I don’t have any research to back this up but I do have a theory. I don’t know about the young people you know, especially the young adults. But one thing I have observed over and over again is that if people come to the place you worship on Sunday morning and they can easily and quickly see that people there take seriously the mission of God, chances are they are going to want to come back regardless of what type of worship you have. I think instrumental music in many ways can be a smoke screen to bigger issues. When churches feel like they can only engage today’s young people if the 30 minutes of singing in the worship is done with instruments there are probably deeper issues.
I think we have made our young people out to be too shallow. We haven’t given them enough credit. Somehow we have dumbed down the draw of worship to what appeals to people rather than asking ourselves the question, “How are we actively engaging the members of this congregation in the mission of God?” Or this question, “Does our worship put God front and center in the service or has something else replaced Him?” Those kinds of questions make the main thing the main thing. Young people can smell a fake a mile off. They can tell when we are just putting on a show. But if they come and see that we are serious about the same things Jesus was serious about they will want to be a part.
The mistake some have made is what we think draws people. Entertainment might draw more people but does it make disciples or are you just pouring water on seeds in rocky soil? Bring people to experience Jesus and Spirit-filled community and they will walk away changed. If we are going to make rocky soil into good soil and thereby give those seeds a chance to grow it is going to come by them encountering Christ through our Christian community and worship rather than simply entertaining them for an hour.
Listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians when it comes to outsiders in the worship and what draws them in:
“Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” – 1 Corinthians 14:22-25
I think speaking in tongues might be far more fantastical to witness than hearing a prophesy. That’s just my opinion. Paul says it is not the ecstatic experiences of the Spirit that are going to reach the outsider, it is the prophesy (words from God) that will convict them and lead them toward repentance and worship. It is not a mean guitar solo, an amazing set on the drums, or an outstanding choir that will bring people to their knees in as rich a way as will pointing them to the words and life of Jesus Christ. We have to keep the main thing the main thing and not try to incorporate new aspects into our worship to mask symptoms and postpone addressing deeper issues that may be present in a given congregation such as spiritual shallowness, the entertainment mentality, and an appreciation for ancient and meaningful forms of worship.
Trendy does not always equal greater spiritual depth.