How to Modernize your Music Ministry
By Ken Johnson
I write articles and other pieces for my music newsletter hoping they will stimulate thoughts. I look forward to responses, whether positive or negative. Regretfully, readers are like many members of mainline churches, who cheer heartily for their favorite football team on Saturday but on Sunday are struck dumb.
Whether to challenge or agree with me, for the most part I haven’t had anyone respond, until recently. I’m happy that someone finally posed some music questions that I can respond to; here is one concerning worship:
I am just wondering. Do you not see a niche for the “traditional music” service? It seems that all of your articles are negative towards traditional music.
What is wrong with tradition? It seems to me that not everyone likes a contemporary service with praise bands, dancing choirs, and so on.
Many of us like and revere the traditions and symbolisms of a service. It seems to me that a lot of contemporary services, and I have visited several large churches with praise bands, come across as huge productions or entertainment extravaganzas. When does this cross over from praising God to entertaining the masses?
How do we make that balance between the old and the new? I try to incorporate contemporary music in our services, because I like the words that are written. But I also like the old hymns that I was brought up on, so I try to incorporate old and new. I’m not opposed to new ways of presenting the gospel, but I’m not sure change for the sake of change is of value either.
Thanks for your e-mail. You pose some interesting questions and thoughts.
Yes there is a place for a traditional music service. It just needs to be updated to the 21st century. The traditional, dying churches that I wrote about earlier remind me of my youth. Their services are like going back in time to horse and buggy days.
However, in 2006 we can’t be excused for staying in the 20th century in presenting church. We have the expertise and equipment to do a better job. Many mainline churches are stuck in the past, while young people are used to a totally different lifestyle. They aren’t interested in returning to the 1900’s.
A call for change
Interestingly enough, as I finished writing that last paragraph I received a call from one of those dying mainline churches that wants to start a contemporary service and asked for my help. I’m not sure what we will do, they may not need a contemporary service, but they do need some change.
One of my mentors recently said that congregations don’t necessarily need a contemporary music service; they just need a contemporary church. That means a church that lives and thrives in the 21st century.
This doesn’t mean always catering to young people’s musical tastes. However, if your services plod along with an amateurish flavor, it is disconcerting to younger members of the congregation who are used to better production values.
Granted, church isn’t a show, but it can’t be mired to staid, centuries-old traditions in an era when people communicate across the globe instantaneously. The key question to ask yourself is: “Where will this church be in 20 years when most of the people currently sitting in the pews are gone?”
If the answer is, “It’s likely to be gone too,” then you know that something has to be done, while there is still time.
While not all churches need a praise band, to draw younger people a church needs to have contemporary touches. This can include such steps as:
* Getting the choir into the sanctuary, next to people, and out of their robes.
* Using choruses that are modern and up to date.
* Using a projection video to show the words of all songs and choir selections.
* Using hymns with lyrics that speak to the people. While I love old hymns, your selections should
speak to young and old.
* Moving people closer together. If necessary, block off the back pews. The church needs to be a close-knit community.
* Have a joyful service. This key element is missing in 100 percent of dying churches. I do understand why. It has to be frustrating to see a sanctuary one-fourth full.
* Include laughter in your service.
* Make your services interactive�get the congregation involved in more than just sitting in a pew.
Ministering in various ways
It is exciting how the Lord is able to minister to such a variety of people.
I don’t agree with everything that cutting-edge churches do. I know of one that changed its music from a choir to “star” ministry. I don’t like that, but I can’t argue with what they provide people in their community.
Crossing the ministry line
I honestly can’t tell you a time when a church crosses the line from ministry to entertainment.
However, in the late 1970s and early, 80s my church “Faith Presbyterian” ministered to more than 3,000 people on Sunday. By the time I left in 1984, we had just under 5,000 members. Most of them were ministering to souls and we had started three other, growing churches.
Faith was a traditional church that that did all of the things that I have listed above. Regretfully, instead of asking what we did that made us successful, some in our denomination were jealous of our success. They called us “the circus church.”
Remember, the mission of the church is to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1: 8b, NIV.)
There is no way we can be witnesses to the world if we aren’t getting people into the church to bring them to the Lord, teach them and send them back out to the world. This is the Great
Commandment and we need to live by it.
If it remains in the forefront of our minds, we will never worry about continuing what we have done forever while the church dies. We will be too concerned about what we have to do to reach people in the 21st century.
Fulfilling the Great Commandment
I tell my students at Denver University’s teacher education program that if they have to go over to the corner, stand on their heads and whistle for their students to understand what they want, then they need to do it.
As church leaders we need to do the same thing: do whatever it takes to fulfill The Great Commandment. You don’t check the health of the church by how many people are coming, but by how many people you are sending out to minister to the world.
Don, I’m sorry about the length of this but you posed such wonderful questions and thoughts that I had to give you some “I think” good ideas.
Regretfully, most churches are afraid to ask the questions you asked. Instead, they like to complain that growing churches are just entertaining, not “doing what we are.”
The only problem is that if the mainline churches keep going the way they are, the church will be dead in a short period of time. Neither you nor I want that.
Thanks for your thought provoking questions and ideas. I pray daily that the Lord will continually bless your ministry.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”