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We've come a long way from the "worship wars." But what's the future look like for modern worship music?

Is contemporary worship music dead? Let’s see what we can do to bring it back to life.

Over the past year, as I’ve had the chance to visit some famous churches, I’ve noticed an overwhelming similarity in the worship: a bent towards performance with little spiritual depth.

A week before last Christmas, I visited a big church who opened their service with the rock version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” I don’t know what it was — maybe the lights, the smoke, the season — but I really thought I’d puke. I’ve never been a fan of doing secular songs in church. My philosophy is: Can’t Jesus have at least 20 minutes of our musical attention a week? I can listen to secular music any time I want.

Then the pastor cussed in the middle of his sermon.

Actually, this seems to be a trend, and not the first famous church last year where I’ve heard the pastor cuss during his sermon. I guess it’s the next step in our contemporary quest to be hip and relevant.

The whole thing is giving me an identity crisis. For the first half of my life I was looked at as the crazy rebel who was bringing rock music into the church. Fresh out of college in a church where I was working, the pastor had to preach a message that I wasn’t of the devil to calm the congregation down.

Now I’m starting to feel like a grumpy old traditionalist. When I go to church, I want to hear rocking, contemporary music, but what these ministries don’t get is that I also want a spiritual experience. I want to connect to God. “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” doesn’t really facilitate that.

I know, the seeker movement argues that secular songs make an unchurched person think, “Wow — this church is cool!” There’s a place for that and more power to them — I’m all for growing churches — but at some point (as Willow Creek has admitted) you have to introduce worship.

Why not have it all? I’ve always liked what Seacoast Church is doing — you’ll hear the most cutting edge, guitar driven music, but they’ll also integrate liturgical (interactive) elements like prayer and candle stations, as well as weekly communion during their praise sets. I’ve felt God’s presence at Seacoast, and definitely not at some other cutting edge contemporary churches.

Bottom line: What can you do this week to make your service more “spiritual”? (Isn’t that a funny question!) Comment below and next week I’ll offer some suggestions.  

Don Chapman Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.

More from Don Chapman or visit Don at

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  • eureeka

    It’s sad to even ask that question! It’s the Church- we are supposed to be introducing the world to God! He loves them so much but we can’t give Him 20 minutes on a Sunday? Sickening… :(

    • Mo Cameron

      Our job is to praise and worship and to help usher in the Spirit of God. We are not there to. Perform but to hopefully get the people in the spirit as well. That’s why contemporary and traditional mix as long as it’s the same message. To show that God loves them and inhabits the praise of His people.

      • Jason C

        I agree with the idea of leaving out the secular. In fact, much of what we hear on Christian radio is not for Sunday morning either. As I worship leader, my mission for Christ is to bring our congregation together to “praise” and “worship” our Father. And if you really want to bring people to your church, give them the un-compromised Word of God. It’s been working for a long time. – Jason Coffey- Crossroads Baptist Church.

  • Danny Orlando

    I always get the theme and scripture before I choose the songs. So every song I select, I try to find a connection to the message. It is not always possible, but we try hard. We also write the opening and offertory prayers to reflect the message in the songs and lead the congregation toward the pastors message. Your point is well take about the secular music and profanity has NO place in the church.

  • Scott

    Santa may be coming to town, but we know Jesus is always around..
    Anyways, wether the worship music is contemporary, traditional, hip hop or whatever you want to call it, I agree that it must glorify our God.
    To me it’s kinda sad that we have to label the type of music that is sung, but I guess the purpose of that is to give the saints or people a choice of what they can worship too and feel comfortable while trying to understand the content of the message being sung.

    May we glorify God
    Singing His word
    Living our lives
    So His song is heard

  • Selvan


    Pure worship must come fort and i think alot of churches are missing this. Its more about how good their worship team is. I must be All about glorifying our Lord Jesus Christ. I am all for worship and i thank my late pastor Lionel Pillay for teaching me about worship. Now that i moved to a new city and a new church, i was so so lucky to find a church that Worship is number one. My pastor Trevor Dolan strives for deeper worship and he just allows the holy spirit to take control.

