Monday, February 6, 2012

Church Music Innovation

According to Stan Endicott (the Purpose Driven choir conductor), 50 years from now, all church music will sound like Coldplay.  This is most certainly wrong and presumptuous.  Imagine Billy Graham saying back in the 60's that 50 years from then, all church music would sound like George Beverly Shea.  A church sounding then like what's popular today will most certainly be far behind the curve.

The fastest route to cultural relevance is historical connectedness.  According to C. S. Lewis, the more up to date a book is, the sooner it goes out of date.  The same could be said of music; the truly classic will endure, and the trendy will be replace by the next flavor of the month.  As one who plans and leads in congregational singing, I would like the majority of my emphasis to lie on the former.  "A Mighty Fortress" will most certainly outlast "Lord I Lift Your Name on High."  Some might argue it already has.

Does anybody notice that a significantly unique new genre of music hasn't been invented in 15 years?  I'm sure there's some small niche or scholarly "progress" I'm overlooking in the field of "new music," but I'm talking about the repertoire of the general public.  75 years ago society stood on the brink of an unparalleled proliferation of musical styles, catalyzed by developments in music technology and the ensuing instrumentation.  But for the moment, it seems to have settled.  Here's hoping that the lull will drive us back in time as we search for aural inspiration.

So what will church music look like in 50 years?  If you are a high church episcopalian, it will probably look remarkably similar to the way its been for the last 400 years.  If you're a low-church evangelical, one can only hope it becomes less cliche, mundane, and driven by a secular industry.  I think there's something to be said for a surge of upcoming innovation through bizarre combination of instruments.  Michael Gungor is just the tip of the iceberg for this, and a resurgence of folk style music in many Reformed churches may be the predecessor (that got some of us to take out our mandolins and dust them off).

In closing, here's a stab in the dark:  Expect to see some of this in Christian ritual before the mid-century mark!


  1. What I find interesting is that people focus on the style of music but not necessarily the content in the music and how it is sung.

    Does the music's lyrics have a biblical basis that you can easily point to?

    Who is the primary focus of the lyrics (Christ or the one singing)?

    Can the song easily be sung by the congregation or does the "praise band" have to sing it?

    What is purpose of the music and lyrics as part of the worship service?

    Can the music be performed by the musicians in the choir loft or off the the side?

    Does the music add to or distract from the worship service?

    These are the type of questions I would want answered on why we should change music in the Church.

  2. I couldn't agree more, though your questions deal more with repertoire than presentation. That is a pretty comprehensive set of criterion to run a song through to determine suitability for worship. However, when it comes to issues of style, I'm like a kid in a candy shop with a both/and approach. In our various services styles, they all pull from the same catalogue of songs, of which the Lutheran Service Book is the primary source. We even sing the ordinary of the mass with the praise bands (this works much better with Divine Service 2, 4, and 5 then it does with 1 and 3). I think that a great song is bigger than its original stylistic genre and can be performed in multiple arrangements/settings. "Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness," a traditional appalachian melody, for example, lends equally well to use with a Pipe Organ, folk/acoustic instruments (the likely original context) or more electrified modern bands.