Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Inexorable law of congregational life (extended)

Visiting several parishes recently has been an excellent re-acquaintance with the style and substance of parish life in our diocese. Fourteen months as priest in charge of one parish was a wonderful experience but left me out of touch with the rest of the parishes.

Not for the first time, I have been struck by the importance of music for the character of Sunday worship. One difference between parishes faithfully following the prayer book as the substance of the regular liturgy is in the music used in the service. Here is 'choral eucharist', there is 'eucharist with hymns', over the way is 'Hillsong eucharist' and down the road is the eucharist with 'Belfast mod hymns'. Of course within some parishes such differences may apply to multiple services.

Each form of service has arguments in its favour, not least that each service actually takes place since that means that a body of people are willing to gather, and some instrumentalist or a group or choir are committed to making the music. There are arguments against each service, not least that some parishioners make it very clear that "8 am" or "9.15 am" or "5 pm" are "not my cup of tea."

But what interests me, reflecting on the big picture of Christian life in our country, statistical trends re belief and commitment is which services are populated by younger generations: children, youth, young adults, parents with young families. The under fifties, in other words. By 'populated' I mean that the dominant presence in a service is the presence of younger generations.

On that score there is simply no doubt, not a scintilla of evidence otherwise, that the younger generations are in services where the music style reflects the general music style of the younger generations. Whether we love it or loathe it, Hillsong/Belfast mod hymns/Matt Redman and the like supply the music for the services where the present younger generations gather and chart the direction of the future services for the elderly (those who are 53 years old and rising). There will be no choral eucharists on Sunday mornings when I am in a rest home.

In the services I have visited, from a church growth perspective many aspects have been done well and are uniform in standard across the parishes: warmth of welcome, hospitality offered after the service, relevant preaching, quality of service leadership, provision of programme for children.

The measurable difference in respect of services with many rather than few younger generations has been the style of music. Already stated here in the past and worth stating again: the age profile of a congregation reflects the music style of the service. It is the inexorable law of congregational life today.

Extension (Wednesday): I am delighted to have what I said above subject to critique in comments below. I also enjoyed a reflective conversation yesterday on my main idea. All of which leads me to add a few words, hopefully clarifying what I am trying to say.

(1) First and foremost I am proposing a law which is descriptive of congregational life in NZ parishes rather than prescriptive: this is the way things are, where there is a congregation well populated by the under forties, the music is appropriate to younger generations. There are no congregations so populated in which most of the music sung is from the English Church Hymnal or the Book of Common Praise, led by organ or piano.

No comments made thus far have provided counter evidence to this law as a matter of description of our life.

(2) Secondly, I am happy to then make a certain amount of prescriptive recommendation based on this law. Here are a couple of examples, relevant to our local situation in post-quake Christchurch.

- a congregation seeking renewal of the generations gathering for worship should address the question of the music style of its service. Preach your heart out. Add cream buns and cheerios to the morning tea. Train welcomers. Bring every aspect of the service such as readings and intercessions up to an excellent standard. Establish a children and youth programme. A certain advance will occur. But my hypothesis is that if the style of music does not change to the style appropriate to the younger generations, full congregational renewal will not take place.

- when we establish new congregations in new housing areas we should aim from the start to provide services in which the music is in keeping with the younger generations. This means, for instance, that if we are planning on appointing a church pioneer to establish a new congregation with a staff which includes a youth worker and a children's worker, we should also be recruiting a music leader, a guitarist, keyboard player and drummer.

(3) Comments herein focus on services of worship as elements of congregational life. I am making no comment about how to plant a church from scratch. The way forward there might include many steps before a service of worship is formed (e.g. praying, forming a group for prayer and Bible study, surveying the area, visiting people, social events for meeting and greeting people). Nor am I commenting in respect of existing congregations seeking renewal in respect of the first steps to take which could be, say, prayer and developing the preaching; or prayer, developing the preaching, reconfiguring the building. But only so many steps can be taken before the question of music needs to be addressed if we wish to see a change in congregational profile.

