data from the Fact2000 study
Congregations, like children, are as much a product of their generation as they are a result of their theological parents. Generations make a difference.
Worship styles dramatically reflect the decade when the congregation was organized. That is, congregations that were organized more recently show progressively different emphases in worship from those organized in three previous historical periods.
They report differences in such practices as using creeds and statements of faith, lighting candles or playing the piano or organ in worship.
Generational change has led to a decline in traditional practices of worship and the emergence of new patterns, especially in musical expression. These include using the electronic keyboard, electric guitar or other more contemporary instruments.
Congregational age directly influences the rating of worship as spiritually uplifting. Older congregations are more likely to have changed their worship in the past five years, perhaps because the congregations more recently formed feel that their worship is already contemporary.
At the same time, more recently formed congregations are more willing to rate the spiritual uplift of their worship as very high, while earlier generations are somewhat more reserved. Thus, younger congregations think their worship is more spiritually uplifting, while older congregations are more willing to change. Change has a positive effect on these older congregations. Those older congregations that make changes are more likely to rate their worship as more spiritually uplifting.
But the process of change may be difficult for leaders and disruptive to the congregation.
The impact of change in contemporary worship is clear throughout this report. Changes in worship patterns, especially in using new instruments (electronic guitar and electronic keyboard, for example) have a strong, positive association with congregational vitality, member growth, financial stability and other signs of a healthy congregation. Although we cannot tell if these particular symbols of change will be a passing fad or enduring aspect of worship, they point to a dynamic of change to which some congregations are responding.
But change does not come without the emotional cost of conflict. The tensions around change are compounded when congregations are faced with dwindling financial resources. Congregations report an increase in conflict as their resources become more limited. Or perhaps their resources become more limited because they engage in conflict.
Conflicts around worship are more likely to occur in center city congregations, where social diversity is higher and finances are less available. Conflicts also are more evident in congregations located in new suburban areas, where the funding may not be as limited (depending on congregational size and age) but the pressures to reach contemporary culture are even stronger.
** Data from other sources (such as annual denominational reports) suggest a slight “halo effect” concerning growth in this report, that is, that congregational observers are giving the most favorable interpretation of their faith communities’ real conditions. Although their reported figures may be slightly – but not greatly – inflated, we believe these observers are providing significant insight about what works, and what does not, in their congregations.