Worship Wars: More Thoughts From “Essential Church”

I really enjoy a particular septuagenarian couple (well, I’m pretty sure he is, I’m not so sure she is) in our church. They’re actively involved in both classes and ministry opportunities. One or both of them will chat with me whenever our paths cross, showing their intelligence and quick wit without fail. They’ve been known to hold hands on occasion, right there in front of God and everybody.

One Sunday morning, “Jack” tells me that he and “Jill” had been on a date the previous night. Gone out to hear a vocal performance/competition of sorts. He said they had a grand time of it all. I liked the idea of the two of them taking a Saturday night together out on the town. I bet they held hands, right there in front of the singers and everybody, too.

The conversation went something like this:

“Jack”: “Brent, you know, those singers were really talented. You wouldn’t believe the harmonies they were singing.”
Me: “Really? Sounds like you two had a good time.”
“Jack”: “Oh, yeah. We had a ball. And you know what was great? We were seated next to some young people and they were really enjoying the good music. You don’t hear much good music these days, and these youngsters were having a great time.”
Me: (now sensing an agenda, even if “Jack” didn’t mean it to be–but I wouldn’t put it past him. Like I said, he’s a sharp guy) “Hmm. I bet that was nice to see.”
“Jack”: Yeah it was. It was nice to see, alright. It really is nice when young people get exposed to GOOD music. Music with harmony nice lyrics. Yep. It’s really great to see our young people appreciate the good stuff instead of all that noise most of ’em listen to.”
Me: (now with an agenda of my own, and I meant it to be, and I don’t consider myself all that sharp of a guy) “Yeah, Jack. I bet that was nice for you and Jill. I’m sure it made a good night even better.”
“Jack”: “It sure did.”
Me: “You know what I think is really cool, Jack?”
“Jack”: “What’s that?”
Me: “When I get the chance to see older folks in the same places as younger people appreciating that noise and trying to understand why they like it and why it means something to them. See, Jack, that street really does need to run both ways.”

I wink at him and take a hit from my Ozarka bottle with the sport-top for effect. My only other option was a Dumb & Dumber exit line, “Big Gulps, huh? Alright! Well, see ya later!” Seemed better to let my words sink in.

He winked back. “Gotcha. Good point. Did you catch mine?”

Like I said. He’s a sharp guy.

“Gotcha, Jack.”

The core issue that was exposed (and, has been exposed for about 150 years or longer) is that people like different kinds of music. I mean, if all my music got burned in a fire, my replacement strategy would involve finding CD’s by the Sex Pistols, Ramones, The Clash, The Violent Femmes, Social Distortion, The White Stripes/Raconteurs, Black Flag, Son Volt, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and R.E.M. That’s the stuff I’d have add immediately. The other stuff could be put together over time.

My sister’s list would be different.
My mom and dad’s list would’ve been different.
My grandparent’s list would’ve been different.
The guys 4 years ahead of me in college would’ve been different.
Your list would be different.

I’ve used the example when I teach, in any size room, if we were able to get everybody in attendance in one vehicle (train, plane or automobile) and we let one person in that room pick the music, likely 50% of that room wouldn’t choose that. Maybe half of the remaining group would be mildly indifferent about it, and the rest might really get into it.

It doesn’t matter what band. It doesn’t matter how loud or soft you play it. It doesn’t matter if the assembled group is the same age or spanning generations or even how big/small that group is, you won’t get consensus. I know, I’ve driven tons of vans to tons of events full of tons of teenagers and when somebody has made a mix-CD and a song comes on, it’s immediately met with “LOVE IT!” or “THIS SONG SUCKS!” Same age group. Small sampling. Mixed reviews.

And, for years, when young people leave a church, the response of the older generation involves the idea that “the young folks don’t like our music.” I mean, about 7 years ago, we had a significant chunk of my students attending another church in our area on Saturday nights together and I simply assumed it was because they preferred the music at that church. It’s a pretty common excuse in my circles that young folks leave a church because of the music style.

That’s what surprised me about the Rainer’s hypothesis that young people don’t drop out of church or leave a church because OF MUSIC STYLE ALONE. Here’s a quote:

“The battle over worship style is tired. Shall we let it rest? Of all the reasons people told us they left the church, style was not in the top ten. In fact, it wasn’t even in the top twenty-five. The issue of style is important for the conversation concerning contextualization of worship, but it is not a critical reason the students eighteen to twenty-two leave your church.

Students don’t drop out of church because an organ toots instead of a guitar screeching. They drop out because their church is not essential to them. They may gripe at times over worship style, but most of them aren’t prepared to leave the church over the issue…

Young adults leave because they lose a connection to the community of believers. Style of worship plays a small part in the creation of this community. In other words, it’s not the music. Rather, the people of the church make meaningful relationships, a sense of connection, and a comfortable place to gather.”

Did you catch that? It stuck out to me because it runs contrary to what I thought.

Music isn’t really the issue. Sure, it may be a smaller part of a bigger whole…but that bigger whole is much more important. And, I do think that the style of music is part of that “conversation concerning contextualization of worship.” What that means is that the overall context of the main worship service has a significant impact on whether or not young folks will stay at a local church, but the selection and style of the (maybe) 5 songs you might hear during any worship service at any church in America has little to do with their staying at a church or not.

See, the issue is really connection to a group of believers. That’s why they stay. And it isn’t only a connection to a same-generation group…it’s a connection to the overall body of believers who make up a church. If the young people see that the older people cares enough about them to put their style of music into the service every now and again, they’ll feel that connection. They’ll feel that those making decisions are aware that they’re in the room, and that they are an important part of the bigger whole.

Conversely, because they begin to understand they are part of a bigger whole, they’ll understand that sometimes the older generation’s wants are equally as valuable as their own. And they’ll understand that today might not be the day they get their wants met, but next week the Baby Boomers get theirs met, the Older Wiser Loving Saints get theirs met one week, and then they get theirs every so often.

See, friends, my friend “Jack” is absolutely right. It is good to see young people appreciating music that his generation enjoys.

See, friends, I’m right, too. It is good when older generations like the fact that young people are in their midst and choose to enjoy (or at least joyfully tolerate) their “noise.”

The street has to run both ways.

But worship wars aren’t why the young drop out.

I have more to say tomorrow on the role of parents as younger ones drop out.

*giggles even harder than he did yesterday, because he knows he just lobbed a Molotov Cocktail which should set off a riot among the patronage*