Exploring Contemporary and Alternative Worship

The members of and visitors to this seminar track developments in “contemporary” worship (seeker services, praise-and-worship services, convergence worship, and “traditional” services that “blend” in elements from these other kinds of services). We research particular faith communities’ worship, as well as the general trends in worship and music styles, liturgical art, architecture, and seminary education for those preparing to become worship leaders in these worship settings, Protestant and Catholic.


The Rev. Dr. Nelson Cowan

Seminar Report 2021

While the NAAL did not gather for our Annual Meeting in 2021, our seminar held a series of Virtual Meetings in January 2021.

Virtual Seminar Topics

Ed Phillips – Book Discussion, ”The Purpose, Pattern, and Character of Worship”

Billy Kangas – “Composing Utopia – How Charismatic Worship Spread the Covenant Communities Movement”

Amy Davis – Book Proposal Working Session, “Transforming Rites for Our Stories: Celebrating Beginnings, Middles, and Ends”

Seminar Report 2020


Rev. Nelson Cowan, PhD, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in High Springs, FL, instructional faculty for The United Methodist Course of Study program at Candler School of Theology, Emory University

Members in Attendance

Emily Andrews, David Bains, Susan Blain, Taylor Burton-Edwards, Nelson Cowan, Brenda Grauer, Swee Hong Lim, Jim Marri- ott, Haejung Park, Ed Phillips, Lester Ruth, Alydia Smith, Noel Snyder, Richard Vosko, Karen Westerfield Tucker, Nicholas Zork

Visitors in Attendance

Chingyu Huang, Billy Kangas, Michael Lee, Nate Myrick, Saya Ojiri, Kat Olson, Jonathan Ottaway, Adam Perez, Diana Sanchez-Bushong, John Choi Seungkeun, Glenn Stallsmith, J. Terry Todd, Debbie Wong

Description of Work

The Exploring Contemporary and Alternative Worship seminar had a vibrant series of paper presentations, facilitated conversations, and short communications. Our time began with a presentation from Taylor Burton Edwards on the topic of “Shame in the CCLI Top 100.” Burton-Edwards reported his findings from an in-depth study of the lyrical content related to “shame” across the 100 most reported songs among Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) users in the United States. Emily Snider Andrews presented on Bethel Church in Redding, California’s “worship-rooted lifestyle” and the implications of this “worship-rootedness” in forming Evangelical ethics.

Our next presenters moved our discussions to contemporary and alternative worship practices in east Asia. Swee Hong Lim’s paper examined Chinese contemporary praise and worship songs and the strong link between worship music practice in the country of origin and the diasporic faith community. Haejung Park’s paper and multimedia presentation showcased an experimental worship conference led by seminarians in South Korea.

We then concluded the day with a segment on the topic of intercultural worship, where Jim Marriott presented his paper, “Disrupting the Dichotomy: How Intercultural Music Changes the Contemporary/Traditional Conversation.” Moving from theory to practice, Alydia Smith led us in a conversation about the United Church of Canada’s intercultural worship resource, “Questioning Worship: Engaging All God’s People Worship.”

 Saturday morning opened with a series of short communications from first-time visitors. Each presentation was roughly fifteen minutes long, followed by fifteen minutes of discussion. Glenn Stallsmith presented, “The Path to a Second Service: Mainline Decline, Church Growth, and Apostolic Leadership.” Adam Perez presented on “Worship Conferences in the 1980s,” offering a “family tree” of sorts to the seminar members. Nate Myrick led the seminar in discussing the top- ic of “Whiteness and Multicultural Worship.” Debbie Wong shared her research project, “Charismatic versus Contemporary: Praise and Worship in Singapore Methodism.”

We concluded our time of presentations with Billy Kangas’ research on “Unique Forms of Worship within the Catholic Charismatic Renewal,” which is a part of his dissertation project. Noel Snyder’s shared his paper, “Pairs with Hillsong: Musical Features of Brian Houston’s Preaching,” which is a part of his forthcoming book with Intervarsity Press Academic.

Other Work and Plans for the Future

During our business meeting, our seminar discussed the possibility of doing a joint session with another seminar. However, because our seminar has had a record number of proposed presentations, it would make it difficult to incorporate the work of another seminar at this time.

To support the burgeoning interest in this field of study, we created a new website for the work of our seminar (a private link solely shared with seminar members) where presentations are uploaded and feedback is solicited. Our site also features a paper proposal submission form for next year’s meeting.

Seminar Report 2019


Rev. Nelson Cowan, a PhD Candidate in Liturgical Studies at Boston  University and an elder in The United Methodist Church.

Members in Attendance

Emily Andrews, Brad Berglund, Taylor Burton-Ed- wards, Nelson Cowan, David Lemley, Swee Hong Lim, Eric Mathis, Lester Ruth, Matt Sigler, Casey Sigmon, Alydia Smith, Karen Westerfield Tucker

Visitors in Attendance

Joshua Altrock, Billy Kangas, Jim Marriott, Kristen Da- ley Mosier, Glenn Packiam, Noel Snyder, David Williams, Lis Valle

Description of Work

This year’s seminar offered theological and historical ap- proaches to the varieties of “contemporary” and “alternative” worship practices within Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, and Charismatic Catholic expressions of Christianity. To conclude our work together, we discussed (and embodied) the [para]liturgical phenomenon of Beer and Hymns.

Papers and Presentations

  • Emily Snider Andrews, “The Sacramentality of Modern Worship Music at Bethel Church, Redding, California.”
  • David Lemley and Joshua Altrock, “Contemporary Worship Music (CWM) as Functional Sacrament: Observations about Affect and Ordo”
  • Nelson Cowan, “Mrs. Murphy is Wearing Skinny Jeans: Liturgical-Theological Reflections from Hillsong, New York ”
  • Glenn Packiam, “Encoded Hope in Contemporary Worship in North America”
  • Eric Mathis, “Intentional Ecology, Accidental Pedagogy: Forming Teenage Worshipers and Worship Leaders in Congregational Contexts”
  • Billy Kangas, “The Word of God Community: A Primordial Soup for Contemporary Catholic Worship”
  • Casey Sigmon, “Can I Take Your Ordo? Reflections on Dinner Church ”
  • Ron Rienstra et. al., “Beer & Hymns: Reports from the Field.

Other Work and Plans for the Future

Potential 2020 Papers and Presentations:

  • Swee Hong Lim—Chinese Praise & Worship (Streams of Praise, Fountains of Blessing)
  • Taylor Burton Edwards—Shame in the CCLI Top 100
  • Nelson Cowan—“Treasure Hunts” as Paraliturgical Phenomenon
  • Dave Lemley—CWM & Throne Room Imagery
  • Billy Kangas—Unique forms of worship within the Catholic Charismatic Renewal
  • Matt Sigler—The “Gap” Mentality in 1970s-era United Methodism
  • Noel Snyder—Presentation of his book or relevant chapter within it
  • Eric Mathis & Christian Duponte “A Working History of Teenage Youth Worship Practices in the United ”