Can Our Music be Evangelistic?

I was reading an article recently that was attacking the idea that our music in church can be evangelistic in nature pretty harshly. On that article I found a comment that I enjoyed from an ECLA pastor. It read,

Jesus made it very clear in the great commission what the church is to be about. Go everywhere and make disciples, baptize and teach. Throughout his ministry Jesus was constantly battling with any religious custom or “tradition” that kept people away from God. He physically touched the ritually impure, broke the sacred Sabbath laws, threw over the Temple sanctioned system of money changing, ate with sinners and tax collectors, just to name a few. The church always exists first for those who haven’t found it yet. When the church loses this mission focus it risks becoming what our bishop has called “a country club with a religious flavor”.

The bishop also recently shared some troubling statistics about youth and young adults in the Lutheran Church (which is presumably similar to other mainline denominations). “If we are satisfied with losing 92% of our youth, then let’s not change anything,” the bishop told the synod council. Citing research that found that 84% of Lutherans between confirmation and age 24 do not attend church, and that half of the rest attend non-Lutheran churches, the bishop told the council, “the absence of young people between the ages of 18 and 35 is the single largest challenge facing the Lutheran church in this region.”

Hundreds and hundreds of mainline churches close in the U.S. every year. Many of them are right in the heart of growing communities. Most of the long established congregations in our fast growing county are in decline. Who will be the church leaders twenty and thirty years from now? What are we willing to compromise in order to attract unchurched people so they can experience the church’s relevance in their lives?

What a great response! The line that rattled me to my core was: The church always exists first for those who haven’t found it yet. Have we lost sight of that? I know there are times that I have. Sometimes we approach church with our expectations, our preference, our baggage, our wants, our needs, and our desires… and we forget our purpose.

We know that we live in a culture of change and with shifting ideas and relevance. We also know that music has always been at the center of such shifts, and often brought controversy within the church. It seems as if there is nothing that rallies a congregation to grab their pitchforks and torches like a change in the music they are accustomed to. This goes for both young and old generations! In fact, every generation tends to dislike the music of the next generation and the generation before them.

We have all heard it said, “The music we play in church ultimately isn’t for us.” In fact, our worship isn’t limited to a genre or style at all!

So, if we acknowledge that to be true then why are we holding so dearly onto our preferences at the expense of missing an opportunity for evangelism, kingdom-building, and multi-generational “churching?”

Ed Stetzer has said,

In our generation, formality and traditionalism is shifting out of general church practice. According to research from a few years ago, churches were moving to contemporary (verses traditional) at an 11-1 ratio.

I personally don’t find this shocking at all. With the rise of multi-site churches and mega-churches it seems as if many other churches have followed the trend of cultural relevance that seems to be getting unchurched people through the doors of churches that never would have entered previous to the musical and stylistic changes. I would bet that we will continue to see that trend grow and that eventually most churches are going to make the transition to feel more contemporary rather than traditional.

Along those lines our Pastor has used the example of a minister standing before his congregation and asking the simple question, “How many of you would do anything to get your child in church and keep them there as they age?” Every hand in the church shot up without hesitation. Then the minister turns the question around and asks, “then why do we hold our musical preferences so dear at the expense of them walking out the door?”

I believe that the contemporary church has done a great job of recognizing shifts and patterns in culture. They have stylistically engaged culture in relatable forms. They have reconnected with those disconnected from the “traditional” church culture. With this change unbelievers aren’t required to navigate or appreciate an unfamiliar musical style before they grasp the words that they are singing. Think about it! We have all experienced a moment where we are so taken back by trying to understand the melodies and presentation of a song that we have missed the content entirely. That is exactly what we don’t want to happen for a first time church visitor! We want them to catch the words and be comfortable with the presentation in hopes of moving any distractions away from them hearing the Gospel proclaimed.

Many would argue for a lack of theological depth in contemporary music in comparison to other styles or presentations. I for one don’t believe modern worship (necessarily) “dumbs down” the music, but makes it makes it more accessible to those unfamiliar with church, church music, and maybe with God. Many people that are new to church are only used to what they have heard in the secular world. Beginning to walk in faith is hard enough without having to learn a new style of music in order to worship God. As long as the theology is rich and the words are pointed directly at Christ then I don’t see an issue with us teaching them in a way they can understand.

Now, having said all of that many would believe that I am just trying to usher in a contemporary style and point fingers at those who have yet to move in that direction. That isn’t it at all! All of this being said is “context” and “culture” sensitive. My hope is that we aren’t changing just for the sake of change… but instead we are changing because of the needs of our people and the particular context we are currently in. A 5-piece rock band may not fit a rural congregation but a banjo or organ may! Hymns may work for a primarily older (in age) church, whereas they may not engage a college town congregation. Ultimately, styles matter less than worship and depth.

The writer of the original post stated,

Getting butts in the seats is not evangelism. It’s not discipleship.

I actually agree with that statement… but it is certainly a start! A song or style alone can’t be it. So, can our church music be evangelistic?

You’ll have to answer that for yourself. I am going to approach it from my context and say yes. The greatest tool for evangelism is not a song. It is a broken person in need of a Savior recognizing their need for Christ through an avenue that we as a church provide to them through the guidance of the Spirit. But… an avenue for that recognition can certainly be in lyrical content. Content that an individual doesn’t need a deep and extensive theological background to decipher.

So… what is your context? In that realization you may find your answer.

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