There are many ways churches grow. Growth is one of the greatest challenges facing the church today.
From innovative worship forms to contemporary music to a preaching style that touches the heart, churches have tried numerous ways of attracting and retaining members. Paul points out a formula for church growth: come down to people's level and meet their needs without sacrificing the integrity of truth (1 Cor. 9:20). But how can churches, big and small, create the kind of approach that will cause members to feel that they are part of the church, that the church exists for their nurture and growth and to meet their sense of need? Here is one simple plan that you may try.
Know your community
First, know your community. A demographic study of the community surrounding the church is important. We must evaluate the community to determine whether change will be possible and profitable. If, for example, you find that 75 percent of the population in your community are Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) and Busters (those born between 1964 and 1980), and you want to reach those people, you then need to appraise the kind of music used in your worship.
Know your church
Second, you need to understand your church. Upon what are your people focused? What are their needs? Does the church see itself and its worship with a missionary or evangelistic focus? Does the church see itself as a place to which those who have hurts may come and find shelter? Are your members friendly? Does the church have a good public address system? Can the people be happy with different forms of music? There will never be a "perfect" church for growth, but the better the basic health of the church, the better the chance that it will grow.
Third, you need to understand yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Do you have a vision for your ministry and your church? Are you willing to sacrifice the time and energy to cast this vision and make it a reality? Do you have a passion to reach your community? Are you willing to be creative to reach them? These are some of the questions you need to prayerfully ask yourself as you seek God's will.
Know the music and the worship
Throughout history, music has been a powerful medium for communicating the good news to Christians and non- Christians alike. Moses and the children of Israel sang after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exod. 15:1-21). Verse 20 points out that Miriam and others were exuberant in affirming their praises to God through lively singing. David and others who wrote the Psalms composed some of the greatest songs and lyrics in literature, and when they sang accompanied by tambourines and cymbals and the trumpet, ecstasy filled the air (Ps. 145-150). The point is that God used this music, these instruments, and actions to bring glory to Himself. If He did it then, it may certainly be done in a variety of ways now.
Does contemporary music in worship help the church grow?
The question remains: can contemporary worship help a church grow? Robert L. Bast, who specializes in evangelism and congregational growth, says: "During the last few years, I have visited a number of the churches in the country which are reaching large groups of Baby Boomers. I found more differences between them than I expected, but I was impressed by one thing all of them had in common. They all make extensive use of contemporary music."1 This is a powerful statement! Bast argues that Baby Boomers have been heavily influenced by music with a beat. Only six percent listed classical music as music of their choice, with a bias against organ music. Overheads have replaced hymn books; synthesizers have replaced organs; and drums and guitars have taken their place in the repertoire of church music instrumentation.
A research group headed by George Barna found that only 21 percent of adults wanted a church that offered only traditional hymns and music. About 66 percent said they would seek a church that provided a mix of traditional and contemporary music. Only four percent found contemporary music alone appealing. This tells us that it is a mixture of contemporary and traditional mu sic that would seem to portend the best results. The continuum of contemporary music versus traditional music went up if respondents were Boomers or Busters, living in an urban or suburban area, or not living anywhere in the Southern United States.2
The younger the generation, the more they look for services that they can relate to. Does this then mean that younger groups do not experience or seek to experience the power of the gospel? This is a charge frequently made by the critics of a more contemporary style of worship. Bill Hybels, senior pastor of the Willow Creek church (famous for its "seeker services"), states that contemporary music, drama, and multimedia presentations are never used for "titillation." He says that even though the primary way to communicate the gospel is through preaching the Word, texture and feeling are added to it by the use of drama, music, and other media.3
Lee Stroebel, in his book Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary, explains that one of the first components that attract the unchurched to attend church the first time is a curiosity about the music. He says: "I can tell you from personal experience that when their [the unchurched] favorite style of music is wed to Christian lyrics, the combination can have a strong impact on furthering their spiritual journey."4 Adding to this, Ellen White says: "Music should have beauty, pathos [emotion], and power. Let the voices be lifted in songs of praise and devotion."5
Music can move one closer to God, and many attest to the fact that they have been positively affected by con temporary change. But is there a general model that can fit into the way a church moves toward some of these changes?
A plan facilitating transition
The plan outlined here is one of many. It is flexible, simple, and yet effective; it starts from the small group and works out informally into the congregation as a whole. This is a method by which a church may include contemporary praise with traditional forms of worship and music.
Step 1. Start by educating a small group of leaders on the importance of worship and offer statistics, such as those given earlier, to show the importance of contemporary music in worship services. If leaders in the congregation are convinced, they can help initiate changes gradually. Perhaps they can bring a guitar and introduce praise music. Have one of these leaders meet with a "song leader" of their choice and pick out songs that have words coming straight from the Bible, such as "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet" (Ps. 119:105), or"I Exalt Thee" (Ps. 97:9). Both these songs, and many others like it, can be found in the Maranatha! Music Praise Chorus Book, which has over 300 well known songs for praise and worship.6
Step 2. The leaders may begin by introducing these songs to small groups in the congregation. This could occur quite naturally and easily in certain existing groups, such as Sabbath School classes. Once the people in the small groups be come accustomed to the music, the pas tor may again meet with the leaders and find some of the most meaningful songs and plan for a Sabbath when some of the music may be introduced to the larger setting of worship.
Step 3. After the first Sabbath when one or two familiar praise songs are introduced, the pastor may make these changes:
1. Add a praise song at the end of the sermon.
2. Add a praise song, like "Family," just before or after the greeting time.
3. In the call to worship use a more traditional hymn and a praise song based on a biblical text. Narrate the history of both songs and sing them one after another.
4. Plan a sermon or sermon series on music and have the musicians pull out the stops on some of the great hymns and biblical songs. The key is to authentically focus on Christ and on worship, rather than on the music it self. The Bible is full of instances in which a worship gathering is marked with singing and praising, along with the sharing of the Word.
5. Add more musicians to the mu sic time. This provides variety in both music and singing.
6. Continue to offer lively renditions of hymn music along with praise music.
7. Ask each small group to begin taking charge of the music for a Sabbath. Encourage them to use the same songs the small groups use. Begin rotating the leadership of music groups.
The work of the Holy Spirit
The inclusion of modern music in worship is crucial if we are going to keep in touch with many important sectors of contemporary culture. We need to pray, fully seeking the direction of the Holy Spirit as we contemplate reaching people. We must be sure we are following the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Through a willingness to work within culture, we can, like Paul, be all things to all people so as to win the unchurched to Christ and to the power of the gospel.
1 Robert L. BasI, The Missing Generation (New York: Reformed Church Press, 1991), 157,158.
2 George Barna, TheDream Church (Glendale,Calif.: Barna Research Group, 1992), 3.
3 Edward Gilbreath, "Selling Out the House of God." An interview with Bill Hybels. Christianity Today, July 18, 1994.
4 Lee Stroebel, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary (Grand Rapids, Mich.-.Zondervan, 1993), 180,181.
5 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1958), 505.
6 George Baldwin, ed., Maranatha! Music Praise Chorus Book (Laguna Hills, Calif.: Maranatha! Music, 1993), 1-326. Expanded 3rd ed.