Search Adorate

The More Things Change: Worship from 1850 to 2010

This post is not poetic, reflective, or inspiring.  It is, to me at least, interesting.  We all know that worship has changed over the years.  We often think of those changes as if it went from the Latin Mass to Protestant hymn singing to contemporary praise worship.  The changes are both more subtle and more radical than that.  It is also interesting that worship is often changed by completely unrelated things, such as the coming of electrical wiring or the invention of the radio.

Every generation wants to believe they are unique.  A "watershed" moment in human history.  More change today than ever before.  No one before us has seen anything like this.  This, at least, is what we tell ourselves. A better informed understanding of history, however, often challenges this somewhat self-serving confidence.

But, a little girl born in 1867 would have seen the world from a covered wagon traveling slowly westward.  She settled with may and pa in a little sod house on the Kansas prairie.  Yet, she would make trips to California with her husband driving his Ford pickup at speeds similar to what we drive today.  She lived long enough to have a modern refrigerator, electric stove, washing machine, and dyer.  Jets flew at supersonic speeds and diesel trains, and tractors were so common at the time of her death, even a child would not stop playing to look at them.  From fear of Indians to fear of thermonuclear weapons, all in the one lifetime of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

We say life changes faster today (and in some ways, it does).  But, a more informed awareness of the past opens our eyes to the reality that every generation for centuries has been forced to deal with both welcomed and unwelcomed changes.

Here is a summary of changes in Christian Church/Church of Christ worship from the mid-nineteenth century to 2010.  It is not a precise science.  The electric organ, for example, is invented in the 1930s but does not come into widespread use until the 1950s. So, don’t consider something mentioned in a decade to be strictly limited to that decade.

Melodeons, small reed organs, are brought into worship.  Since the 1500s most Protestant denominations have identified musical instruments in worship with the Papacy.  In 1850, the technological advance of small reed organs creates urge controversies, fist fights, and divisions which remain to this day.

1860s  Two radically different approaches to the Bible and the US Constitution
The American Civil War unites northern Protestants in what is increasingly seen as a religious crusade to preserve the union and free the slaves.  Southern Stone-Campbell churches, although sympathetic with states’ rights advocates, remain largely aloof from any overt support of war or nationalistic themes.  The differing mindsets of the rural south and industrial north will be reflect in the embracing or resistance to modernizing changes in worship.  By 1900, large segments of these two regions are no longer in communication or fellowship.

Printed music; Grape juice
Hymnals are now increasingly printed with musical notation, recognizing both the increased perception that the melody-line of a hymn is as identifiably unique as its lyrics; and it reflects the fact that increased access to music through public education means a growing number of people have a basic ability to read musical notation.  Shaped notes provide a bridge between the musically trained and untrained.  The work of Louis Pasteur spreads a beginning understanding of germs.  Improved processing techniques allow Thomas Welch to produce the first commercially available “unfermented wine” (grape juice).  The Methodist churches of New Jersey, where Welch is a well-known and active member, begin using his bottled grape juice instead of wine.

1880s  Multiple cups
Increased awareness of germs, along with the increased use of chewing tobacco, prompts churches to adopt the use of multiple small cups during Communion.  Advanced by the now-thriving Temperance Movement, the use of grape juice in place of wine continues to make gains among Protestants, including Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.

Electric lights; indoor baptisteries
Electric lights allow churches in towns and cities extended times of meeting.  Rural churches will continue to operate without electricity for several more decades.  Newer buildings now often include an indoor baptistery, typically built into the stage area and covered with a “trap door” that looks like stage flooring, when not in use.

Forced air heating; large ornate sanctuaries
Church buildings began to be constructed with the presence of electrical power designed into the building.  This advanced the use of forced-air heating.  In colder climates, this allows greater use of large spacious sanctuaries with open pews.  Brick surpasses wood as the preferred basis for a church building.  Ornate wood scrolling and the use of darker words such as walnut or, for wealthier churches, mahogany, dominate the style of church buildings.

1910s  Electricity spreads; 1st wave of Patriotism
Electricity continues to expand into rural areas near power plants or towns.  Town churches now will have one or more telephones installed.  The first of several waves of hyper-nationalism emerges in response to the United States involved in the First World War.  Southern churches of Christ steadfastly continue, in the spirit of David Lipscomb, to refuse military service and end up having a large number of young men jailed (only the Jehovah’s Witnesses will have more people jailed for refusal to serve in the military).

Sound amplification; Mimeographs; Liberalism
Growing use of electric sound amplification results in gradual changes in both singing and preaching styles.  The operatic and high voice projection styles used for centuries will gradually (over the next seven or eight decades) give way to conversational.  Mimeograph machines introduce the possibility of flexibility and change in worship services.  Churches begin provide areas for automobiles to be parked, as well as areas for horses to be tied.  The rising tide of European Liberalism and Darwinism produces increased dogmatism in sermons and pushes theologically conservative churches to begin to distance themselves suspect institutions and find among Protestant Evangelicals allies. 

Radio; earliest electric organs
Since the early 1920s, radio spread at enormous rates throughout the United States and Canda.  In the 1930s, homes in both towns and rural farmland listened to hours of “gospel” music on the radio.  Most churches had only used gospel music at revivals, still reserving Sundays for hymns.  By the late 1930s radio had influenced churches to add pianos, use small ensembles (quartets and trios), and had brought the much livelier gospel music into Sunday morning worship.  In 1934 Laurens Hammond builds the first Hammond electric organ.

