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Blurring doctrinal distinctives with Church Growth

Last week I discussed how the Praise and Worship movement has blurred important doctrinal distinctives between churches and denominations by making musical style the predominant issue for church identity and for choosing a church.

694c87243c_1791_2012-05-12euphoria-vp165-2The church growth movement built off this tendency to define a church’s identity by musical style and recognized it as a technique to grow a church.1 Church growth leaders such as Ed Dobson insisted that musical style was an essential element of church growth:

We wanted a musical style that would elicit a response. Unchurched people come to a service hesitantly. Their mind-set is “you’re not going to get me.” Their defenses are up. We felt that a style of music that would get them moving in a physical way (nodding heads and tapping feet) would help break down their defenses.2

Rick Warren agrees:

The style of music you choose to use in your services will be one of the most critical (and controversial) decisions you make in the life of your church. It may also be the most influential factor in determining who your church reaches for Christ and whether or not your church grows. You must match your music to the kind of people God wants your church to reach.3

Randall Bradley notes the similarity between the Praise and Worship Movement and the Church Growth Movement in their emphasis upon music style as central to church identity:

In addition to “Praise and Worship,” other elements that have significantly influenced congregational song include the increasing popularity of Contemporary Christian Music, the influence of the Church Growth Movement with its emphasis on “user friendly” worship.4

This has further contributed to the blurring of doctrinal distinctives in favor of nondenominational churches. John P. Dever notes that megachurches, even though they often remain part of a denomination, nevertheless tend to form a new kind of church that is its own denomination.5

Both the Praise and Worship and Church Growth movements emphasize musical style as a predominant feature of a church above traditional doctrinal distinctives such that an increasing number of evangelical Christians today choose their church based on worship style over traditional theological or practical reasons. As David Holeton observes,

When people move from one region of the country to another or even to another part of the city, denomination is less and less their first criterion in finding a new parish. Proximity, programme (what is there for our children?, teenagers? & c), style of community or liturgical life are often factors that take precedence over finding a church of the same denomination.6

Importantly, in a 2009 study of megachurches, researchers found that worship style was the number one factor that attracted attenders to megachurches, with denominational affiliation eighth on the list under the church reputation, music/arts, and adult programs.7

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Walwrath, The Message in the Music, 14. []
  2. Edward G. Dobson, Starting a Seeker Sensitive Service: How Traditional Churches Can Reach the Unchurched (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 42–3. []
  3. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth without Compromising Your Message and Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 280. Emphasis original. []
  4. Bradley, “Congregational Song as Shaper of Theology,” 354. []
  5. John P. Dever, “Fading Denominationalism: New Concepts of Church,” Review & Expositor 90, no. 4 (September 1, 1993): 511–12. []
  6. David R. Holeton, “‘Religion Without Denomination? The Significance of Denominations for Church and Society’: Some Reactions,” Communio Viatorum 44 (January 1, 2002): 40. []
  7. Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America’s Megachurches (Hartford, CT: Hartford Institute for Religious Research, 2009), 15. []