A couple posts back, I wrote a piece on the PS2 UTube video on training fleas and related it to the church. I spend most of my church consulting hours working with churches that have been banging their heads on an imaginary lid that has kept them stuck at some level. I was working with a church recently that had been unable to break the 200 in worship … for over five years. Another recent church had been stuck at 300 for over a decade. Each one stuck like a flea in a jar: “Leap … boink.”
If your congregation is “stuck” at some level, whether it’s at the 50, 100, 200, or even 350 level … the vast majority of you can jump just a little bit higher … you can break through the imaginary lid that’s keeping your back … by making one shift.
Change your music.
Sounds simplistic, but the “science” and experience behind that statement is virtually indiputable (okay, everthing is disputable, but this axiom has a proven track record). If you want to bump your church to the next level, you’re going to have to get honest with your music.
It all starts with the answer to the question “Who are you hoping to reach.” If your congregation is serious about reaching 70 year-olds, then you’ll want to keep on using the dueling organ and piano and singing Reformation-era hymns. But if you’re trying to reach younger families (and who isn’t these days … they’re the most highly sought-after demographic by the church today), then singing O Worship the King with a pipe organ probably isn’t going to inspire them to come back next week. In fact, if you’re going to reach out to young families today, Come, Now Is the Time to Worship is pretty old school. That’s so … Baby Boomer (which is a fine group to try and attract, but you’ll not be growing your youth group with those grandparents … and Baby Boomers are the fastest growing grandparent demographic today).
What music should you be doing? Here’s a hint. If you are serious about reaching the unchurched for Jesus Christ, then turn off K-Love or XM-32 The Message or whatever Christian radio station you’re listening to and flip through the stations. Are most of them Classic Rock? Pop? Hip Hop? Country Western? Urban R&B? Oldies? Gettotek? Crunk? That wil give you your first indication. If you have seven stations playing styles of hip hop, one classic station, one oldies, three C&W, and Jack FM, then you’ve learned something. You’ve learned that the marketers in your listening area, who have invested many thousands of dollars in demographic research, have discovered that there are a lot of younger folk in your community … a lot, if they’ve got seven hip-hop stations going. Once you’ve got an idea of the general listening genre, call a radio rep from each of those stations and find out who charges the most for a 30 second spot on Friday at 5 (a peak drive time). When you know what station is the most pricey, you’ve just discovered the preferred music style by the largest audience in your community. If you don’t know who’s listening to that music, you can call the station’s advertising rep who will be happy to sit down with you and share everything they know about that audience.
Knowing the music style, though, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a walk in the park. If you’re going to reach a different demographic than the majority of those currently occupying your sanctuary seating, then you’ll not only have to change your music style, you’ll have to do it very well. How frustrated must be the churches that added a guitar and a keyboard to their service and then mistakenly thought that they’d grow their worship service. For music to be attractional, it’s got to be excellent. It has to be done right … and that may mean you have to recruit or even hire musicians and vocalists who know what they’re doing.
Oh, and then there’s this last little tidbit. If you suddenly change your traditional worship service style to … well, anything besides traditional … you may well have a war on your hands. Better by far to add options rather than removing the traditional option. So, go ahead and bite the bullet. Start a new service … but if you’re planning on reaching the under 30s, probably the 8:30 Sunday Morning hour isn’t going to be an attractive alternative. Launch the new service no earlier than 10 AM … and 10:45 is better.
New Music + New Service = New People. New People = leaping past the “Boink” point.
BTW, Tom Bandy and I just did a Radio Show (available as a Podcast) on Worship Wars that covers this topic in depth. Give it a listen here!
I don’t find much music being written in church today that resembles much of what’s on the radio – especially hip hop. And there are very few people talented enough to compose such music that a vast number of regular sized churches could hire them to lead worship. Maybe a few more who could “perform” it. How do we make it happen without the resources?
Interestingly enough, I checked the stations surrounding my area, and a majority are Christian or gospel!