On Sunday we just happened to be visiting Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale for their first newly combined worship service. Like many churches Coral Ridge has offered two services on Sunday mornings with two different worship styles — one traditional and one contemporary. But starting this past Sunday they have combined the two services into one, a venture that Pastor Tullian Tchividjian jokingly referred to as Coral Ridge Merger 2.0 (with reference to last year’s merger between Coral Ridge Presbyterian and New City Presbyterian churches).
Whereas many churches that offer a blended style of worship offer some hymns with the organ and some praise music with the praise band, Coral Ridge went a different route. As the congregation gathered, the orchestra played a worshipful rendition of the hymn, “This Is My Father’s World.” This was followed by a video presentation of the church’s new vision for worship appropriately titled, “One.” Next the majestic organ swelled as we all stood for the opening hymn. But then, surprise, the organ traded off for the drum kit, the orchestra and praise band joined in, and we sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” to a truly blended accompaniment of all the instruments together.
The service continued with traditional and contemporary elements blended together. We sang hymns and praise choruses with various instrumentation. During the offering the choir and orchestra presented a stirring rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Pastor Tullian preached a convicting message on the importance of unity in the church from Ephesians 4:1-6. All things were done to God’s glory with excellence in keeping with Coral Ridge’s philosophy of ministry.
Kudos to the worship planners who pulled all the various elements together and also to the sound engineer who achieved a remarkable audio balance throughout the service. When I am in a church service, I like to be able to hear myself singing as well as the congregation around me. I found that even with all the instruments playing together I was able to distinguish the worship leader’s voice, the choir singing in the background, the orchestra, praise band and organ, as well as hear my own voice, the voices of those around me, and also have a sense of the whole congregation singing. That is no small feat, so thank you to whoever paid such careful attention to the sound.
For Tullian and Coral Ridge, this merging of their two services into one is not a matter of preference or convenience but comes from a theologically-shaped conviction rising out of the gospel. As Tullian shared in a blog post yesterday,
Building the church on stylistic preferences or age appeal (whether old or young) is just as contrary to the reconciling effect of the gospel as building it on class, race, or gender distinctions. In a recent interview J. I. Packer said, “If worship services are so fixed that what’s being offered fits the expectations, the hopes, even the prejudices, of any one of these groups as opposed to the others, I don’t believe the worship style glorifies God.” One of the leading ways the church can testify to God’s unifying power before our segregated world is to establish and maintain congregations and worship services that transcend cultural barriers, including age and musical styles. (Blog post: We Are One)
I am still wrestling with whether a single worship style service is a gospel imperative or simply a gospel conviction for Coral Ridge at this time, but I appreciate the conversation Tullian is opening on this issue, and I trust it will make us all think more deeply about church and worship together. Oh, and did I mention, I had a wonderful time worshiping the Lord with my brothers and sisters in Christ at Coral Ridge Sunday. All glory to God!