My view from the pew — it’s not the music, it’s the message

February 2, 2020

12  comments

This story appeared in the Huntsville and Mobile, AL papers, but was left out of the Birmngham News, so I wanted to post it here for those who may have missed it.

This isn’t my usual sort of column. It’s a bit longer and has a definite spiritual message. I’m grateful to have readers of many faiths, and some with no official religious association at all. I love that you know I’ll give you a good story that fits all of us. However . . . this story definitely highlights my strong Christian viewpoint.

AL.com papers have recently featured a series by Greg Garrison, who did a very good job detailing the trend of falling church attendance in the South. It made me sad that some people might think no one is attending church anymore, so as a regular church attender, I wanted to explain what I see from the inside looking out.

I love good church music of all kinds, but tend to like the older hymns better, but it seems that everyone wants to blame or credit high or low attendance on the music. Having a Dad who was a minister of music, I think he would have agreed with me there is no music good enough to make up for a consistently weak message. People will often tolerate bad music for a good message, but in the end, it’s the message that counts.

As always, thanks for reading, and let me know what you think. I love your thoughtful comments.

The dreary news of dwindling church attendance is hard for
me to believe when I look around on Sunday morning and see a full congregation,
but the recent series, “Losing our Religion” by 
AL.com reporter, Greg Garrison, focused on organized religion in the
South and how in recent years, traditional denominations have lost members
while the newer megachurch model has exploded.

The most popular excuse for the shift in worship practices is that younger generations want more “pop” and “sizzle” to their worship experience and find “regular” churches to be boring. While this may be true for some, my personal experience, and also as the mother of two young adults, is that I’ve found people of all ages are seeking churches who present the Bible in straightforward clarity. It’s not the music, it’s the message.

Music is an important part of worship, but there are
different levels of quality in all forms of hymns and modern works. In the end,
it needs to support the bold message that points to Christ. And that’s exactly what
the growing evangelical and megachurches are offering — boldness.

Although uncomfortable with the contemporary music, one man
in his late thirties said he’s still glad he recently joined the newer
multi-location church because of the pastor and said, “I’d drive two hours to
hear him preach. He hits home every time.”

While mainstream denominations have spent decades making
themselves approachable and friendly, many tiptoe around the difficult issues
so as not to offend their congregations. The megachurch and evangelicals have
turned up the heat with no sugar coating to excuse our topsy-turvy world.  

Alabamians may be seeking a new format for worship as they
did in the early 1900’s, first, with the rise of Pentecostalism, then with a
shift to Protestantism, but the ebb and flow of the generations shares the
commonality of truth seeking. Church may look different today than it did 100
years ago, and I’m sure it will look different 100 years from now, but the
feeling I get from my faith-based community is that no amount of worldly change
will ever destroy the epicenter of God’s truth and love.

The very churches Garrison reported as growing aren’t afraid to address tough social issues like abortion, which was recently lifted in prayer by evangelical churches on the eve of the Sanctity of Life Sunday. They didn’t pray for their side to “win,” but rather humbly asked God to guide our world and offer forgiveness, healing and answers to tough problems. Billy Graham said, “wherever the word of God is hidden or ignored, there will be certain destruction.” It seems his words are ringing true within our once protective walls of sacredness.  

There are of course, more socially liberal churches, yet they
are the ones reporting dwindling attendance, so something is going on in the
minds of those seeking a church home. I believe there’s room for all types of
churches because surely, God would rather us come to Him, searching, with
broken hearts full of doubt, than not at all.

The same formula of boldness being used at booming megachurches
is also working for small congregations who gather around tables in a
storefront or 200 member churches with organs and stained-glass windows. Those
with healthy attendance often take a basic verse-by-verse approach to teaching
and make sure their mission work is a serious effort to evangelize and not just
provide a “feel good” experience.  

Church attendees today don’t want to leave the Sunday
service thinking about what they’re going to eat for lunch but should instead be
challenged and invigorated to shake off any offense and be convicted to go . .
. love . . . and do better.

We may be readjusting to new trends, but as long as we don’t
readjust God’s word, it will all be good. As someone who has to arrive early to
find a good seat — in a church that still uses hymnals and no fog machine, I
have faith that in the midst of our ever-evolving world, in one form or
another, the church triumphant is alive and well.

  • My traditional Anglican Church in Clemson is growing by leaps and bounds with a BIG turnout by the college crowd. Although I prefer the old hymns, I have learned to love some of the new music too. We show up to hear and learn the word of God, not to be entertained. I call those dark theatre-styles churches with light shows, rock bands, and the ubiquitous fog machines “Six Flags Over Jesus”!

  • To God be the Gory!
    My husband is retired from many years as a band director and choir director at our church. Some members wanted the old traditional hymns, they would try to tie those hymns in with what the message was about.
    I said to him one time, the church walls want fall down if you miss a Sunday.
    Our vacation time was the first two weeks in June and then back to work.
    It’s all about worshiping God, listening to Gods word from the message, music and the wonderful church fellowship with our beloved church families.

  • Leslie Ann
    I am an older lady and have seen many changes in worship style and church music in my church attendance over the last century. I have found that if I go to church with an attitude of worship instead of criticism I can worship my God and Savior so long as the center of worship is the truth of the Bible. It is the MESSAGE not so much the style of delivery.
    My experience has been If the truth of the Bible is presented with clarity people will come to participate.
    Our new pastor said one thing when he first came that helped me put things in the proper prospective. That was “The older generation must recognize when it is time to pass the Baton. A relay race can never be won without passing the Baton.”
    Thanks Leslie Anne for an excellent essay.

    • So glad you took the time to comment Joyce. I like what you had to say, but it’s interesting that several comments on this story on the newspaper’s site said they are in their 20’s and 30’s and prefer traditional music. I don’t think age has much to do with music style. That’s why there should be different styles of churches, so there will be one to fit everyone’s needs. Competing to be top dog, biggest or “First” is never good. Just be yourself — they’ll come. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Leslie Anne,
    God bless you and my your tribe increase. This article was filled with truth and love. I especially liked your last sentence. Well done good and faithful servant.

    Martha Spiess

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