(4) Something which came up in conversation yesterday: the importance of music style being advocated here is an importance in its own right for any church seeking to be a church with which younger generations can identify. There is an alternative approach in which Anglican churches seek to imitate the music style of the 'successful' church down the road with the hope that similar 'success' is achieved: I am NOT talking about that. I am not talking about that, not least because in my observation, Anglican churches which set about such imitations are somewhat poor at doing it. No, what I am talking about here has nothing to do with the music which is being played at another church (save that one might gain some great songs by listening in) and everything to do with making the connection between church culture and general culture.


Rosemary Behan said...

Hmm, that's not exactly our experience Peter. First came the preaching. Years of it with the help of a lady who played with a heavy hand, always in the same rhythm. Later musicians were converted and then the music changed and came into it's own, but it was definitely the preaching that came first. God's Word came first.

I would venture to suggest that churches that fill up with whatever style of music, will have no depth or conversions. Will have large back doors through which damaged people [in terms of the Gospel] escape and will dwindle as music fashions change. Sorry Peter, you cannot have a strong church that is driven by it's music. It must be driven by the Word of God. Music certainly helps, and I think you may be right that there will be no choral eucharists when you're in a rest home, but that will be a shame, and you never know, musical tastes change from day to day, it's the words of the hymn that last and are loved, not the tune, but how they help us understand Our Lord.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
Just to clarify what I haven't made clear.

I am not claiming that a certain style of music grows a younger generation church (it may or may not do so; other factors, including preaching, play a role); I am claiming that where you find a younger generation congregation (however it has emerged) there you will find a certain style of music.

liturgy said...

I don’t disagree with some of your observations, Peter,
I just want to complement what you state
with an “it’s more complex”.

We need to note that Kiwi culture (is unusual because it) is not a singing culture.
I wonder, just to present one example, whether one of our most numerically-and-age-distribution successful communities, St John’s Latimer Square, fits in with your law? I think the focus there is preaching.
Taizé, the most numerically-successful ongoing meeting of Christian young people does not fit your law IMO.
Have you examined the music played at the World Youth Day – not just the largest gathering of Christian young people but of young people full stop in the world?
Is the music you describe as finding in these churches actually like what young people are listening to in the secular context, or is it in the style of what old people think young people are listening to?



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
Yes, it is more complex when we go into, say, issues relating to music, what draws a congregation together and such.

I stand by the essential simplicity of my point, with one added clarification that I am talking about NZ ("our country"), that younger generations populate services with music in keeping with the general style of music appreciated by those younger generations.

In response to your specific points/observations:
- Kiwi culture not a singing culture: yes, and that could be why there are not more in church.
- St J LSq in my experience fits my observable law: their music is in keeping with that style (and even where a 'classic hymn' is sung, it is led by a music group with drums etc);
- indeed, the preaching focus of St J LSq is a powerful drawcard, but I note that it is not diluted by the wrong kind of music;
- Taize music, present in popular services here, in my view is music in keeping with younger generations: lyrical, emotive power using simple, memorable tunes that fit with our era better than Moody and Sankey or hymns set to Bach and Beethoven;
- I am not familiar with World Youth Day music; but the key question to me would be what music is utilised in Catholic Masses in our country which are well populated by younger generations (in my limited experience, that is music in keeping with the general style etc);
- your last point: neither. 21st century Christian music is not necessarily 'like' what young people listen to in the secular context, but it is closer to it than Moody and Sankey etc.

Father Ron Smith said...

No Choral Eucharist when you are in a rest home, Peter? So you will probably have to wait for your entrance into Paradise. IT COULD BE WORTH THE WAIT? I'm hoping there wont be guitars and drum sets in the next world - therefore no need for ear muffs. But, whatever will the young get to do with the blessing of silence and contemplation?

Ciao from Barcelona & Sagrada Familia.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
According to John the Divine, I am already in heaven, enjoying the abundant life of Christ.

We - me and Jesus - both like Hillsong :)

Jethro said...

