We often run into a church that is in transition, looking for decisiveness on tender topics... "Should we have multiple worship styles?" "Do we go more acoustic?" "More Hillsong?" "What about the hymns?" "Why are we not attracting certain groups of people?"
These are the issues I tend to love the most. The reason I love them, is because I like to dig into the heart of the issue. I love to go beyond the surface "love for old hymns" and ask, "why do 'these' people like 'these' songs?" I am convinced that the answer is almost always deeper than we expect.
As we have dug into this time and time again, one clear trend appears...
People gravitate to the worship style in which they experienced their high-water-mark with God.
I do not care if it was banjo-led worship. If that is what you experienced your closest connection to God with, you will long to hear the banjo played like this yet again.
Our love for our favorite genre of music is a heart's attempt to reach back to these special times. For example, older folks like older songs, but not simply because the songs are older. To these people, to any people, the worship style they like the most tends to be the style in which they felt closest to God (I am partial to some Rich Mullins myself).
We were working with a church recently that was struggling with this change. By listening, we picked up on some interesting undertones. It led us to propose that if someone wants the songs sung today like they were thirty years ago, this person is more than likely struggling with two things when someone tries to bring about change:
1) Their greatest moments with God were in their past (instead of looking to find fresh times with God in their future). This is an area where we, as leaders, have a responsibility to guide them to search out their future close moments with God.
2) Their inability to learn all the words to all the new songs that we do in our A.D.D. song rotations (and small "very cool" overhead text) just makes them want to give up.
With this in mind, we worked with the leadership to cast vision for fresh experiences with God and to teach them a short list of new songs over several months. When we arrived back at the church 7 months later, the over 70 crowd were as much or more engaged in modern worship than the twenty-somethings were.
It would have been easy to write the older crowd off or to give them their own service with their own style. It took courageous leadership to look past their initial complaints and take them to a new place in worship. But isn't that what leadership is all about? Leadership is about taking people to a place they should go in spite of where they want to go.
What it created in this church's older crowd was a longing for new places with God, instead of just a pursuit of past places. That is a beautiful thing. As leaders, what are we pursuing and where are we taking those we lead? Are we allowing them to camp out in their past, or are we challenging them to pursue God afresh today.
Where is your congregation? Maybe it is time to... "Sing to the Lord a new song." Psalms 96:1A