation is often unnoticed.
At Grace we have two services, almost identical, at 8:15 and 10:45 each Sunday morning -- the same bulletin, hymns, choir, etc... with the exception being we do not baptized the same child at both services -- we pick one. Yet even this practice of two identical services has created two distinct groups within our congregation -- the early people and the late people. Each service has its own identity and manifests its own personality even though the presider, preacher, liturgy, hymns, and sermon are the same. The one thing that brings unity to this diversity is that we all know each other's language of worship and know each other's hymns. We are one in this even though we may be different in other things.
Yet in most congregations the services themselves are different. The "traditional" service is inevitably the earliest service (often at the ungodly hour of 7 am). Then a "blended" service and followed by a "contemporary" service. They often have cutsie names like "Reverent Majesty" or "Blended Praise" or "Celestial Celebration" (okay, okay, I made them up). And it all sounds innocent enough and caring enough -- if you want to go full blown happy clappy, you still want to make the old fuddie duddies at home (since they are the ones with the money), so you make choices acceptable to each taste (as far as is reasonable).
But the forgotten issue in this is how many congregations do you have? Do you have one congregation with multiple worship times or do you have multiple congregations? I am more and more convinced that you have multiple congregations -- distinct and separate and unwilling to be together. The "traditionals" do not know the songs of the others nor do they want to. The "blenders" are there because it is blended and they want the biggie praise choruses mixed in with generic Protestant hymns -- all within a changing ordinary (whatever that is). The with it folks want cutting edge music and no ordinary at all. These folks like spontaneity and surprise and don't want creeds and canticles, rubrics and rules. Unless you are singing "Silent Night" (Christmas transcends all divisions), these groups are separate and distinct and that is how they want it to be.
What does this say about the congregation? When you have three groups with three distinct identities, it does not take long to have three distinct visions and missions. How do you vision cast for three different and distinct congregations? I am confused by this. I have a hard enough time keeping two groups separated only by service times to see themselves as one congregation without all these other distinctions to distinguish them.
The truth is that we needlessly divide congregations and for the worst possible reason (personal preference and "taste") when we offer multiple worship services that are distinct and different and all for the reason of appealing to "what people want."
This is not just about music. The soundtrack of worship is simply the easiest way for me to highlight the differences. This is not just about music -- the more "contemporary" means the less identifiable the order, the ordinary, and even the propers. Many "contemporary" services focus upon one lesson and one only and often that lesson is unrelated to the pericopes. Sermon series abound that keep these folks from the liturgical pattern of the church year and the lectionary.
Our worship wars are not simply about congregations that have chosen different paths but about individual groups within one congregation that have chosen different paths. It is one thing to fight the worship wars between congregations; how do you fight them within the same congregation? We have not even begun to describe the architectural distinctions and logistical needs different to each group -- solved by some by having the "traditional" service in the sanctuary and the others in the gym/worship center/family life building. Again a distinction -- we all meet at the same address on Sunday morning but we go to different rooms and do different things -- is it no wonder that unity is one of the first casualties of diversity?
My point is this. We can go to a buffet restaurant and we can all eat what we want and we can sit at different tables... but are we eating together? Is it possible that we eat together in the same place without sharing the same meal? This begins to sound like one of St. Paul's Corinthians problems... And it is a problem we have yet to fully address.... I love the Chinese buffet but I know that it is different to go there and we each come and go back and forth to the buffet, eating different things... than when we sit at home around the table and eat the same food.