- What if we didn’t make financial profit a primary motivator of the worship industry?
As we saw in part-1 of this three-part series, the average church in America has an attendance of 50 to 200 worshippers. They have one or two full or part-time church staff and limited resources. And the average church music program runs almost solely on volunteers. Here’s the data from our last article:
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Music In The Average Church
If you listen to modern worship music, you would think the average church has a worship band, a worship team, and musicians well-versed in the modern worship sound. The data suggests otherwise. For artists based in places like Nashville, Los Angeles, or other meccas of music, this might be a surprise. Well, strap in, because there are more surprises to come.
According to Lifeway research, 79% of churches use piano-based music (as both a solo instrument and with a worship team), 69% use hymnals (this does not include hymns used sans hymnals), 60% have a single worship leader in the church, 52% use a praise team (praise team defined as more than one singer), and 46% have a praise band (praise band being more than three instruments). Surprisingly, 47% reported still using a traditional organ with traditional organ music, 33% have choir-led songs, and 32% use some choir-only songs. Of course, there is some crossover as some larger churches may offer a traditional and modern service on any given Sunday. And some churches may use a worship team or band one Sunday and a single worship leader the next.
The Picture of Modern Worship
Even if we assume there is a significant crossover, it would seem worship leans on more traditional styles, with hymns still leading the way for many. If we take what we know regarding average church size, and the limited resources available to the average church; then take into account that a majority of churches use piano-centered music and hymnals, and most have a single worship leader leading worship week in and week out, a picture forms.
That picture looks more traditional than modern, more musically limited than expansive, and served more by the creatives of the past than creatives in the present. I say this because it has been my experience, and the experience of almost every pastor and church volunteer I know, that they are overworked and under-resourced. But they are driven to serve the God they love in His Church for His glory. As overall church attendance falls, but church attendance by millennials increases, the question is: is the modern worship industry serving the average church?
Here is a conclusion I can’t seem to escape. Generally speaking, the worship music industry produces and promotes “worshiptainment”, songs that sit in between performative songs and worship music that can be used by the average church. Modern worship songs, produced by big labels, get lots of downloads, get sung by worship-rock stars, and in the end, make money. That being said, worshiptainment has its place and is used by God for his glory.
Colossians 3:16 says, Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom, teaching, and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
The question is, do most modern worship songs translate well to the Sunday morning service in the average church? No. The average church needs songs their leaders can play regardless of musical ability, with melodies their congregation can sing, and lyrics proclaiming God’s truth in a way that people can connect with. I will say this. This worshiptainment trend is led by the large labels but does seem to ebb in smaller labels and with independent artists producing more accessible songs. This is encouraging for churches looking for music they can use in corporate worship. See our review of God Is In This House by Kingsporch.
So I think we need to ask some hard questions. What if we didn’t make financial profit a primary motivator of the worship industry? What if the largest worship industry juggernauts prioritized the equipping of smaller churches over the largest churches? What if modern worship composition focused on scripture and musical access first? We explore those questions in part 3.
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Christopher Watson is an author of six books, both fiction and non-fiction. He is also a musician and composer with a B.A. in Music from Azusa Pacific University. For several years Christopher led worship at The Springs Church while attending Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas Texas. He's been involved with worship in a number of churches in California and the Pacific Northwest both as a musician and in production and technology. Now he lives and writes in Washington State with his amazing wife, wonderful daughters, and highly intelligent dog, Ellie Mae.