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When I was young, there was nothing worse for a church than to be “traditional”. We stripped back the liturgy, swapped the organ for a drum-kit, and replaced the hymnals with Hillsong. We unceremoniously dumped the icons, architecture and rituals that had fed the church for hundreds of years. We were desperate to present a cool, socially acceptable, “relevant” package for modern culture.

Today, something unexpected is happening. There is a small but distinct movement of young people abandoning the smoke machines, multi-purpose buildings and celebrity pastors of recent church models, and heading back towards traditional worship services, where sacraments are central, buildings are beautiful, and the liturgy has a historic rootedness about it. Gracey OlmsteadRachel Held EvansAaron NiequistBen Irwin and Erik Parker have written illuminating articles about why young people are embracing “un-cool” church and becoming “liturgy nerds”.

What is going on?

Every person’s journey is different, but here are a few reasons why those who have grown up in evangelical churches are increasingly drawn to high church practices and historical forms of worship.


Young people today have been marketed to all their lives, and they can see past gimmicks and tricks. They don’t need church to pretend to be something it’s not – an entertainment venue, a relationship course, a nightclub. They find it refreshing to enter a building which openly proclaims itself as a worship space, to take part in ceremonies and rhythms which unashamedly focus on worship. They’ve swapped the salesman’s pitch for simple sacraments.


In an era of continuous rapid change, young people are seeking to feel grounded and connected to their past. This is why retro and vintage fashions have made such a comeback in recent years. Farmers markets, knitted scarves and cardigans, typewriter fonts, nostalgic photo effects, thick-rimmed glasses and Op Shop clothing are the new “cool”. In the midst of chaotic change and technology, there is a strong desire to be rooted and grounded in traditions of the past.


God cannot be contained in a 30 minute sermon. Or even a 45 minute one. We worship a God we cannot see, cannot truly understand, cannot adequately explain, cannot prove. Ancient forms of faith allow us to return to a sense of mystery, rather than containing God in a box made of words.


Shane Hipps points out that icons and images are replacing words as the main method of communication. This generation are deeply visual and iconic. The word-centred, book-dependent communication style of previous generations has given way to a love affair with symbols and imagery, which are far better expressed in ancient liturgies than in contemporary worship.


Sacramental worship offers a hands-on, multi sensory, participatory act of community. The simple, everyday rituals of a bath (baptism) and a meal (eucharist) are tangible and interactive, inviting God’s people to actively participate rather than passively listen.

The departure of young people from “new” churches to “old” ones can be deeply confusing to many who grew up with strict denominational boundaries. However, it has the potential to lead to healthy, restorative spaces for many of God’s people. After all, we are all one church. As Brian Zhand expresses it; “we need the whole body of Christ to properly form the body of Christ. This much I’m sure of: Orthodox mystery, Catholic beauty, Anglican liturgy, Protestant audacity, Evangelical energy, Charismatic reality — I need it all!



Kathleen Ward co-writes a blog with her best friend and husband, Kevin-Neil Ward. They’ve been married for 18 years and have four children, age 3–15. In her spare time, Kathleen likes to paint portraits, read books and learn to play piano—if only she could find some spare time!

Kevin-Neil Ward facilitates a Christ-centered, active learning community using principles and ideas he picked up through his studies in theology, counselling, life coaching, missions, organic church planting and business administration. Kevin-Neil is enjoying life in his forties and loves bike-riding and watching the Tour de France late into the night every July.

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Rev. Phyllis Pottorff-Albrecht

commented on Jul 6, 2016

Our congregations are all small and meet in individual homes. Our congregations do not aspire to the "Mega-Church" model which appears to be the mainstay of the religious media. Our congregations are patterned after the at home, in-depth Bible studies which were prevalent during the 30s and 40s, when gasoline was either too expensive - or being rationed - and most people did not believe that they could afford to travel long distances to attend church. Most of our members report being "bored out" by the frantic pace of busy-ness which they experienced in Mega-Churches. They also report being "burned out" on the constant requests for for donations to help their previous churches keep pace with a likewise frantic scramble to acquire more and more church property! In addition, some of our members have reported alarming incidents occurring in churches which were following the Hillsong example, including one church in which young people failed to call for an Emergency Team when a friend fell from a steep ledge - because the young people believed their friend was dead - and decided that they would be able to "raise" their friend from the dead by immediately praying for him! Most of the young people whom we see in our congregations are hungry for in-depth Bible study - rather than seeking experiences which will take them from one emotional "high" to another emotional "high." We are not quite sure when - or why - the Christian media fell in love with the "mega-church" model - but our congregations indicate that the Mega-church model is leaving many people feeling frazzled - rather than confident that they are enjoying a satisfying daily fellowship with the Lord.

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