Worship Music: To Blend or not to Blend?


Question from a worship committee: “How do you blend music so that worship feels open and appealing to everyone (to avoid becoming a seniors’ church, a boomer church, etc.)’

Evidence from congregations across North America supports opposite answers to that question. For example, during their workshop break time conversation two pastors shared the following sharply
contrasting experiences with a church consultant.

Pastor A: “We tried blending traditional hymns with praise songs and a six-person instrumental group. Some people liked that. but 40 percent of the congregation revolted Attendance dropped sharply. We
shifted to traditional music at 11:00 a.m. and developed a contemporary service at 9:30 a.m. (simultaneous with Sunday school). Total worship attendance rose 30 percent, and most of our members like the system.”

Pastor B: “We tried specialization–gospel music at 8:00 a.m., a contemporary service at 9:30 a.m., and traditional music at 11:00 a.m. Many people complained Some said I like to worship at 9:30 a.m. and you never sing my kind of hymns.’ One couple said. ‘We like contemporary music and the 11:00 a.m. service, so we moved our membership to a church which offers that combination.’ After several months of these criticisms. the worship committee decided to blend traditional and contemporary music at three identical services. Attendance is up 50 percent, and most of our members like the system.”

Which Method Fits Our Church?

Ask your worship committee (or a special study committee appointed by the governing board) to start its analysis by discussing seven questions. Other important issues pertinent to your congregation will emerge in the conversations.

1. Do our leaders understand music�s role in worship? The goal of worship is not to present a particular kind of music. The goal of worship is to help people come into a sense of the presence of God Music helps that happen in ways that the spoken word alone cannot. Because music has the power to alter our state of consciousness. it increases our receptivity to God-powered attitude and behavior changes not otherwise possible.

2. Do our leaders understand that worship music has changed many times in 2,000 years? Some generations experience extreme, instant changes. Other generations experience more gradual changes. Examples of some instant changes: In 313 AD The Edict of Milan banned instrumental music (pagan influences might infiltrate holy worship, the church leaders said). In 364 AD the Council of Laodicea took hymn singing away from the worshipers, decreeing that only the clergy could sing during the official liturgy. Soon, day choirs began assisting the clergy while the laity watched In the early 1500s Martin Luther gave the singing back to the pew people. He wrote thirty-six hymns and encouraged
congregations to respond to the biblical Word with sung words.

Hymn content also changes across the generations. A few examples: Luther’s hymns, such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” emphasized doctrine, because that met an important new need of his era. In the
early 1900s experiential hymns such as “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” be- came more prominent. During the 1940s hymns written several hundred years ago returned to prominence, led by organ music and large choirs. Since 1965 many people say that praise songs which directly address God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit (personal prayer in a singing format) are more spiritually enriching than the ancient hymns.

These changes in worship music will stop when (a) the world ends or (b) churches cease to contain new generations of attendees whose new and different circumstances cause them to find spiritual nurture in a different kind of music.

3. Do our leaders understand that transmitting the Christian faith to different cultures requires music. Americans accept non-traditional worship music styles as a necessity on the world’s mission fields. However, they do not as readily see that need in their own communities. A large percentage of American adults born since 1964, though they speak English, are a new cultural group that churches can reach only with post-1964-style worship music. What happens when church leaders lock on a denial of that insight? The worship services meet the spiritual needs of that small segment in each community’s population
comprised of (a) the oldest church members and (b) the approximately 27 percent of younger adults who prefer traditional music.

4. Do our leaders understand what the term “contemporary worship music” means? This is not accomplished by asking a guitarist to lead the congregational singing. The term does not mean “casual” as in a service with no worship bulletin and a spontaneous style. It does not mean “charismatic,” where several people raise hands to praise God or speak in tongues. Contemporary worship music often has these characteristics:

The tempo is faster than was typical during the 1950s.

Sing-ability of hymns is emphasized (leaders remember that only 19 percent of worshippers read music, and since more than 50 percent of them grew up in other denominations they may not know this congregation’s hymns).

Praise choruses are a larger percentage of the music.

Instruments other than an organ are typically used, such as keyboards/synthesizers, brass ensembles, woodwinds, guitars, and drums.

A song leader often feuds the congregation rather than leading the chancel choir. – The congregation sings a larger percentage of the time.

Music is not the only factor that defines “contemporary” worship. It often differs in sermon content and delivery. the amount of attendee participation. worship leader style and attire, and the degree of
informality. But since the music usually comprises 10 percent of the service time and sets the emotional tone for everything else, many people use the music to define a service as “contemporary.”

5. Would not we irritate everyone (instead of addressing the different preferences) by blending various kinds of worsbip music in several identical services? One-half of growing churches successfully blend different kinds of worship music in multiple, identical services. The other 50 percent cannot make that work. Several factors other than the music play a role:

Resistance to blending worship music in all the services tends to increase with the members’ median age.

Resistance to music blending reduces in proportion to the pastor’s skill at introducing change gradually, over several months.

Resistance to blending (and the increased desire for specialized services) increases when a large number of church members who hold a particular theological perspective prepared to operate as a congregational sub-unit that does not have to compromise with people of other perspectives.

Leaders may not think to examine these factors until they have experienced the sharp pain of failed experimentation.

6. Which of the five reasons for scheduling multiple worship cervices do our members and attendees value most? In a workshop, Lyle Schaller noted that the reasons for scheduling multiple worship
services have become more numerous:

In the 1950s, many churches launched multiple services to provide more seating space in population-exploding suburban communities.

In the 1960s, churches began trying to accommodate attendees’ different worship time preferences.

In the 1970s, many churches recognized the need to provide a non-traditional worship format. (Many twenty-something and thirty-something young adults of that era wanted a less formal, warmer, relational style of worship.)

In the 1980s, many young adult Baby Boomers and Busters began asking for a different style of worship music and hymn content

In the 1990s, churches began discovering that many post1964-birth-date adults preferred worship services with a TV format (visually oriented) instead of the radio format (hearing oriented) that has predominated since the 1920s

When leaders try to decide whether to blend or not blend their worship music, they should also identify which of the five reasons for scheduling multiple services are important to their attendees.

7. Are most of our attendees similar in sociological factors such as age, occupation, education, cultural background, and economic income–or do our attendees represent a wide range of diversity in
sociological type? Generally speaking. the more homogeneous a congregation’s members, the less they desire multiple services that feature different kinds of music. Two homogeneous examples: Churches in
small towns whose economy is agriculturally based, most of whose children move away when they graduate high school, may prefer to blend the music in all their services. Large evangelically oriented churches in the Bible belt South may prefer to blend the music in all three identical services.

On the other hand metropolitan mainline congregations that want to serve a broad sociological and theological spectrum-young to old, liberal to charismatic–find that goal more easily achieved with
multiple services, each featuring a different music style.

Johnny One-Notes Serve Small Constituencies

Emmett Henry died recently. The AP Wire Service report said that Henry distinguished himself by opening a bookstore that sold only one book, which discussed his recollections of growing up in Southeast Arizona. He did rather well with such a specialized business–selling 25,000 copies. Most bookstores do better when they offer several titles. Likewise, churches usually serve more people with a variety of music types.

Does your church want to help the largest possible number of people come into the life-changing presence of God in worship? Or, does your church want to serve only one adult age group or cultural group?

After your leaders make that decision, they are ready to ask the final question: “Should we blend or not blend?”