You Have to Have Contemporary Music

This has been on my mind a lot lately. I have heard this statement a little too often, “You have to have contemporary music to get the young people to come to church.” I posted this question in a forum, and I was at the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference where Keith Getty did a forty-five minute question and answer session about worship. Here are three reasons why this statement is wrong, followed by three reasons why this statement is correct.

1) This statement is disrespectful: I still consider myself a young person even though I’m nearing the end of that season of life, and as a young person, when I hear someone boil my participation in church down to guitars, lights, drums, and upbeat music, I feel disrespected. We want more from church than just entertainment. We want community. We want solid theology. We want to be mentored by the older generation. We want to sing our faith. In fact, many surveys of the millennial generation show that type of worship is far down on the list of priorities that influence our church attendance. When we try to cater to the younger generation with one style of music, we are disrespecting that generation.
2) This statement does not deal with quality: Keith Getty, in answering questions at the pastors’ conference, repeatedly mentioned quality. Whatever worship style we have, we need to do it well. That should be our first priority. Do we do hymns? Then we should do hymns well. Do we have a praise band? Then we should do that well. Whatever we do, we do it to the best of our ability. My generation respects quality over type. I’ve seen contemporary praise band sets done badly and it was no more worshipful than a traditional worship service done bad. We canot just throw contemporary music on stage and expect my generation to fall all over themselves to get in the door if it’s not done well.  Check out this article about why millenials are not going to church The real reason millenials aren’t going to church
3) This statement does not deal with theology: Keith Getty also said that people get most of their theology from what they sing. The style of music does not matter more than the theology of the music. Let’s face it, there is a lot of contemporary music that majors on “meology” instead of theology. I’m not against contemporary music, but give me choice between “boring old hymns” that teach deep theology, or great “praise music” that teaches nothing but what God does for me, and I’ll take those boring old hymns every day of the week. We need music that teaches deep, grounded theology rather than music that teaches us to feel good in the presence of the Lord.
4) Young people do not go to church for the music: Ok, this is a bonus fourth reason. I pastor in Rich Hill Missouri. There is not one young person in Rich Hill who wakes up on Sunday morning and says, “I think I’ll go to the Baptist church because I heard they’ve got some awesome music.” That just does not happen anywhere. If that happens in your town, please tell me because I want to know how.

Like I said, I’m not against contemporary music, so here are three reasons why the statement “You have to have contemporary music to get the young people to come to church,” is right:

1) Contemporary music brings more energy: Young people like energy, and contemporary music tends to up the energy level. People want to go to a place where there’s energy.
2) Contemporary music may bring young people BACK to church: While I maintain that contemporary music alone will not bring young people to church for the first time, it might bring them back after their first visit. This goes hand in hand with the energy point above. Contemporary music done well will help with retention.
3) Theologically solid contemporary music IS necessary: I believe each generation has their own particular hymnody. The great depression generation had a very heavenly looking hymnody because during that period of our history, heaven was the only thing they could look forward to.  (I don’t say that to be snarky.  I’ve read accounts from people from that generation who made that statement.)  I believe each generation needs its own hymnody, that body of music they are known for, and good, solid, theologically deep contemporary music is necessary.

These are just my thoughts as I’ve wrestled with this question over the past few months. What are your thoughts? When I posted this in the discussion forum I got all kinds of answers. Some said, we absolutely had to have contemporary music to draw in young people, others focused more on quality than style. The worship wars over style may be fading into distant memory, and hopefully we’ll start talking about aspects that matter more than style. Let me know what you think in the comments section.



  1. I’ve resently heard the phrase, “when the devil fell from Heaven, he fell right into the choir loft.” This statement was made over the controversy churches have over style of music worship.
    Personally I see the need for praise and hymn styles of music but don’t understand why both cannot be included in a service.
    The hymns taught so many Biblical truths that just aren’t in many of the praise songs.
    Our sermon this past Sunday was on a Psalm traditionally said to be sung by Paul in prison. A Bible truth in his heart from memory through song. How many of us have a hard time quoting scripture but can remember song lyrics whether secular or music from church.
    Recently our church has had it’s small but great orchestra told they would only be needed a few times a year, it was so sad. Your instrumentalists are the most dedicated non paid church members you have…they practice individually all week, go to orchestra practice, play for choir practice and in our church’s case-played sometimes four times on Sunday.They hardly ever missed a service because no one could take their place. I was not surprised when they went somewhere else to praise when they play. Telling them not to play their instrument would be the same as me only getting to sing a few times a year.
    I’ve also been told this change isn’t about me, it’s about bringing others in. Praise is truly only about God. If the decision makes others feel left out, how can that be good either.
    Please pray for this controversial subject in our churches, Satan will not have the victory and he so try’s anyway he can!
    Sometimes things happen to move you to other places to serve and worship wher God wants you to learn something or share for Him. If that’s the case, I wish it didn’t feel painful because I love the people I worship beside, they are family.


  2. Music … is a language all its own. We have so many different kinds because some of us do a better job than others speaking to us – this is true in secular and spiritual contexts. Don’t like pop? There’s country. Don’t like contemporary? There’s bluegrass. It used to be the case that you were stuck with one type of music – the kind your church did. If you wanted to have choices – you had to switch churches and quite possibly denominations. The worship wars was a struggle to get monolithic denominations to offer more than one choice so it wasn’t necessary for a person to leave their denomination just for different music. Out where I’m at, tradition reigns supreme, so the only difference from one church to the next in the same denomination isn’t the music – just the names and the faces of the people who attend the church itself. In the hymn singing churches – I’m out of my depth. I never really learned to sing in the first place, so the circles and lines don’t always make sense to me and I certainly don’t know how to make my voice do whatever the circle and lines are trying to say. They frustrate me. I also know that they’re not “theologically sound” – not always. Some are just as emotional as contemporary music – just an old-fashioned kind and way of describing feelings. I often found that I preferred contemporary because it was more intuitive and easier to pick up. I might not know what the notes are called or what they look like, but it sure sounds like I can sing them (I think) and that’s enough for me. The only downside with contemporary is it’s short self-life – the contemporary music I know is too old to be on the circuit, so I have to learn a whole new batch of songs. Which – is okay, I guess, no more of the same old, same old, top 40 who cares about the other hymns? routine that I had known in the hymn churches.


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