Patriotism incorporated into church life
With World War Two, the surge of patriotism spreads to include not only Christian Churches but most southern churches of Christ as well.  A section of patriotic songs is now a common part of the church hymnals, including some that were not remotely religious.  Flags, extremely rare in churches before World War One, by 1945 are common in church sanctuaries.  In town churches automobiles have entirely replaced horses.

Youth culture; Electric organs
In the United States, Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade for Christ, and other national ministries to reach adolescents brought new music and new faces, like Wheaton College graduate Billy Graham, to national fame.  These would form the foundation of the later “youth ministry.”  Televised religious programming begins to compete with radio in its influence on Sunday worship.  The electric organ now largely replaces the reed organ except in isolated rural churches.  Church attendance soars, particularly among families with younger children.  Patriotism is fully incorporated into the life of churches as an expected Christian virtue reinforced by flags, songs, and repeated pledges of allegiance.

Charismatic Movement; Youth Ministry; Suburban Churches
The Charismatic Movement began to produce significant changes in worship music.  The earliest salaried fully dedicated Youth Ministers appeared.  The contemporary Christian music industry began to be a distinct market for recordings and publishing Christian music aimed at the church’s teenagers.  Most conservative Christian Churches would identify themselves as more closely aligned with Baptist churches than with the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ).  Suburban churches eclipse downtown churches in size and growth.

Age Segregated Worship; CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) industry; Mega-churches
Local church Youth Ministers became the single most rapidly added new “order” of ministry in history.  This was accompanied by youth rallies, youth groups, youth conferences, youth conventions, and youth worship.  The children of this generation will be the first generation of Christian children raised with little, if any, integration into the adult church.  No one will notice this remarkable change until these children become the church’s young ministers and leaders ten to fifteen years later.  Churches are increasingly located with the assumption all members will drive to church (no longer constructed in neighborhoods and providing dramatically increases parking areas).  Dramatic growth in these newer mega-churches will continue through the rest of the century.

Worship tensions over music; Disposable communion cups
The new generation of young leaders find themselves facing styles of worship radically different from those of youth church and youth conferences.  The hymns and southern gospel songs seem dull, dead, stagnant, and without meaning or spirit.  The older adults, in turn, find themselves forced to listen to music that had evolved just as isolated from integration from their worship.  For older adults, the contemporary music sounded loud, shallow, and like thinly veiled rock’n roll. They are baffled that the new generation of young leaders will not simply join the adults in their worship and gradually incorporate some of their music into it.  Among both groups, there is little willingness to compromise. Disposable communion cups have become far more common than glass cups.

Praise and Celebration Worship; projection systems; Vineyard and Hillsong
The generation of those born 1960 or later dominates leadership in the newer or rapidly growing churches.  The “amateurish worship” of Grandma’s church is replaced by an emphasis on celebration and excellence.  Praise bands in significant numbers replaces keyboards as the mainstay instruments for Sunday worship.  Uninterrupted music blends one song seamlessly into another.  Projected lyrics replace printed hymnals.  The Vineyard and Hillsong become the dominant forces driving newer innovations in contemporary worship. 

Largely uniform praise-style worship; Visual technology; Emergent worship
Praise and celebration worship is firmly in place, reigning almost unchallenged as the dominant style of worship music and service construction in larger churches.  The amount of time and resources given over to the music of worship has increased dramatically since the 1950s.  A number of liturgical scholars refer to American Evangelical worship as “Music-dominated.” Signs of change, however, are clearly on the horizon.  The adolescents now in churches have grown up in a church where excellence, praise teams, and celebrative worship is the worship of their parents’ church.  Technology increases includes a full range of videos and performance-level stage lighting.  The first rumblings of change are already evident on many fronts.  These are the earliest gentle waves of what the coming flood of postmodern evangelical worship will become.  It is not at all clear, however, that the those for whom praise and celebration is “their worship style” will be any more willing to abandon it than were their parents before them.


Kirra said...

That was so interesting! Thank you!

Laura jayden said...

I just found your blog and wanted to let you know that I already bookmarked it in 4 different websites. Thanks for providing great content for us to read.
Heating in Toronto

Anonymous said...

This is a movement that I have found quite radical and life-changing. I am the child of the 70s who was introduced to Petra, then begged for it to become part of the church. Once we stopped breaking songs with each verse (hymns), I thought it couldn't get any better. And yet the movement of extended worship has now transcended the church, and has forever changed relationships with God for my children. One thing in this great movement that had to give is this: with the time taken for Worship, Sunday School has become a lost art. I see people now who Genuinely love the Lord with all their heart -- however, they are generally un-discipled, and lack many of the basic tenets of the faith. My goal is to somehow take our emergent worship church and restore the discipleship as well!

Tom Lawson said...

Anonymous -
Absolutely. I agree that the most concerning things about the coming years in the church relate to basic discipline (and commitment) and to a disturbingly low level of basic Bible and doctrinal knowledge. Maybe people once thought the same things of our generation. Who knows? Thanks for the good comments.