Music is such an odd thing. It causes so much division. Surely for mature Christians it should not matter whether it is Hillsong or evensong? Surely whatever we do do on a Sunday morning should have one goal in mind: how to connect people with the gospel. Not the propagation of our own favourite flavour of church, but the putting aside of self for the sake of the other that does not speak Hillsong or evensong.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jethro,
My point is that 'to connect people = younger generations with the gospel' is not about the propagation of 'our flavour of church'. It is about understanding the connection between church culture and general culture in which music is a bridge between those cultures. If I am serious, if my parish is serious about connecting with younger generations it will ensure the music style of the service forms that bridge, rather than becomes a barrier.

Division in church does occur over music, particularly within congregations where there is a power struggle over which generation's music flavour is being catered for. In this case I am urging that we look ahead to the future of the church. When we do that we see that the future is not my generation but yours and thus should ask the question which style of music takes us into the future rather than preserves us in the past.

In parishes with multiple services some happiness can be ensured by developing services which cater for different generations.

Kurt said...

Hmm. I've read a fair amount of stuff in various religious publications over the past few years that would seem to indicate that a goodly number of American young people actually are attracted to liturgical churches BECAUSE of such things as Choral Eucharists, ancient chanting, incense, etc. Apparently they often like "traditional" services during the Feasts and Major Holy Days more "contemporary" or "informal" services at more relaxed times (e.g., summer vacation, etc.) Go figure.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Jethro said...

Hi Peter,
I was not trying critique you, just offering a comment. But I think that in the future music should not play a part in our church gatherings. If we are to break down cultural, generational and economic barriers in our church music needs to go.

Music is far to particular. To say that we need music that reflects our generation is naive, because there is no one style of music that reflects our generation. The kind of music that one listens to is dependent on culture and social status. White middle class young people (which I would say is the biggest young adult demographic in the Anglican church) listen to a lot of Indy, and are quite frankly fed up with the American soft rock of the boomer generation. But then others are into hip hop, or punk rock, etc etc the list could go on. To wed a church gathering to a particular style of music will end up being exclusive.

Our church gatherings need to look beyond the Christendom style of sit and listen, stand up when your told to, sing this music coz some guy with a guitar or a choir rode says so. Where else in our culture does this happen? School? A concert? Movie theatre? Court room? Entertainment or highly formal situations. Is this appropriate or helpful for connecting people with the gospel?

Maybe for some it is, but the vast majority are not interested in coming to our church gatherings. Some even end up being quite perplexed at what they read in the bible about following Christ and then what they see on a Sunday morning.

Our styles of worship, both traditional and contemporary, are modeled on a by gone cultural era that is no longer understood by the majority.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
I am comfortable with what you say: the USA is not NZ!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jethro
Yes, all music might be gone from the church of the future!

carl jacobs said...

There is another aspect to be considered. Although it is not a universally true stereotype, modern worship songs are typically characterized by shallow doctrine. They are best characterized as thin milk, or perhaps better - thin gruel. The older songs presumed the worshiper knew something. They included dark deep subjects. They were not the theological equivalent of a bag of potato chips.

One reason people might like newer music is because they like shallow Christianity. They like happy subjects. They don't like sin. They don't like death. They don't like accountability. They don't like servanthood or sacrifice. They like "Oh, God I just wuv you SO MUCH! Woah! Woah! So so MUCH!" and not "Here I raise my Ebeneezer. Hither by thy grace I come." Much of modern worship music would have been better off if it had never been written.

That however is not to say that good songs cannot be written in modern form. It simply means you have to be selective. A bag of potato chips is OK every now and then. But not as a steady diet. You can't pander to a child's view of spiritual nutrition.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
In my understanding of 'modern music' it is possible to either come up with great modern tunes to old, doctrinally sound hymns and songs, or to play the older tunes in a style which is modern (I won't attempt to explain what I mean as I am not musically competent to do so). Either way, drums and guitars swing along nicely with what is being done.

carl jacobs said...


I won't attempt to explain what I mean as I am not musically competent to do so.

You don't need to. Setting old hymns to a rock 'n roll format typically constitutes a criminal assault on music. The word 'atrocity' comes to mind. And prosecution. And prison time.

Either way, drums and guitars swing along nicely with what is being done.

Yeah, I'm not so much on drums and guitars. But then I remind myself that 150 years ago, the corrupting musical influence in church was the introduction of .. THE ORGAN.

[Play scary music here!]

It gives one perspective.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl

Anonymous said...

