out of touch

Are You Out of Touch With Your Congregation?

Every once in awhile I write an article that hits a nerve. A few years ago the biggie was Why You Shouldn’t Use Secular Songs In Worship. At the time it blew up, was shared a bazillion times and surprisingly drew quite a few nasty comments from disgruntled worship leaders.

Recently the article has sprung to life again, and has been picked up by some of the top Christian news websites on the Internet (one had over 10,500 shares of the article!)

These websites are general Christian websites and, I’m assuming, are visited by typical Christians – i.e. the (non-musical) ones in our congregations (as opposed to WorshipIdeas which is visited mainly by worship leaders – I doubt anyone else would find an article about which hymn verses to use the least bit appealing.) What I find interesting is the comments on these general websites are overwhelmingly supportive. Grateful, even.

So, the same article on this website drew hordes of vicious emails (you seriously would not believe how vicious… lol!) – while the same article on a general Christian website drew hordes of positive comments. This begs the question – are worship leaders out of touch with their congregations?

We artists are sometimes so absorbed in our love for music it’s hard to see outside ourselves. One guitarist friend of mine complains his worship leader is obsessed with Hillsong United, so five out of the six songs they do each week are… Hillsong United. Another worship leader I know is obsessed with Chris Tomlin and will often have six song praise sets with nothing but Tomlin tunes.

Or maybe you’ve gone to the Latest Worship Conference and are pulling your hair out trying to do in your church what’s working at the Famous Megachurch. This phenomenon has caused uproars for years. When I arrived at one ministry, the church had been nearly split after the worship team visited a Famous Conference at a Famous Megachurch and tried to replicate it at home.

Perhaps you’re trying to do the right songs in the wrong style. During one class I was teaching at a worship conference a man asked a question: he was doing all the latest popular praise songs (just like on the recordings) and his congregation simply wasn’t responding. I asked him what he felt was the favorite style of music most people in his church enjoyed. “Bluegrass” he answered – and I saw a light go off in his head. I hope he went home and started creating Bluegrass arrangements of Passion tunes.

The solution is so simple we miss it – use a variety of songs tailored stylistically to your congregation. The pop music style is the language of our culture – it’s what we hear in stores, TV commercials and on the radio. My winning philosophy is to have a solid pop sound using a blend of newish & oldish praise songs and a hymn here and there – then bending that pop sound to the stylistic tastes of your congregation. If you have a majority of older people, you might go a little more acoustic. If you have young families, you might throw in a few more hymns (young couples, after having kids, often start attending church after a long absence – they surprisingly tend to like contemporary versions of hymns, remembering them from years ago.) I know of one deep-south megachurch who has a steady diet of cutting edge hipster music. The pastor forced the worship leader to do a down-home, countrified Gospel song one Sunday. To the worship leader’s abject horror, the church exploded in excitement and jumped to their feet. I think they’d do well to add a steel guitar more often to their mix, don’t you? Worship leader, your congregation isn’t as hip as you think you are.

Bottom Line: This week, take a deep breath and honestly evaluate your congregation. Are you using the proper music and styles to reach them? Warning: this may initiate a job change – you might be in the wrong church.

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