Churches seek to meld contemporary culture, traditional worship

SANDUSKY Times change, and local churches are taking note. More churches in the area
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Times change, and local churches are taking note.

More churches in the area are introducing contemporary worship music to their congregations rather than the strictly denominational music of the past.

"Our music has changed over the years -- there's more pop within the culture," said Bill Schroeder, pastor at The Chapel in Sandusky. "We believe that form follows function. Some love the traditional style of worship while it doesn't appeal to others. We know we need to worship together and we believe we have the freedom to do so."

According to author Josh Hunt, who grew up in the mission field, contemporary music stemmed from the need to reach people by adding to and building upon what those people are already familiar with.

"To reach people, you have to eat their food, dress their dress, and play their music," Hunt wrote. "I knew if I went to Africa to reach Africans, I would use bongo drums, not pipe organs. Why were we using organs and choirs to reach a generation that listened to drums, guitar and synthesizer? Why did our music sound so different from the culture?"

Contemporary worship services broke loose in the 1980s, but it wasn't until the late 1990s that many area churches followed the trend.

Hunt explained the biggest factor in selecting contemporary songs is instrumentation and feel.

Drums add another distinction, and many feel drums separate contemporary from traditional, he said.

One of the biggest battles though, is bringing those drums into the church.

"People associate drums with bars and rock bands," Norwalk resident Sally Naftey said.

"I know a lot of older folk, more traditional people who have kept that stereotype with them through the years. They feel bringing loud, thumping sounds into the church is disrupting the peace the atmosphere should bring."

Other contemporary instruments include guitar, bass guitar, and synthesizer. The most prominent absence from a contemporary service is the choir and organ, although the synthesizer may duplicate the sound of an organ at times. Pianos may be used in both types of service.

Churches like Faith Memorial Assembly of God in Sandusky, The Chapel and Norwalk's First United Methodist Church use a mixture of contemporary music and a conventional service.

This type of service appeals to a more diverse crowd while still maintaining established families.

While The Chapel has offered contemporary worship since it was founded more than 20 years ago, First United Methodist is taking a simple approach to contemporary service with their first service on Sept. 7.

"It's pretty much a grassroots request from some of our folks," the Rev. Roger Smith said. "They've experienced it in other churches. People are always looking for more opportunities, different ways to draw people in and get the word of the Lord out. We know this is a style of music that appeals to a wider range of folks, an informal worship that might have a different type of appeal than some of our traditional styles."

Smith described the upcoming service as a sharing in praise, music, scripture, meditation and a message in a "new, enlightening way" that still maintains the church's values.

"This is an opportunity to draw in some better praise music, a little bit of jazz," he said. "Focusing on a different style of music will really help us reach out to the community to try this style out together. We feel it will get children more involved in the worship as well."

Julie Pavelich, a member of First United Methodist, said these liturgies provide more laid-back worship as well as a common ground beyond theology.

"The formation of religious identity has changed drastically," she said. "People are less likely to feel any sort of brand loyalty to a certain denomination based on their personal history."

Schroeder said The Chapel has reached out to many people with its non-traditional offering.

"When we first started out, we saw a lot of people really didn't relate well to traditional styles of worship," he said. "I can only speak for the people who come here, but the ones who do come because of that reason. They feel more comfortable in the setting."

Want to go?

What: First United Methodist Church's first contemporary worship service titled, "The Walk"

Where: 60 W. Main St., Norwalk

When: 8:30 a.m. Sept. 7 and each Sunday thereafter