Hi Carl,

I spent a few years in the Vineyard Church and I generally found contemporary Christian music doctrinally sound. The myth that much contemporary worship is shallow 'Jesus is my boyfriend' style is just that, a myth.

I have generally found that most of these kinds of critiques are from people who do not regularly attend evangelical charismatic churches.

And the Psalms are full of expressions of emotive love.

Yes there is some bad modern music, just as there are some terrible 19th century hymns still being sung in churches. But my experience is that the contemporary scene is nowhere near as bad as some think.

Still, music is largely subjective. I personally find traditional choral eucharists massively boring and often bereft of any actual presence of the Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Organs are the devil's tool!

Seriously, while we must have worship music, there are always going to be arguments and subjective taste differences, because it is not possible to please everyone. This is why worship music has often been simple and "popular" (according to the times), so that it can be sung by as many as possible with ease.

Personally I don't much like either "traditional" 19th century music or contemporary pop/rock.

Eric said...

I have reflected on these things a lot, being a musician and being in a church where the worship wars are present (though not extreme).

One of the difficulties is that the style music popular today works well with performers rather than congregations. And in fact our culture mostly listens to music rather than singing together. And since performance style is out of place for regular worship. So there's no easy way out.

My feeling was that complaints about the music one way or the other usually indicated deeper issues. The tug-of-war is partly about who is in control of the church.

This is a tenth of what I could write on this!

Father Ron Smith said...

Traditional Eucharists 'boring and bereft of the Spirit'? Well that certainly an original thought - especially when a 'traditonal' eucharistic celebration can only become a reality with the invocation of the Holy Spirit at the epiclesis.

Of course, there may be people present who are not aware of Christ's actual Presence in the Eucharist - maybe never having been taught traditional Eucharistic theology - but that is not the fault of those present who know what is going on! And, of course, our hearts have to be receptive to the real presence of Jesus in the sacrament of Holy Communion to discern the Spirit at work therein! Even Saint Paul realised that there might be - in any particular congregation, those who would not discern the Body and Blood of Christ!

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Recent Commenters,
I am worried that you may not be understanding the point of my post!

To try to clarify: I am not arguing the merits of one style of music over another (in an absolute sense) nor am I arguing that the Spirit is here but not there. NO!

I am trying to point out where the people are gathering. The younger generations are gathering in numbers worth celebrating at services with a modern style of music and NOT at services with an older style of music.

That observation is worth pondering, is it not, as we lead our churches into the next decades?

mike greenslade said...

Kia ora Peter. You observation is an interesting one and it is worth considering. I am not sure that church music in the Christchurch Diocese is particularly indicative of what is happening in a wider context, either in Aotearoa or internationally. Bosco's point about Taize is valid. Every person I have met at/from Taize has found the music there beautiful and rich in meaning, deepening their experience of faith.

Many teens are finding new connections with ancient music in a variety of contexts. It is interesting to see many Kapa Haka groups returning to traditional waiata as well as using contemporary songs in their repertoire.

Outside of institutional church life, most young people are not listening to what the churched call 'modern' music. What is used in churches seldom reflects current trends, with the more up-to-date often being 20 or 30 years behind in terms of style. Guitars and drums are very 'last century'.

Working in a church school, I knew many teens whose preference for congregational singing was 'ABH' (anything but Hillsong). Choral Eucharist was a favorite for many, and Taize always had a strong following.

If your observations of local parishes are correct, they may say something about the cultural parameters of our current diocesan life. It would be interesting for us to discover what those parameters are, and what they mean.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Mike
The only thing I am certain of is the application of the rule to parish life (and its to all NZ parishes, not just to the Chch Dio).

Other matters you mention I have no great view on, except ...

Having seen many of the current contestants on X Factor pick up a guitar I am not convinced that a guitar is 'last century'!

mike greenslade said...

Ha! Maybe that is why so many kids call it the 'Ex factor' :)

liturgy said...

I want to pick up what commenters have been saying, Peter, and stress again – it is more complex than your analysis. As a mathematician you should be able to see the faults in the steps that lead to a conclusion that, if followed, may lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy but with a lot of collateral damage.

