The facts are simple.
They can be boiled down to this: the Church, as an all encompassing body of believers, is declining in influence and popularity, in general, world-wide. The mainline denominations have less than 50 years left at their rate of decline and the "growing" churches among the world are not growing anymore. When "growing" churches can be named, because they are so few and far between, we know that we have a problem; we shouldn't be able to name the churches that are growing.
In general, religion is dying. While it seems to be growing in African countries and tribes, it is declining in Europe and America, places where lots of money, power, and world influence are still held. It is sometimes losing to "spirituality" or "divine relationship." The decline of organized Christianity will, by definition, lead to a loss of Christians. Less Christians might lead to less accountability. Less accountability often leads to weaker discipleship. Weaker discipleship allows the sinful world, not God, to win.
We are to be comforted, though, because we know that in the end God does win. However, I often fear that we are forgetting Jesus's commands to go and make disciples.
As far as the Church is concerned, I think I've come to the realization that the Church needs a revitalization movement. We've had several successful ones in our history, and there's not reason to think that God wouldn't bless a faithful one even today. Within that movement, we're going to need leaders. We're going to need followers. We're going to need ministers. We're going to need missionaries. We're going to need disciples.
And, we'll need some practical things as well.
We'll need new, creative, innovative, relevant, contextual, powerful ways to reach the world. We'll have to be ahead of the world, reflecting the ultimate Creator, rather than behind the world, simply copying what they do.
I imagine that we'll need some leaders that will attract followers with their charisma and gifts. But I don't think this movement will be led by only key leaders (what movement ever has?). No, I think this movement will need everyone; all hands will need to be on deck.
One of the gorgeous things about the Church is how diverse we are...we have so many people with so many talents, passions, and gifts. We'll need them all.
So, here is my thought: Let's stop talking about it. Let's just start it. It's already too late.
The movement is beginning, so let's start.
Throughout reflection, the Church has to find within each of its individuals a sense of place, a sense of fit, a sense of call. The area of which I feel I have been impassioned and gifted is music.
The point is often made: music is not the reason people come to church. While I'd often be inclined to disagree, I'll forego that opportunity to make a larger point: music serves a higher purpose than to get people to come to Church. Whether or not people come because of music is irrelevant. I believe that if we have quality, solid music, the details will often take care of themselves.
When people attend a church service, questions that are often asked are, "What songs did you sing?" or "How was the choir?" or "Is the service 'contemporary' or 'traditional'?" These questions are indicative of the situation of music in the Church. It matters to people.
Music is, as I see it, one of the most integral parts of the Church as it stands today. It is Biblical, traditional, formational, communal, along with many other things. It serves to worship God, it serves to create disciples, and it serves to create fellowship. Music is a magical thing that challenges perspectives, opens eyes, implants happiness, and encourages hope. It's often empowering and bold.
Last week, I attended a conference that tried hard to be cool and to reinvigorate a livelihood into the United Methodist Church. So, having thought about some of my thoughts above, I went to a a workshop on music ministry. I thought'd be a good reflection time. The lady who led it was nice, intelligent, talented, and very talkative. There were all kinds of students there. There were practiced, studied musicians. There were diva-like "worship leaders." There were hipster, tight-jeaned guitarists. There were classical snobs. We talked for about an hour about random things, mostly having to do with the practicalities of organizing a music team, rehearsing them, and some about leading music for worship. All in all, it was an ok workshop.
But that was my issue: it was just ok. It wasn't mind-blowing. We didn't talk about writing new music. We didn't think creatively. We didn't even really discuss why Christians sing. We just talked about how cool or sucky our band was and how to pray with our group. Then we left.
And I left the room knowing there had to be something more. There had to something more to our approach. I left the room feeling as if we were just sitting in a rut, trying to push ahead while the dirt just kept us back. And I realized this (probably aided by our worship service experiences throughout the weekend): We're faking it. We're faking it really badly. And we aren't growing from it; all we are doing is keeping from dying.
So that's what I hope to explore throughout a small series here on this blog. I'm going to be posting over the next week and organizing my thoughts into three different posts and categories, explaining why I think we do what we do and what good it is going to do for a dying church.
I often don't like using violent language, but I feel as if this fits: We aren't on the offensive, we are on the defensive. I can't think of a single point in history where those on the defensive changed the world because they intended to.
It's time to take the offense, and because it's one of the only things I know, I'm starting with music.
I hope to cover things like:
- Why do we sing?
- Is music foundational for the future of the Church?
- Is music for the Church ever-changing?
- What do we sing?
- What's a 'good' song for worship?
- Why do we use terms like "hymn" and "praise song" and what are their connotations?
- Who is writing quality material in 2011?
- What historical church material is worth retaining?
- What movements have progressed the Church positively?
...along with many other nuances of music ministry.
As is always the case with me, you'll hear my opinions and observations, and those often change from time to time.
It is, though, something we should be talking about, and I'm ready to get going on it. This dead time within the Church is killing us.
Follow along? I hope so.