An intergenerational church values the whole over the individual–the family atmosphere over the segregated in order to build community. The musical portion of worship should also reflect and embody a welcoming spirit as well. This week’s blog will focus on general concepts of music that is welcoming and builds community. Next week I will focus on specific concepts of selecting music.
Music that is welcoming in the intergenerational congregation is:
1. Varied and inclusive
People in every congregation don’t like the exact same types of music. Believe it or not, not everyone in your congregation listens to Christian music all day. I’ll bet in any given congregation, people would say they prefer all types of music including: country, rap, jazz, classical, pop, southern gospel, black gospel, reggae, and so on. Many of these types of music are easily found, to some degree, in today’s church music types. Naturally, people gravitate towards the church music types they grew up on or sound like the type of music they listen to for enjoyment. Generally, however, no music type should be off-limits based on stylistic reasons because if you look hard enough, you can find a suitable song for your choir and/or congregation. Because these varied music types exist, music leaders must be intentional about using music that is varied and inclusive of the various types of music found today. In my personal research on music types in churches, I found that certain types of music were more dominant than others based on what the publishers were producing, but I will write about at a later date in more detail. The findings, however, suggest that various music types are essential in the intergenerational church. And not only should there be various types of music, but it should be inclusive of the make-up of the church and the surrounding areas. Basically, don’t sing songs from classical literature if your church is an a very rural area where classical literature would not be appreciated or even understood. It is imperative that you understand the “music culture” of your church and your surrounding area.
While varied literature is important, it’s more imperative that the music leadership know the musically DNA of the church. While the scriptural command to learn a “new song” is given, there’s no need to throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water. I’ve found it’s important to find out the choir anthems and congregational favorites from key music folks upon arrival as a new church. Having this bank of songs allows you to observe what types of music the congregation is familiar with. When planning worship each week, it’s important to include familiarity so people can PARTICIPATE. Congregational singing is not a spectator sport, it’s an ALL of us sport. By building trust through familiarity, the music leader can introduce things outside the familiar in manageable doses.
3. Authentic to the culture of the congregation
My church sits squarely in an affluent, suburban portion of a major metro area. Our people come from all backgrounds. That knowledge allows me to be as vast and as varied in literature as I want to be. Being in Georgia, we still sing plenty of southern gospel music and tunes that have a “country” feel to them. However, the very next week, someone could sing an aria and recitative from an oratorio, and our people would respond well. But, that’s not always the case with all of you. Our wide range of talent allows me to use a full orchestra and choir each week—which allows me to be more authentic in how our music sounds, especially our choir anthems. But, what we aren’t is “brand driven.” Our sound is not driven my electric guitars, but horns. And we’re okay with that. It allows us to use lots of people in worship leadership, rather than just a few players. We like that; it lends itself well to intergenerational behavior. I am fully aware most churches are not like ours. It’s not common to use full orchestra, in fact many churches don’t use more than a few instruments. You know what, that’s okay! Be who you are and do music the best you can, but don’t try to sound like a studio band if you can’t. Be who God has made you; don’t force it.
The same concepts work for music sung by your congregation and your choir. When branching out beyond familiar tunes for your people, it’s imperative that you know what types of music would work well in your situation. Basically, know your people and the community in which you live. However, don’t assume that music types are generationally specific. I’m tired (truly tired) of hearing that Millennials or anyone young ONLY like contemporary music. That is fallacious; I know LOTS of young people who’d rather hear a hymn done in a country-music style, over a Crowder tune. The converse is also true. There are some older adults that still are hanging on to Woodstock (that’s right, those young adults growing up in the late 60s and 70s are NOW our older adults) and many still love to jam out to a band.
On a similar note, the medium of music type presentation is often a struggle because we leaders believe the lie that our instrumentalists should be like the type of music we “think” we should be presenting. Can a church utilizing a full choir and orchestra be very cutting edge in their contemporary style? Absolutely, especially if the rhythm section is on point. Can a 5 person band do hymns and present them so even the most stalwart traditionalist “feels” like he or she has been to church? Absolutely. I think the tendency is to assume that one or the other medium of presentation represents a “look” that is assumed will attract either folks not there or those the church leaders want to return. I believe trying to emulate another is wrong, and wrong primarily because it’s inauthentic. Attracting people to church should be because the people in the church desire to build relationships with those not there. That, my friends, is the best way to be inclusive—love people to God.
To you musical leaders, regarding your personal vocal style, voice type and limitations, don’t try to emulate every sound you hear because you think it will sound more authentic. It can damage your voice. I know; I suffered a vocal nodual in 2010 due to unnecessary stress on my voice from trying to oversing. Don’t “show pony” either. Remember, you are leading a congregation of mostly non-singers. Pick singable keys, sing heartily with energy, but don’t get into performance-mode. There is much that has been written on this already, so I’m just reiterating. I will say this, however, a healthy vocal technique should serve you well in both traditional and modern contexts. Surely there are nuances to this blanket statement. We all know that choral singing is different than ensemble singing, which is different than solo singing. Point is, make small adjustments, not huge, inauthentic, adjustments to vocal style when leading services with multiple music types.
Next week I will discuss how current church music lyrics are overly personal and do not reflect a community focus. Additionally, I will discuss how to select music following a rubric that is steeped in the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30).