Every church has its own culture, it's own genetic makeup. Musical style is just one of those factors. It also includes age ranges, professions, meal preferences, activity levels, family size, church location, median income, etc. It might also involve attitudes, theology, genealogy, clothing choices, and lifestyle. These statistics and descriptors come together to make up the overall culture of your church. Think about it - how is the culture of an urban neighborhood different from a more suburban neighborhood and a rural neighborhood?
For example, people who live in an urban area have little parking but easy access to public transportation. On the other hand, people who live in a rural area may have plenty of places to park but no access to public transportation. This in turn will affect the activities that a church plans or the things that a church might do together. One church may have room for lots of picnics but little indoor space for group meals, so church dinners only happen when the weather is nice. Other churches may have little outdoor space but plenty of room in the basement for potluck so church dinners are pretty routine.
The music of a church works much the same way. Think about what style of music you use during your worship services. Do you have a worship band, an orchestra, a piano, or an organ? Do you typically use music that is fast and loud, slow and mournful, or a combination? Do you sing strictly traditional music, Gregorian chant, or modern? Or do you use all kinds of music? Is your church trying to copy the music of famous worship musicians? Say, Chris Tomlin, Hillsongs, the Gaither band, or perhaps Bach himself? Does your church have it's own unique musical sound, based upon the strengths of the musicians on your team?
Now think about what music the people of the church listen to when they are not in a worship service. Guess what - if your church is primarily made up of Baby Boomers - do you think that they will they be listening to the music of the 60s and 70s? Do they like top 40? What if your church is largely Gen Xers, does this make your worship team sound like Depeche Mode or Bon Jovi? Does the music of your church people match the music style or styles that you use on Sunday morning? Why or why not? What's the current music trend and are you using that style in church?
How about your church's neighborhood? What is the cultural identity of the people who live near your church? Do people walk to your church or do they drive long distances to get there? What do the people of your church's community like to listen to? If you don't know, try visiting the local shops and listen to what people are playing on the radio. Is there any common ground? What language or languages do you hear? Big box (I.e. Walmart and chain grocery stores) stores are more likely to play top 40 tunes, but be sure to listen to the music being played for the customers in the local small businesses. What do you hear on people's radios in their cars, and as you pass by them listening to their iPods? Does the music in your worship service match the style of music that is being enjoyed in your church's neighborhood?
Lastly, as the pastor or worship leader, what are your musical tastes? And how do they affect the music that is happening in the church?
Why is this at all important? Like Paul, are being all things to all people? Are we able to meet people where they are musically, or are we doing or own thing to cater to the people behind church doors? Are we reaching out or reaching in? Some would argue that the church's music should be different, set apart from the culture. That's a valid point, but sometimes it seems to be made by folks who resonate with more traditional styles of music. Those traditional styles are born out of a time period when they were considered the 'popular music' of the day.
The Bible doesn't tell us what musical style to use in our churches. It doesn't say that one instrument is more holy than another, or one type of song is more Christian than another. It doesn't tell us how many songs to sing or when we've praised God enough. There is no magical music formula that will call down God's blessing on us! It does tell us, over and over, to sing praise to God! The Bible tells us to sing new songs, and psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. And the Bible tells us often to love others, serve others, and put others' needs before our own.
If you're dependent on a certain style, type, or series of music to get you to worship God, then my guess is that something is missing in your personal time with Jesus. If you can't get in the mood to praise because the music is too fast, too slow, not good enough, or the wrong style, than you're probably missing the point. The point is that we come together to worship God as a community - as a family - for who He is and what He has done - and musically we will need to find some kind of common ground to do so. Why don't we take this opportunity to use our common ground music to also reach out to the community around us? To help our church's neighbors feel welcome and comfortable and part of the family, too.
What do you think?