Market-driven music undermines church

Jodie McNeill

If you visit a 'typical' Sydney Anglican church you should expect to see a variety of different styles of music over the course of a day.

At my church, our 8am service kicks the day off with organ music and traditional hymns. Our 10am service has a band which includes drums and guitar, and sings contemporary Christian music as produced by Emu Music, Sovereign Grace, and so forth. Our 6pm evening service is quite similar to the 10am service, but as our youth group grows and develops, it's likely that it will be louder and more 'edgy' that the family session at 10am.

The problem with this approach is that there is a wide range of demographics present at several of the service times. Our 10am service has babies through to great-grannies. The music tastes are far more varied than the fairly-soft-rock arrangements of our morning-church band.

Imagine if you could split up the church into different venues for the singing time, and then have the same sermon delivered at the same time to all groups of people?

This exact scenario is what I encountered at a recent visit to Saddleback Church, in California.

Upon arrival, I was given this menu of corporate worship options:

'Worship Center' - "You'll engage in an array of contemporary worship music"
'Overdrive' - "This service is filled with guitar driven, rock infused worship sure to amplify your experience. You'll feel like your worshiping in a musical concert setting!"
'Praise' - "This venue is filled with inspiring gospel music that will move your heart and encourage your spirit. The gospel choir will get you up off your feet in whole-hearted praise to God."
'Traditions' - "Enjoy a warm, small church community and a traditional approach to worship through hymns and choruses."

It was great to see that this church is so keen to meet people where they are at that it seeks to deliver music that meets the needs of the congregation. It was also a clever way to deal with the need to provide overflow seating for their overflowing venue.

However, I couldn't but help that this was market-driven ministry that had gone too far.

There is something powerful about seeing and hearing a range of generations all singing the same song to the same accompaniment. Most of the congregation would be sacrificing their own stylistic preferences in order to prioritise intergenerational corporate worship.

In our fragmented society, there is something powerful about a group of people across generations and ethnic cultures joining together in one voice.

Surely this is more compelling as a church that meets a person's specific music needs? Or is it?

Jodie McNeill is the Executive Director of Youthworks Outdoors. Jodie will be discussing this complex issue of intergenerational corporate worship at his workshop at the upcoming TWIST Music Conference.

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