I Won't Dance, Don't Ask Me

Music. Churches are dividing over it. More and more Evangelical churches and even Mainline churches are replacing the organ, choir, and hymnal with rock band, praise singers, and a projector with big screen.  Some churches combine the two styles, some offer different worship services to accommodate the preferences of the people. Those that use the contemporary style are more likely to have a younger, larger congregation. Research shows that 64% of churches that switch to a contemporary service show a growth of 2% or more. It is certainly an attractive idea for a church that is struggling.

I am only 31, but I have a fondness for the organ, choir, and hymns. If my church suddenly switched, as a few want it to, I would have a difficult time sitting in the pew watching someone jump up and down and wave their arms, while loudly singing repeatedly, "J.C. is in the house!" On the other hand, I understand the many younger people who are depressed by the idea of singing dirges written in the 1700's to express their joy. When it comes to secular music, I like Perry Como and Jack Jones, so for me, "boring" music is the norm.  To me the traditional music is soothing, it takes me to a higher realm. Those that love contemporary music say the same about their style. I don't understand it. I just get a headache.

In the book,  Sundays in America by Suzanne Strempka Shea, the author tours a variety of  churches all over the nation. Big, small, fundamentalist and liberal, liturgical and contemporary. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, the author's preference was closer to my own ideal of what a worship service should be.

And at times she observed the rock concert atmosphere with disdain, but in some she felt peaceful and in touch with God. The difference, from the way I read it, is the intent of the music. Is it really the way these congregants express their worship to the Lord, or is it a marketing ploy to bring in the under 40 crowd who have little children and don't want to be bored in church?

I think that is the question that the minister and the congregation must ask itself. What is our intention in the style of music that we use? Are we worshipping God or entertaining the lowest common denominator? If we are doing the latter, then our worship is false, it is only a facade to make people feel good, make the minister feel as though she/he is doing something because the numbers in both attendance and funds are good. If that is our measure, we are missing the point. We are connecting to the vain, not the Holy when we choose that route. Yes, we must reach people, yes music is a very important part of the worship service and thus each church must consider the issue. Just make sure the choice is an enlightened decision, not a desperate business decision.

Pastors and laity, what do you think?

By Jim Reindollar