Using Worship Style As A Hook


loss leaderloss leader is when a retail chain or business offers goods or services discounted at or below cost in order to draw consumers in. The strategy is that drawing them in will hopefully then lead them to buy additional items at a higher cost.

Some congregations employ this same practice of depreciating or changing their worship style as a hook to get new consumers in the door. This marketing ploy often discounts their existing worship foundations. And their unique worship DNA’s are thrown out in order to secure the loyalties of new customers.

Consequently, instead of planning worship to respond to God’s revelation they start planning it to respond to cultural affirmation. And just trying anything to get them in the door will sometimes cause a congregation to hedge theologically, biblically or musically.

So what will those congregations offer when consumer tastes change again and they’re too diverse or costly to accommodate? And when those new consumers are no longer new and realize that worship is going to actually require something from them, what methods will congregations initiate to keep them? How will they express deep calling unto deep worship when loss leader worship is all they’ve known (Ps 42:7)?

What worship costs is more important than how it comforts us or serves our agendas. If worship is just fashioned to meet our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.[1]  So if you’re still trying to get them in the door with loss leader hooks such as traditional, contemporary, classic, modern, casual, or even coffee, then those hooks you are attempting to reach them with is probably all you’ll ever reach them to.


[1] Adapted from Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 112.


2 Responses to “Using Worship Style As A Hook”

  • David Manner Says:


    Thanks for your thought provoking questions and responses. With regard to your first question I do not equate music and worship as exclusively synonymous, so the worship style would indeed include Scripture, prayer, communion, etc. So with that foundation, offering worship as a loss leader might mean that a congregation intentionally minimizes some of those foundational elements and elevates musical elements or changes them just to get more people in the door. Worship style is evolving but biblical and theological worship content never does.

    So the point of the post is not about considering cultures and contexts as we plan worship. It is instead about diluting our worship foundations as a carrot. Then, if you are actually able to reach people with worship that is watered-down, what happens when/if they are asked to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice as their spiritual act of worship? How will our congregations keep them when we actually ask something from them rather than just appealing to them?

    Congregations should indeed consider cultures and contexts of those who are here and those who aren’t here…yet as they plan their worship. Early missionaries in Africa tried to teach African Christians how to worship using western notation, rhythms, instruments, etc. And they just couldn’t resonate with that understanding. But it wasn’t until they encouraged them to respond to God’s revelation in their heart language that those African believers truly understood what it meant to worship in spirit and truth. I agree some churches definitely need to make those worship adjustment to help those various cultures respond to God’s revelation. But we must be careful about discerning that heart language from a culture that doesn’t know whom or what it is worshiping.

    Dr. Constance Cherry wrote, “Perhaps we don’t need to find our worship style as much as we need to find our worship voice.” Finding the voice of a congregation is not just following a recipe of observed success elsewhere or attempting to get them in the door. Terry York and David Bolin expand this worship voice understanding by making the proposal that each congregation has it’s own worship voice unique to that congregation. They suggest that, “This voice, and its wisdom, is found by listening to its overtones. It is the voice heard and shared when the congregation prays together, eats together, cries and rejoices together. It is the voice heard and shared when a congregation works out its differences, blesses its children, buries its saints, and sings its carols of love and hope.” I believe the Holy Spirit knows what culture needs before culture knows what it needs and if that frames our worship preparation, then culture will say, “we’ve never seen anything like that before.”

    The worship voice of your congregation might include a rhythm section but it might also include a choir and orchestra, or both, or something else completely. But if that voice is determined by just listening to culture that doesn’t have a clue what it needs and not the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the body of Christ, the church, then we are discounting our worship just to get people in the door. When that occurs it is a loss leader.

  • Rebecca Martin Says:

    Dr. Manner,

    While I agree that keeping God and His Word as the foundation for each and every piece chosen for Sunday morning worship service, I have many issues and questions for you on your meaning in this article.

    First of all, when you say “worship style”, are you referring to music style or the order of service or the way the service is conducted or something else? The terminology of “worship style” is very ambiguous and not explained or expounded so I’m unsure about your thesis statement and thus the application of the rest of your article. The biblical definition of worship not only includes music but also includes the scripture being read, the sermon being taught, the prayer that is prayed, the statutes that are performed, etc. that honor and magnify God alone. So if we take this definition of worship and we focus on changing the way, or in your words the style, of worship, I’m not sure why this is an issue at all if it is in tune with the culture changing around you, which brings me to my next point.

    Regardless of the answer of the definition of worship to which you were referring, my problem with not changing worship style if the community or society changes is that the church will becoming ineffective to the community around it at best and die out at worst because the church is not being sensitive to those whom they are trying to reach. This is happening to Baptist churches in the South left and right. I am a very active member of one of these dying churches that is changing its worship style very slowly to adapt to the completely different and diverse culture that surrounds our church building. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others demonstrated that adapting to the culture around you to reach that culture is extremely important. If one does not speak the same language, how does one teach others about Christ? If one does not try to understand the culture around him/her, how can they understand his/her love for them? For if one does not speak the same “culture language”, one will be misunderstood at best and turn hearts away from God at worst. As one who has lived as a missionary overseas for 2 years, I have seen both cases, and it is not pretty and are ministry-ending attitudes.

    Thirdly, worship style is ever evolving. The Israelite people didn’t have projector screens or the instruments that we do today nor do we have the music, rhythms, or instruments they had. And if looking in the past isn’t enough, people today in Africa sometimes don’t even have buildings let alone technology to worship in the same style as Americans. If the community in which I lived had an influx of Africans move in, would it not be prudent and, dare I say, effective to include and adapt the worship style of the church to have some African elements? I do not see this as a hook at all, but rather the church saying, “We welcome you to our church and community with open arms!” Similarly, it will be difficult to reach a certain culture of American young adults if there is Renaissance and Baroque music every Sunday because this style of music is simply unfamiliar to them, and therefore they don’t connect to it and cannot worship through it. I am a classical choral singer, and I thoroughly enjoy singing and listening to Renaissance and Baroque music. But I also know that I am in the minority among my age group. It is not about preference or agenda as it is it simply doesn’t connect at all. Many of my peers and even the middles school students I teach in Sunday school have not grown up in church. In fact, their parents (if they have any in the picture) don’t know Christ and don’t know classical music or hymns for that matter. I’m not saying that hymns should be taken away from worship services. I believe that certain hymns have a wonderful place in establishing theology. But if the culture is no longer familiar with organ or piano music 24/7, why should the service also be that way? The culture of America is ever evolving, and it only makes sense that the evangelical church should evolve with it or it will become irrelevant to the culture it is trying to reach.

    Obviously, if the heart of the church is to acquire new members and not because it wants to reach the souls of those who need Jesus, then all of these points are moot. But if the church is intentional and cares about the community and culture around it and chooses to base everything out of biblical principles, worship style should be adapted so that we can reach the people that live there who need Jesus. If the church leaves its biblical foundations and Christ-centeredness in the changing of its worship style, then these points are moot. But if the church clings to the Bible and its teachings of Christ-centered worship, the style is irrelevant to God. If the church tries to keep up with the Jones’ in trying to adapt to the culture and is spending money that it doesn’t have or too much money where it could be spent on effective ministry, these points are moot because the church isn’t being a good steward of what God has given it. If one is worshipping with all of his/her heart, soul, and mind, that is what God requires of us.

    Rebecca Martin

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