What does the skeptic think about your music?
Imagine a skeptic visits your church. She is not sure what she thinks about God, Christianity, or organized religion in general, but she came because her friend invited her. She walks in late and the first thing she encounters is the music at your church. As she absorbs the scene–the musicians up front leading, the congregation singing, the ethos of the room–she instantly begins forming impressions about your church and about God. What does she see? What does she hear? Most importantly: what impressions about God does the music at your church communicate to this skeptic?
As a music leader, my initial gut instinct is to say, “I hope she thinks our music (and, by extension, the band making the music) is cool.” And that makes some sense, doesn’t it? It’s better if she thinks we’re cool than if she thinks we’re complete dorks, right? Well…not necessarily. I should be thinking, “I hope she realizes that the God we are worshiping is Good, Beautiful, Loving, and worthy of her worship.”
But how in the world is she going to get that impression? Well, obviously it helps if the lyrics of the songs we sing say that God is worthy of our praise. : ) But it is equally important how those words are sung and who she notices singing them.
Today, I want to argue that the best thing for a skeptic to observe about the music at your church is how loudly and whole-heartedly the people in the pews are singing. Not how good your band is. Why? Because the way in which a congregation sings says something about the God to whom they are singing. And, believe it or not, having a cool band upfront can actually distract from the message we really want skeptics to hear: that God is powerful, good, and worthy of praise.
Let me explain why I believe this.
1) A cool band says more about your budget than it does about God.
It is the 21st century, and the curtain is pulled back on music production. Anyone who has watched TV in the last 20 years knows that money equals polish when it comes to musical productions. We know about Britney Spears lip syncing with pre-recorded vocal tracks. We survived the Backstreet Boys in the early 2000s. We know that with enough money, you can hire the right people, buy the right equipment, and make a band look and sound really good.
When a skeptic walks into a church and sees a cool band up front playing cool music, nothing important is actually communicated about God. A polished musical production communicates that the church cares about having great music, and that it has the money to pull it off. But, anyone who is looking for reasons to dismiss Christianity and explain away your worship service will be quick to connect the dots: “Oh, this is just a well-funded production and all these people come here b/c it’s cool.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe churches should spend money on music and make the arts a priority in their budgets. I am not knocking polished musical productions. I just don’t want anyone to labor under the delusion that if your worship band makes cool music that you are therefore making God more glorious in the eyes of an outsider/onlooker/skeptic.
But what’s the alternative? Should we have bad music? No. We should have…drum roll please…congregational singing!
2) Whole-hearted congregational singing sends a message about God.
If a skeptic walks in and the first thing she sees/hears is a room full of people singing loudly with visible joy and delight, a different message is communicated, a message about God. The message is essentially this: “The God to whom we sing is worthy of our praise.” (On the flip side, half-hearted singing by the congregation communicates that God is boring, a figment of our imaginations, or simply not worthy of praise).
This is yet another reason why churches should make robust, heartfelt corporate singing their highest musical priority: because it says something about God that no worship band, no matter how polished or cool, can communicate.
No matter how good the worship band sounds or how culturally relevant the music is, the band simply cannot send the same message that is conveyed by a whole bunch of ordinary people singing their hearts out.
3) In fact, “cool music,” if it detracts from congregational singing, can actually obscure the message about God.
“1And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” I Cor. 2:1-5
If Paul had spoken with lots of wisdom and cleverness, onlookers might have gotten the impression that people were converting and worshiping Jesus just because Paul was a smooth operator. Likewise, when all that a skeptic sees at your church is a cool band up front, it’s easy for her to explain the phenomenon away as money and charisma from the leaders. But robust corporate singing, (especially at those moments when the music is not so great), declares that the God to whom we sing is good. And it demonstrates His power to call the hearts of ordinary people into worship.
So let me close with this question: what sends a better evangelistic message to a visiting skeptic? a) great musicians performing cool music, or b) a church full of ordinary folks singing their hearts out to God?
If the answer is as clear to you as it seems to me, then the next question should be obvious as well: What should be the primary purpose of music in corporate worship?
… To get the congregation singing their best.
Filed under: Congregational Participation, Corporate Singing, Evangelism, Leading Worship, Performance, Singing, Worship Leaders | 12 Comments
Tags: attractional worship, christianity, Evangelism, skepticism