Just because you are seeing young people who like “type M” music at services with type M music, it does not follow that all young people like type M, nor that all services should swap to type M music.

The majority of Kiwi young people are not going to church – type M or otherwise. Is a longitudinal study being done to follow the depth of spiritual growth of those with type M music to see how their faith is sustained for the long term? I vividly remember a frank conversation with a high-profile Pentecostal church leader where he had done such a study to find that the majority of his young people on average stayed 18 months, left, and never went to another church or made connections with faith. He was searching for something that would provide growth for the roots of faith.

Churches that attract young people in NZ are those that do not follow the lectionary. Therefore if we Anglicans want young people we need to abandon the lectionary. Churches that attract young people in NZ do not have bishops. Therefore if we Anglicans want young people we need to abandon bishops.

Taking the XFactor as a paradigm underscores the point. XFactor is about a non-singing, non-participatory, spectator, superficial, cringingly-over-hyped, non-audience-transforming experience. The judges (my apologies to them) are not at the cutting edge of youth music are they? The most musically-experienced of them is from a band which was at its peak last millennium.

Rowan Williams said it well when he spoke to young people here. Don’t patronise them; young people are looking for and deserve a worship model that they can grow in and through for a lifetime.



Anonymous said...

Before the end of the century the majority of churches globally will be African and Asian Pentecostals. 17th - 19th century Western style choral/liturgical eucharists are rapidly going the way of the Dodo. In Latin Anerica Roman Catholicism is rapidly being replaced with Pentecostalism.

What constitutes mainstream now is meaningless. Any debate or discussion that does not take the changing nature of global Christianity into account is meaningless.

The law Peter mentions is simply a factual description of reality. Standard liturgical churches fail miserably at attracting families and young people in anything like the numbers contemporary worship manages. The odd exception to the rule ( a liturgical here that does well or a Pentecostal church there that fails to keep it's youth ) does not change the rule.

The growing edge of Anglicanism is contemporary worship evangelical charismatic Alpha churches. No other part of the Anglican Communion, least of all choral/liturgical churches, comes close.

This does not mean we should invest in only that model of church, nor does it mean we cannot re-envision traditional forms for the times. I have experienced a couple of very good fusions of contemporary charismatic worship with liturgy and Taize.

But the comfortable status qou of 19th century Neo-Victorian choral/Eucharistic liturgy is no longer a viable option.

Anonymous said...


there mere repitition of the "correct" words does not guarantee the presence of the Spirit. Biblical worship is not Theurgy.

Anonymous said...

Theurgy - what a great word to add to my Wortschatz - thank you, Shawn.
I recently read the 2nd century novel 'Ho Onos' ('The Ass') by Lucian, which is all about arcane magic spells producing amazing metamorphoses - people really did believe that stuff then (and now).
Anyway, I feel a clerihew coming on:

If you ever tire of li-tur-gy,
You must remind the clergy:
Biblical worship is not Theurgy.

Martinos ho Onos

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
It is not true that churches which are attracting younger generation people (under forties here, not just 'youth') have abandoned the lectionary. Some have, some haven't.

By all means do not allow my inexorable law lead to any change in your or my parish. But if either of us wake up and ask whether there is any connection between the dearth of under forties in our respective parishes and the lack of modern music, there is.

If perchance you were the generous benefactor of a new church plant in a new housing estate and were satisfied that on all points, save for the music, the plan for the plant was most .acceptable, then I warn you: get the music wrong, and the plant will not succeed in drawing in younger generations. So, please, institute modern music (which could include Taize and need not include any Hillsong) in the new plant and allow no copies of the English Church Hymnal, Hymns for Today's Church near the place.

Put another way, If you are happy for your benefaction to fund a growing and successful church plant with people predominantly aged over fifty and few if any children, youth, young adults, and parents of children, then I advise purchasing the hymn books, an organ, and a choirmaster.

Two final notes: (1) getting the music right is a necessary condition for winning younger generations, not a sufficient condition; (2) much of what I have said relates to music that 'works' for those generally disposed to going to church and actively seek for a church to go to.

