I have identified five trends that have come to life this year that might be damaging to our expression of Christian worship. Some of these are connected to a tool’s application. The wonderful tools we have around us and the choices for leaders are greater than ever. Our ingenuity and cleverness have reached new heights. But, with all creativity there are two sides. Creativity as innovation solves a problem. Creativity as art tells a story. When we forget the story—basically who we are—in our desire to solve a presenting issue we lose ourselves.
These trends are based on what I have read, and from observations and interaction with hundreds of leadership of worship over this past year. I have connected five trends that we need so discuss as we enter a new year of opportunity.
Marketing the church through music.
What brings in the crowds, or even the cash, is often what is measured these days. Being “attractional” is not an evil. But, is the goal of our weekend worship services to simply fill the seats or is it more than that? The drive of many leaders to market a ministry may come from an evangelistic heart. However, music and art is something that tells a story. Madison Avenue has known this for decades. Do we tell our story, the story of the Gospel, and connect to the people we are trying to reach? Or, do we pander to the lowest common denominator? What draws a crowd? What keeps a crowd? Maybe there are deeper questions we should ask. Is our music a tool for marketing or a tool for worship? If it is both, which comes first?
Pressing play or the band in a box.
Ever since MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) tech in the 1990s was sold as a tool for budding churches, we have had a push to make things predictable and as excellent as possible. Today, you can have the best worship artists play along with your church through the use of loops and tracks. Many of these are from the actual released recordings. Personally, I have nothing against the technology, using it myself when I see fit. What is frightening, however, is that some have lost all faith in developing musicianship and rely solely on these for their band. Like any tool, how you use it is what is important. In some cases, musicians have little to no input in being creative. You potentially silence the people most gifted to create. Is control and predictability more important than developing people? Is investment in gear a better spent dollar? Perhaps, we should think about all the ramifications of how we use these loops. For some, these are a God send! But, for others they might be strangling creative potential for the expedient.
Creating or crafting an experience.
It used to be that as worship leaders, our role was to invite people to express their worship. We served them by making the service music accessible. Today, it appears that we want instead of a few songs that help warm people to sing their prayers we call for three up tunes to get energy in the room. When we program a service for emotions and a response rather than for expectation and faith we dumb down our worship. It becomes more about us church leaders and less about the people and what they have come to offer. It is about what we do not our congregation. Might we have deeper worship experiences if we taught our people that it is their expression and not their reaction that matters? Might we lead better if we looked at our roles as servants of a process rather than creators of a product? The less we put on the people to bring, the more we set up all for disappointment. Maybe our newer approaches are counter productive.
Paying for popularity not leadership.
There seemed to be a time when creative leaders were hired by churches to lead creative people to help their church members worship. Today, it seems we choose a worship leader to be what that person should look like in public, not the leadership they might add behind the scenes. To lead artists, training, experience, and maturity are necessary. Many churches will hire a talented younger person only to find implosion in a short time. I hear of and have witnessed this much in the recent past. One church I know of was brazen in their desire to recruit a very well-known recording artist for their image and growth. Do we desire platform talent over leadership? Can there be both? There are so many training opportunities these days, with the ability to get a Masters in worship ministry. However, does experience ever play as a factor in who we choose to help lead us in worship?
Embracing ubiquity instead of locality.
A culmination of our use of tracks with our addiction to perfection and image have brought us the same worship set in the same keys and in the same tempos across the United States. There are some songs that surely should be sung across the world. But, do we know the story of our own town and do we value helping that voice worship? Does our zip code come second to wanting to look and sound like famous worship teams or churches? Our success might be measured by sounding and looking like a successful church, after all. It is as if we have chosen beige when our local palate illuminates with unique hues. There may be a place for the Walmarts. But, is there a place for the local voice as well? Do we love our community enough to speak and sing their language? Are we valuing control and ubiquity over being indigenous to our locality?
What do you think about these five trends? I would love to discuss with you your thoughts!