May 6, 2009 Tony Morgan

The New Traditional Church: Music

A couple of months ago, I wrote about “The New Traditional Church.” That particular post focused on the discipleship strategy. I thought I’d pick up where I left off and share a few more characteristics of the new traditional church. Today, I’m going to focus on music.

Remember the days when the only worship music was hymns? We were stuck there because that was clearly the “sacred” style of worship music. Then the 80s hit and Willow Creek made it possible for us to use current music styles in worship services to connect with the unchurched.

Only it’s as if we got stuck in the 80s. While the church still leans on a mix of rock and pop music as the preferred worship genre, our culture has shifted once again. Now, according to iTunes, 1 in 3 of the top 100 songs in the country is either hip-hop/rap or R&B/soul. My guess, though, is that you can’t name a church in the country that’s using these genres of music for worship. Why is that?

Now, before you let your “it’s-not-our-culture” bias set in, consider this. Most of the hip-hop and R&B music has been recorded by black artists. 14% of the U.S. population is black. But, remember, nearly one-third of the music purchased on iTunes is one of these two genres. You do the math. White people like hip-hop.

What’s amazing, though, is that exactly 0% of the churches that responded to this survey indicated that they’re using hip-hop music in their worship services. I’m guessing there are several reasons for this:

  • The people making decisions about music choices in services don’t prefer this style of music. And, don’t we all know, preferences drive decisions in churches.
  • Churches are not hiring worship leaders (or raising up volunteers) who can authentically lead worship with these genres of music.
  • Christian artists aren’t recording music that reflects what our culture is listening to.
  • Churches don’t know the culture they’re trying to reach. If a third of the country is buying hip-hop or R&B music, you’d think at least one church would be trying to use that style of music to reach those people for Jesus.

Aside from all of that, I think the number one reason why rock and pop is the predominant genre of music in churches is this: our worship music has become the new “hymns” of the new traditional church. In other words, we grew up listening to that kind of worship music. Frankly, we’d rather play our “hymns” in our services than consider what style of music might more effectively connect with people who need Jesus.

So, the bottom line is this. Playing hip-hop or R&B music in our services would make us uncomfortable, and that’s another reason why we are “the new traditional church.”

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Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and
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