‘Both Glorifying To God’

Local Churches Adding Contemporary, Traditional Services

Posted: December 28, 2013

Members of the Harrisonburg Baptist Church congregation listen to a sermon during the downtown church’s traditional service Dec. 15. The formerly separate services had been rejoined, but were recently split, again. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Harrisonburg Baptist Church recently split its once-joint service into traditional and contemporary counterparts. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)

Four months ago, representatives of Harrisonburg Baptist Church decided to make a change to the Sunday schedule by splitting the once-blended service into traditional and contemporary versions, advancing the former to the 9 a.m. slot and the latter to 11:10 a.m.

Stacy Nowell, associate pastor at the church located at the intersection of South Main and Liberty streets, says that the recent modification has, for the most part, been received positively.

“We have described this as a service for the early risers,” she says. “I think [the schedule change] has been really good for people that want to have an early morning traditional service.”

Split Decision

Recently, service splitting has become more frequent at area churches; a common reason being that the components of each hour are distinct from the other.

“The contemporary service is less formal, more casual,” says Dr. Kyle W. Key, associate pastor for discipleship at First Presbyterian Church on Court Square.

Less formal refers to aspects within the service, which includes attire. Key maintains that “more people show up in jeans” for the contemporary service, while the traditional service draws more of a “dress and sport coat” clad crowd.

The First Pres contemporary service includes more pop culturally-based music — similar to that which can be heard on 96.1 WLTK-  FM — more participation and interaction, and a different overall energy compared to the traditional counterpart. Instruments such as the electric and acoustic guitars, drums, and the piano are also used during the contemporary session.

Organs and the choir lead the service, whereas the contemporary service centers around the praise band.

While the sermons are typically identical for each service, Key points out another difference.

“The contemporary service is by far the larger service,” he says, adding that throughout the last ten weeks, the contemporary service crowd numbered 300, on average; the traditional service draws approximately 140, most Sundays.

Key mentioned that, while there are a number of differences between the two services, the praise and lyrics within a contemporary setting is more “directly to God,” while the traditional service is more “about God.”

Catering To Crowds

Though all demographics are welcome at either service, a generational gap between congregants does seem to arise. That distinction manifests in the ages of congregants drawn to the two services: At First Pres, the traditional service seems to cater to a slightly older congregation.

Key says that this may be due to the customs with which the various church goers were raised and are now most comfortable, something that he says plays an integral role in selecting which service to attend.

“The old-time traditions bring a sense of comfort to people and give them stability in an ever-changing world,” he says. “We don’t believe that one [service] is right and one is wrong. Both services are glorifying to God, and cater to the needs and interests in a variety of people.”


Not All About Age

But age isn’t the only determining factor.

Jeanne Barker, administrative assistant at Mt. Olive Brethren Church in McGaheysville, maintains that, while the contemporary service is especially popular at the church, no one demographic outnumbers another at a given session.

“It’s definitely a mixed bag,” she says. “While the older congregation does have a preference for the hymns provided at the traditional service and the younger, college-aged folks enjoy the contemporary music. There’s still a variety of generations at the contemporary service, not just the younger individuals.”

Barker suggests that the two services are held separately in order to give individuals more worship options on a given Sunday morning.

“It gives [church goers] an additional option, given they may have a preference,” she says. “It’s a way to keep everybody happy.”


Contact Matt Gonzales at 574-6265 or  mgonzales@dnronline.com.

NDN Video News