New Wine in New Wineskins: New Presbyterian Churches Offer New Styles of Worship

The majority of Presbyterian churches in the United States (74%) hold just one worship service per week. However, new congregations—those organized since 1989—are more likely to offer multiple weekly services. One-third of new PC(USA) congregations (33%) offer more than one worship service each week.

So is what happens in the new churches’ worship service different from their older counterparts? The following table compares worship between the two groups of congregations—new PC(USA) churches vs. older Presbyterian churches. While, in almost all cases, worship in all Presbyterian congregations includes a sermon, singing by the congregation, and taking up an offering, there are some significant differences.

Electronic and informal. In new PC(USA) churches, the largest worship service is more likely than in older congregations to include:

  • Use of visual projection equipment, electric guitar music, and drums. Older congregations rely more on hymnbooks and organ music in their services.
  • Laughter, applause, calling out “Amen,” people raising their hands in praise, and witnessing. Worship in older congregations more often includes a written service bulletin, people reading or speaking in unison, and silent prayer.
  • Participation by teens as worship leaders. Older churches are more likely to have a time during the service directed at children.
  • Use of language other than English. This finding reflects that some new churches were founded to serve an immigrant population.

Not short and not traditional. Sermons in new PC(USA) churches tend to be longerthan in older churches. Leaders in the typical PC(USA) congregation (78%) report that sermons last no longer than 20 minutes. In contrast, only 57% of new church leaders say their sermons are that short.

Three out of four typical PC(USA) congregations say their worship service is traditional. But only about half of the new churches describe their largest worship service as traditional. Many new churches (46%) offer a blended style of worship combining both traditional and contemporary elements.

What can we learn from new PC(USA) congregations? New churches are willing to try new things in worship. They offer worshipers alternatives—in the form of multiple services or blended worship styles. And their pastors invest more time in preaching!

You might want to look over this report and determine what, if anything, the new PC (USA) congregations are doing that fits your church’s message and mission. Is it time for a drop or two of new wine?