Not having visited most churches today, I perhaps shouldn't actually comment on "most churches today", but it seems as if most churches today are in some area between "traditional" and "contemporary" worship modes. They may have switched to a dual "traditional" service and a "contemporary" service. They may have a "blended" service. Or maybe they've ditched what would have been termed "traditional" for full-on "contemporary". This distinction is primarily in the music, although some people would include more than that. The hymnals are all but gone. The majority use projections on screens and PowerPoint presentations for the sermon and the like. But it's mostly in the music that we find the difference between "traditional" and "contemporary". "Traditional" is hymns with simpler accompaniment -- piano, organ, that kind of thing. I mean, there can be a range of instruments, but the music is primarily hymns ranging in age from hundreds of years old to maybe half a century or more. "Contemporary" has more "upbeat" music with "upbeat" instruments and "upbeat" beats. Choirs are out; stereotypical rock bands are in.
I'm not going to discuss the good or bad of switching or not. I'm not going to try to ask about what "style" Jesus would want. I am not going to examine which music is more godly than which. What I want to know is why. What is the motivation for this shift? Clearly churches are changing from something to something. Throughout Church history worship styles have changed and rarely without conflict. The 3rd century church was upset about instruments at all. The 6th century church didn't like the congregation singing much at all. The only "correct" version of singing in the 9th century was chanting. In the 15th century John Wycliffe complained that the choir was too loud and the music drowned out the words. In the 16th century they were offended that Martin Luther used contemporary tunes with his music. In the 19th century the founder of the Salvation Army was quoted as saying, "Why should the devil have all the good music?" Sure, things change. Regardless of whether or not it's a good thing, why are they doing it?
The question at hand is about changing musical styles for worship. Clearly there is no "biblical definition" of what style is the right style. You can't find any commands in Scripture that say, "Thou shalt use pipe organs and piano and thou shalt not use drums and electronic instruments." It's just not in there. So we aren't going to go with "We're changing musical styles to more closely conform to biblical commands." So why? There are a couple of answers.
First on the list is, essentially, numbers. More people like contemporary music than hymns. You want to attract more people, therefore, you need to shape your music to what would attract them. It's kind of a marketing thing. Find out what people like and, if you can, give it to them. They'll come. The standard view is "If you want to keep growing, you need to make it interesting for the younger generation." What is interesting to the younger generation? Cool music. What is "cool music"? That's a matter of feel, I suppose, but there definitely needs to be drums. Because this attracts people. The #1 answer, then, is reaching people for Christ. Isn't this what we're here for? If you want them to come in, you'll have to give them a reason. Music they like is one of them.
Close behind this one is the idea that contemporary music is more "feeling". It is more emotional, so to speak. (I'm not sure I'm expressing this adequately.) You want people to feel close to God. Most hymns are dirges ... not "close to God". Let's pick it up a bit. Let's liven it up some. Worship shouldn't be "ho-hum"; it should be expressive, enthusiastic, exciting.
Those are, I think, the primary reasons that churches have shifted. They want to improve the numbers (want more people to come) and they want to engage people emotionally. I am, of course, interested in knowing if there are others, but those are the two primary reasons I've found.
You see, I think the motivation is more important than the substance. I think that we've missed the biblical motivation for "church". If this is true, then we might want to rethink changing from something to something if that "to something" isn't in line with the biblical purpose of church.
So what is the biblical purpose of church? The first is found in the word. It refers to the "called out ones". It is a gathering of the saints. Sure, unbelievers will be present (1 Cor 14:24). But the purpose of the church is for the saints -- believers. That's found in the name -- "church". Paul goes on to explain that the primary function of the church is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Eph 4:12). "There, see?" they will tell me. "Building up the body of Christ. Bring in more people." No, that's not what he is talking about. He is talking about maturity. He says the building of the body of Christ is "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." (Eph 4:13-14) That is the primary purpose of the church. And how are we doing with that? How are we at "the unity of the faith"? How are we at maturity? How are we at no longer being tossed about by every wind of doctrine? I would argue that we are clearly failing. Is it because we've shifted from "building up the body of Christ" to "bringing in the sheaves"? Is it because we've aimed the church more toward evangelism than equipping the saints?
I think we've really missed the point in churches today. Worship is not about entertaining the masses or bringing up attendance. It is about God's people offering a sacrifice of praise to an audience of One, not about feeling good about God. It's about maturing believers, not enlarging the congregation. Mind you, mature believers will feel good about God and a church of equipped saints will increase attendance, but these are not the point. I think we've missed it. And I think it is our own loss to our own shame. You see, it's not about taste, about "old" vs "new", about preferences. It's not even about music. It's about unity rather than personal preference, about theology rather than experience, about participation rather than consumption or entertainment. We are engaging in worship of the Creator with all the saints and angels. Now, tell me again why we're changing from "traditional" to "contemporary"? There may be reasons for change, but do they conform to that kind of purpose?