Most churches want to be perceived as a welcoming. Sadly, if you’ve been in a number of churches over a lifetime, you’ve probably encountered churches that have no set plan in place to create a welcoming environment for guests (or members), but by their actions, philosophy, and music, they are adamantly exclusive. An intergenerational church values the whole over the individual–the family atmosphere over the segregated. The musical portion of worship should also reflect and embody a welcoming spirit as well. Today, I will discuss pitfalls of music in churches that lack a welcoming atmosphere.
Music that is unwelcoming in the intergenerational congregation is…
- Performance Driven. In these churches the congregation simply spectates with little to no participation. Many think that band-driven worship leadership is the primary offender of performance driven worship, but I’ve experienced choral driven worship services that did the same thing. The medium of presentation does not indicate whether or not it’s performance driven; rather, the lack of opportunities for the congregation to sing. We are not simply spectators, but participators.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
- Physical Space. What does your worship center look like? What does it say about your congregation? If your worship space is Gothic and medieval in appearance and you’re attempting to do band-driven worship with and echo that could ring for minutes, it’s not very welcoming for your congregation. Basically, the look of your worship space should reflect who you are. Remember the authenticity thing. Forcing a musical style or preference in a room never designed to handle that type of music usually ends in someone thinking or saying) these people try too hard. Our room here at Ivy Creek is very well-suited for choral and orchestra-driven music. Our acoustics aren’t very dry and there is a nice ring to the room. If we were band-driven, we’d probably add more acoustical panels to deaden the sound, but we have found what works for us. When you walk into our room, you see a large platform (it’s actually about 35-40% of the room—no lie) and it’s pretty obvious what we’re about. Sound/loudness also can wreak havoc on the welcoming spirit of the church worship space. I have some new friends in my choir, late Gen Xers, who came from a church that was so oblivious to the decibel level in the room, they often had to come in after the music portion of the worship service was over because the volume was so loud. They also mentioned that because it was so loud they couldn’t hear each other sing. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, if no one can hear each other. The converse is also true, make sure your people can hear and understand or they also won’t be edified.
- Too Personal or Me-Centric. Honestly, until several years ago sitting in hymnology seminary, I had not really given this thought that songs could be useful for personal use or corporate use. Not only that, I realized that there were a lot more songs that were vertical (sung to God) as opposed to horizontal (sung to others about God). One of the assignments during that seminar was to analyze texts of many of our hymns and modern worship songs for these elements. We even were asked to take months and months of our own corporate songs we as worship leaders selected for worship and analyze them as well. What I discovered was I tended to lean towards songs that lacked the collective “we.” I was not aiding my congregation in the act of worship together, but in subjective/privatized time of music.
- Loss of Welcoming Community. Congregations seeking to be welcoming, inclusive, while admonishing each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs cannot exist primarily on texts driven with personal pronouns. This is not to say that vertical, personal pronoun driven songs are off-limits. There is an argument for the collective “I,” which states that as long as we are individually proclaiming our love for God together then we are essentially doing the same thing as singing we or us. I can accept that argument to some degree, but hear the heart of the point I’m trying to make: the goal of corporate worship music is for the whole body of believers to experience community together. Community is mutual submission to our neighbors. It welcomes all who will come to the table of grace. We are better together, synergized by the people next to us—flesh and bone—harmonious, literally and figuratively!
In my next blog post, I will discuss how the church can overcome these pitfalls in churches that do not value community. As a teaser, I will remind you that people of all ages, especially our Millennial friends, value relationships in the group sense. While this “pack” mentality is certainly not original to the Millennial generation, I’ve noticed that small groups is the key to engaging and keeping young folks. In fact I believe that focusing on getting young people plugged into small groups is more important than catering to perceived musical tastes that many church leaders believe will draw and retain young people and families. Getting them connected to each other, driven more by how they can help (think social justice), and provide solid biblical children’s ministry is the key. Pastors (and yes, the pastors are the ones driving the vision of the church) need to stop putting so much weight on the music and worship service itself as the key to retaining young people. Don’t worry; it’s important, but not the key. More later…