  • Bill Wireman

    Good article Don, much appreciated. I’m like you, I like the modern music that’s guitar driven as well, but I also believe the Church is responsible to introduce worship to those who’ve not experienced a true worship encounter with God. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Muzikcrafter

    I was the Worship Pastor at one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the country and may I add one if the healthiest according to the top independent researchers. We used secular music regularly, often altering the lyrics to reflect Christian concepts. Frankly I would not have ever signed off on this approach if that was all we did. It was a kind of Trojan Horse strategy which we implemented as a way to get the guard down that the unchurched naturally have up as they enter churches. We quickly moved from that secular-ish place into celebratory praise and ultimately guided the congregation into a worshipful God-encounter that is sorely missing today in our churches, even when they incorporate exclusively Christian music. If the purpose is to look cute and sing well, then many churches have that down pat. If the purpose is to experience God’s presence, we are missing it big time; secular music or not!

  • ounbbl

    Are worships to please mortal humans for entertainment and enjoyment to drum up business and carry out projects, while God being pushed aside for a next chance? Loud sounds with drum beats and guitars coming from pulpit stage, even supposed to be prayer minutes – not any different from satanish verses, i.e. adulterated Scripture text.

  • Christopher Clarke

    Great Article Don, I’m a worship leader from a small church in Australia and every Sunday for me is about making the most of an opportunity to connect with God corporately with other believers. Personal 1 on 1 worship of our God is important but there is something special about corporate worship… But it has to be worship! Anyone can jump up on a stage with the greatest talents, sounds, lyrics etc. but that doesn’t make it worship. Worship is about us focusing on God, giving our all to him, the bible calls it many things but I love the image of it being a ‘Sacrifice of Praise’ it is something given that costs us energy / time / emotion. Its got nothing to do with us in that sense, it is ALL about God.

    I do agree that secular songs don’t need to be used on a Sunday, with a disclaimer… I do see their usefulness when outreaching to unbelievers too, but as a general rule church CHURCH, as you look at the examples in Acts, is about believers fellowshiping and worshiping together, in that sense its not about unbelievers, not that they are not welcome but can us see the difference I am wanting to make.

    I do agree that contemporary churches need to be careful that they are not compromising for the sake or relevance. The bible says we are different so why do we try so hard to be the same sometimes… I know at our church the very thing that has made many people come back interested is because they saw ‘something different to the rest of the world’ they can get what the world offers on every corner, the church needs to offer ‘Different’ being an encounter with the Living God!

  • Jerry Hundley

    At Community Fellowship Int. in Durham, NC, we have a thirty minute, Holy Ghost filled prayer service before each service and when we go into the service there is real worship, with signs, wonders and miracles happening. God is a Spirit and we who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Get real and you will see great things from God.
    Jerry Hundley

  • John

    I wholeheartedly agree that the core issue is the presence of God. It is the fragrance of that that is attractive. If it is about how great we play, I am sorry that even the best of our worship bands is not going to stack up well against U2 or any other popular band that is being listened to. What will set us apart is the Holy Spirit in the middle of what we are doing. And yes, we do have some good bands and can offer a great music program as part of our worship service, but God can encounter people through His Spirit in someones car on the highway. He doesn’t really need that kind of help from us, He just needs us to truly worship Him and He will do the rest. Blessings to all of you serving the church and the Kingdom faithfully every week and seeking to lift up the name of Jesus. On another note, I would encourage all of you to not be hyper critical of those seeking to reach out to people through secular music. Sunday morning church may not be the best venue, but you don;t know where their hearts are at, and you may not know the whole story. I know of someone who was saved when the worship leader felt compelled to play Foreigners “I Wanna Know What Love Is”, and this person was impacted by that. Also, since that song was first produced, Lou Gramm (Foreigner’s lead singer) became a Christian, which sure makes the lyrics of that song more poignant. Lets be careful not to use terms like “sickening” or “disgusting” but rather, let us pray for one another to truly serve God and His purposes. Blessings to all of you, keep on serving!

  • Judy Kalley

    If I was at a service where “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was sung and the pastor cursed during the sermon — That would be the LAST time I ever stepped foot there AND (this may not sound Christian) BUT I would tell anyone and every one I know about the day and name the church and pastor! I go to a wonderful church with wild worship that at times I do not actually care for as I simply do not like the style — it might be rap, techno or what ever and I just did not care for it. HOWEVER, It ALWAYS – ALWAYS – ALWAYS focuses on the LORD and HIS POWER, HIS LOVE, HIS AWESOMENESS. Then the sermons are delivered in a passionate sometimes blunt fashion but always with respect. We have a BUNCH of new unchurched people both teens and older in the church and they find it refreshing, fun and most importantly they are learning to LOVE the LORD!!! You do not ever have to dumb the service down to the lowest common crude level just to be ‘seeker friendly’. That is garbage!


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