Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Music in the church

Although I am not an absolutist on any type of music in the church, I am struck by something that I've seen more or less whenever I see church music discussed.

Those who claim Christ are generally OK with modern praise choruses, and even defend their use quite vehemently. Those who are sporadic in their attendance tend to actually prefer the old hymns.

Of course, "tend to," not an absolute rule, but it's telling to me. If you want to reach those who are lost, you need to come to them with a message and a medium that they see as eternal and timeless--one conveyed by the grand old music of the church.

And it probably doesn't hurt, either, that history has winnowed out the less important hymns, and that people at most churches simply understand the older genre better than the new. Even so, I'd have to guess that "conveys a sense of permanence and awe" ranks highly as a reason that people may be reached more effectively with a traditional service, than with a contemporary one.


pentamom said...

I've thought about this sort of thing before. Another thing that strikes me is the tendency for churches to want worship service to go all high tech and electronic -- Powerpoint projected on the wall, etc.

But don't people want to get AWAY from the cubicle if they come to church? Five or six days a week playing with their laptops and listening to business jargon, and you invite them to church so they can do more of it? Isn't the whole point that it's something different?

Something that I suspect is driving this is the unspoken and probably mostly unintentional assumption that younger people are the only ones reachable, and they like hip music and hip technology. If we didn't get the middle aged folks before they hit 25, they're a lost cause anyway. But I always did think it interesting that most people's conception of "church" had to do with hymns, semi-formality and reverence, and if they were inclined to go to church at all, that's what they'd want and expect. If they want to listen to hip music and cool speakers, they can go out to a bar and then flip on Comedy Central when they get home. It makes no sense to even invite people to church if you don't have something to offer them that they're not going to find elsewhere, and being humans and not doctrine-receptacles, saying "but the gospel is different" is not enough. The experience needs to reflect the differentness as well.

Disclaimer; everyone who is going to assume a whole lot of very specific, 19th century-oriented content to what I mean by "differentness" -- don't assume so much.

Aaron said...

Are you in an all white context? This is definitely not the case in ethnic minority communities. I am wondering if you gathered your info from a diverse source or a homogeneous source.

By the way it is great to talk with you man. You and I exchanged emails on the Anthony Bradley (Institute) blog. I am now in California and starting to build up a core team so we can launch the church.

Give me a shout when you get a chance.

Grace and Peace,

Night Writer said...

I grew up in a couple of mainstream, conventional congregations and the hymns never meant that much to me then. The music may have had a sense of "permanence and awe" but this was undone by the dutiful but half-hearted (or at least softly-voiced) vocalizations of the elderly congregation mouthing unfamiliar words and old English contractions. I liked the Doxology, but I didn't find myself humming or singing the hymns to myself during the week.

I've enjoyed and been edified by the more contemporary Praise and Worship. Not just because it's "more accessible" but because just about everything my church sings comes from scripture and the words and tunes do insinuate themselves into my life, helping me remember what God has said and done (praise) and who He is (worship). These songs have been an important part of me being able to picture and incorporate Christ in my life.

And now that that has been accomplished, I can look back on the "old" songs and see how sound and profound the words were; they mean more to me now than they ever did before. I tear up at a passionately performed "How Great Thou Art" or "There is a Fountain" and feel the reverence and awe the authors must have felt when composing those songs.

Music should be a communal experience, something that draws us closer to each other in the sharing and, most importantly, closer to God, whichever style stirs a person's spirit.

People will tend to self-select. For those that did not have a positive experience growing up in church (or weren't churched), the older sounding songs might stir bad memories or appear stuffy and "too religious", perhaps even reinforcing old stereotypes or self-justifications for not attending. The "new" music may get around that barrier. Regardless of the style, however, if our hearts aren't in it we lose the effect. Rote repetition is still soul-less even if done to a snappy beat.

Btw, I've recently been moved to start a little series of posts based on a particular thought or revelation that's come to me during P & W. These moments have started happening so regularly I thought I ought to write them down; they're under the "Picture this" heading on my blog.

Bike Bubba said...

Aaron, not all white--we've got a significant portion of asians, a few blacks, and a few hispanics there. That said, it's certainly true that it's awfully hard to achieve an ethnically mixed church in Minnesota, unless of course you're in Minneapolis or St. Paul proper.

I'd be curious to see you flesh out what you were getting at. I'm not quite sure I follow you. Are you saying that minorities tend to have a greater appreciation for the older music, or?

Will send you a note at some point, too.