Traditional, Blended, Contemporary

These words have come to identify so much about the worship styles of my tribe, Southern Baptist.  But what do they really mean?  What do they really stand for?  I’ve been a worship leader and pastor in all three types and I think I am coming to understand the distinctions more clearly. 

Here is my attempt at explaining the three worship styles in very practical terms.


  • More formal dress on platform; Sunday best is employed by all who are in leadership
  • Musical selection is primarily hymns
  • Use of piano and organ as instrumentation with orchestral arrangements featuring organ turn-arounds and piano intros
  • Desires and produces a holy reverence and respect toward God and others
  • Not interested in announcements, humor, meet-n-greet, or non-professional people on platform
  • Regular communion experience (monthly or weekly)
  • Service order is patterned from week to week; pattern builds knowledge and familarity with worship
  • Use of a worship choir or ensembles in choir robes
  • Rarely uses technology for any purpose


  • Formal dress by the pastors on platform, but more casual dress by the congregational worship leaders
  • Music is a mixture of hymns and choruses
  • Use of piano, organ, and occassionally other instruments, especially acoustic and bass guitar
  • Desires reverance in worship, but not for the entire length of the service
  • Comfortable with the use of humor, meet-n-greet, announcements, and testimony times
  • Communion is more infrequent, possibly quarterly
  • Service order is similar from week to week, but will change up for special occassions
  • Use of choir and ensembles, but not in robes
  • Uses technology for lyrics, but not much more


  • Informal dress by those on platform and in the congregation as a whole
  • Music sets that are longer and more emotive in expression
  • Use of praise band with varied instrumentation, but primarily acoustic and bass guitar and drums
  • Desires experience with God that is heart-felt, passionate and energetic
  • Comfortable with creativity in the worship expression: testimonies, special interviews, videos, changing set backgrounds, use of the arts
  • Communion is more infrequent, but when done it is usually the entire service experience
  • Service order is very different from week to week; building anticipation and variety is part of the purpose
  • Can use choirs, ensembles, and praise teams that rotate
  • Technology is essential to the experience for lyric, videos, announcements, video-caption, and thematic features.

3 thoughts on “Traditional, Blended, Contemporary

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    • Dennis,
      I would agree “labeling worship” may not be the best route to take. Labeling can create unwanted division and categories that are too black and white for a church worship style which is usually somewhere in the gray. I was simply trying to use words we have in our vocabulary to distinguish the differences.

      About thematic worship experiences, I am all for them no matter the style. My view of worship planning is to begin with the central nugget of truth that will be brought from the message and then weave whatever music, art, experience, response, video, etc you have at your disposal to point the people toward that nugget. Many call this the “golden thread” or content-driven worship planning. It allows for great variety and creativity to flourish. But then again, I find myself most aligned with the contemporary style where is this normative.

      Thanks for reading, SG.

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