Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Worship Renewal ≠ Musical Style

I came through college and seminary in the 1980s … what some refer to as the heyday of the “church growth movement.” Polls were conducted and books were published to show frustrated leaders how to reach the un-churched and increase the numbers. One of the things that came out of the church growth movement was the idea of “worship renewal,” which during that era mainly meant making radical changes in the style of music used in order to get more people in the door. Many babies got thrown out with the bathwater in an attempt get on the church-growth bandwagon.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t a need for renewal in our worship practices. The church is in constant need of renewal because we who make up the church are in constant need of renewal. The problem with “worship renewal” in the 1980s was that far too much attention was focused on a change in musical style as the cure-all for a lack of spiritual depth and numerical growth. Church musicians were either given credit for this growth or were blamed for its absence. Here’s an interesting fact, though: according to Sally Morgenthaler, a 1996 study by the North American Society for Church Growth showed that after over a decade of the “worship renewal” music style change experiment, no county in the US had a greater percentage of churched people than it had 10 years earlier.

So what do we make of this 20+ years later? Graham Kendrick wrote this:

Our culture is addicted to the new and novel in a way that our fore-fathers could not possibly have imagined. The propaganda machinery of consumerism has trained us to switch from fad to fad, flick from channel to channel, even jump from church to church, in search of something new or better, or something that is more “me” or “us,” or cooler or more traditional, or “deeper,” or that the kids will like so that they don’t complain so much about having to get out of bed on Sunday morning.

Music is woven inextricably into this culture of choice and personal gratification, and when we arrive in church our taste antennae simply continue to function – we know what we like, and that is what we tend to want.

So let’s get it clear straight away, worship renewal is not about renewing our practices for the sake of newness, or to attract more people, satisfy popular taste, or compete with the other churches in town in coolness or spirituality. Let all things be done for edification, for building up the body of Christ as a dwelling place for God.

Worship renewal is first of all the renewal of people, transformed from within by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s enough to think about for now. The peace of Christ to you.


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