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.