The Significance of Your Music

H.B. London As I travel the country, the one thing that I see dividing congregations and setting pastors and people at odds with one another is music. It forces me to agree with what many church experts are saying — music will define your church's ministry. Like it or not, the style of worship music you choose will impact who will join you in serving the Lord.

Several years ago, pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in Mission Viejo, California, described the cultural factors he felt we need to understand if we are to be effective in our ministries. After discussing America's low-commitment nature, its multiple-choice tendencies and the shift from a family-centered to a marketplace culture, he included the following remarks:

The fourth cultural shift is the change in music. America is a rock and country music culture. No other music style approaches these two in popularity and pervasiveness. In fact, for the first time in history, the world has a universal style: adult contemporary. You can turn on a radio most anywhere in the world and hear the same songs.

I believe music style is the single greatest positioning factor in the local church, even more than preaching style. It determines whom you attract. Tell me your style of music, and I will tell you whom you're reaching and whom you will never reach. The moment you define your music, you position your church.

When I first started Saddleback, we tried to appeal to all musical tastes. We'd go "from Bach to Rock." We'd use a hymn, then a praise chorus, then a classical number, then jazz, then easy listening, then rap. We ran the spectrum. We alienated everyone. Any radio station that tried to appeal to everyone would go broke.

So I took a survey and asked, "What radio station do you listen to?" Ninety-seven percent listed a contemporary adult middle-of-the-road rock station. So we unapologetically use that style. We've driven off some potential members, but have attracted many more who relate to that sound.

Imagine a missionary going overseas and saying, "I'm here to share the good news, but first you must learn to speak my language, learn my customs and sing my style of music." We'd call that strategy for failure! Yet many churches in America do just that. Our culture has changed, but we insist on using the same language, programs, customs and musical style we used in the 1950s. That's a major reason two-thirds of all churches in America are plateaued or declining.

In order to reach unbelievers, we must speak words and sing tunes people understand.

The key to that success, of course, will be your ability to convince your people what music is best for all. Like you, I wish it were easier. I wish we could please everyone who attends our churches. But, most of the time, that's just not possible.

As you evaluate the personality of your congregation and the music best suited to its tastes, needs and objectives, you will have to make a difficult choice regarding its musical identity and live with the consequences — and, hopefully, the blessings.

Taken from Pastor to Pastor newsletter, May/Jun 1998.
Article copyright © 1998, Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Dr. H.B. London is the vice president of Pastoral Ministries for Focus on the Family and the author of numerous books on and for pastors. He served as a Nazarene pastor for over 30 years in several churches in Oregon and California. He and his wife, Beverley, live primarily in Colorado Springs, Colo., and have two sons and four grandchildren.