I am making no comment about the music that would draw in those either not disposed to going to church, or disposed to going to church but not actively seeking for a church to go to. On that score I have no specific observations to offer, let alone an inexorable law.

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear I'm not attacking liturgical eucharists. I'm in favour them myself. Nor am I saying we should not explore and revive traditional forms in the real sense of what that means. I'm in favour of more churches using Taize, regular corporate fasting, contemplative prayer, and regular observance of the Eucharist.

At the same time we should also be open to exploring Pentecostal practices such as tarrying on the Spirit, seeking words of prophecy and guidance, soaking services, and so forth.

Nor do high churches have a monopoly on the idea of Euxharistic feasts, even if the details of practice differ. In Scotland the Presbyterian Calvinists at one time had Holy Feasts in which people would travel to a camp site for a weekend of prayer, preaching and fasting, culminating in the solemn reception of the Lord's Supper.

In Vineyard churches I found far more use of traditional spiritual disciplines such as fasting, long periods of silence and waiting on the Spirit, and even contemplative prayer.

The equivalent of feast days in the Vineyard (including observing lent, Easter, and Christmas eve) were healing weekends which always culminated in the washing of hands, being anointed with oil, and then observing the Lord's Supper.

Contemporary churches are often more liturgical and sacramental in their own way.

No, what I am critiquing is more a particular cultural style of doing liturgy and Eucharist which owes more to English Victorian culture than real tradition, and often ruined by forcing people, including visitors, to spend most of the service rifling through several books trying to find the right place, and in which there is no place for real periods of silence or expression of gifts.

liturgy said...

To be fair to me, Peter, I was speaking generally not about churches that have “abandoned” (your words not mine) the lectionary: but rather that generally they “do not follow the lectionary”.

Surely you are not suggesting that there are Anglican Churches that have “have abandoned the lectionary” ;-) ! Is that not effectively the same as “abandoning bishops”? In what sense would they be Anglican? Blessings. Bosco

Ps. To be clear – abandoning the lectionary (or bishops) is in breach of our vowed and signed agreements; unlike other Anglican Churches, we have no such agreements about music. Peter is well within his rites to run a Dubstep Mass, Psychedelic Trance Evening Prayer, or Goregrind Night Prayer.

Pps. To be clear – I am totally with Peter that the quality of music matters. VERY significantly. I think young people love a wide variety of music done well. Wider than I think many older people may realise (hence my styles above to contrast with the 19th century material being mentioned a lot here, some of which young people like also). Good music, some depth of lyrics to grow into and with, sung in an appropriate key, with energy.

Peter Carrell said...

Fair enough, Bosco!

I withdraw "abandoned the lectionary" in favour of, "currently not following the lectionary".

There are one or two Anglican parishes around the traps for whom "currently" has now gone on so long that the use of the word "abandoned" is as tempting as staying in bed under a warm duvet on a foul winter's Saturday morning (such as today). :)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Please use the comments to comment.
I am not accepting the kind of questions you raised in a comment submitted which ask of another person to give answers which, inevitably, will be personal. Such process of question another person veers too close to my liking to the territory named 'ad hominem', a territory which I prefer not to venture to, if I can help it.
So, comments, not personal questions, please.

Anonymous said...

I have attended a number of Anglican evangelical churches and all of them followed the lectionary.

Anonymous said...

I agree Peter that the issue is not youth but young families in the 25-45 range. That is the demographic that the NZAC needs most, and where status-quo churches fail.

There are a few reasons for this. Sometimes a church is just not well set up for young families. Sometimes it's a lack of quality and effort put into the childrens programs. And often it is the music.

While contemporary pop/rock is not to everyones taste (it's not mine) it nevertheless does well in attracting and keeping young families in that 25-45 range, and for good reason.

A piano/organ and Hymns For Yesterdays Church does not cut the mustard anymore.

Anonymous said...

Whether one cares for their music or not, it can't be denied that Hillsong are very creative and have a very high standard of musicianship. Moreover, if you look on youtube, you'll see that they have released their songs in many different languages, both European and Asian, and for the languages I know, I can say their pronunciation is pretty good! Thisi s really forward thinking, taking the Gospel into the youth cultures of Indonesia and China. Now that's a global vision!