Monday, January 14, 2008

Contemporary Worship

Firstly, a shout-out to our church's band, "Spare Parts", a beloved group which plays for us as often as invited, sometimes even when invited on Very Short Notice. (as for the January 6 service featuring commentary on the famous figures who died during the past year, when they treated us to some Dan Fogelberg. Thanks, guys!) Spare Parts is an intergenerational folk-rock sort of band, but heavy on the baby-boomers. It's wonderful, if not quite what people picture when they think, "church band."

Secondly a note that we're starting to think seriously about adding a third service to our growing congregation which is currently almost filling two services. One possibility is to continue with the music and staffing we have for the current two services, and add a "contemporary" style worship service, appealing to young adults, which would be music-heavy and band-led. That's what most churches seem to do, and I'm willing, though pretty much illiterate in the current music set. (Dan Fogelberg was the last pop musician I paid much attention to. I'm totally out of it.)

I set the possibility of a contemporary service before my church's young adult group yesterday, in frank hopes of getting them interested in helping out with such a venture. They were luke warm. We already have a good mix of classical, popular, and world music in our weekly line-up; they're happy with that, they said. (of course, they are the ones who are here...) Then somebody said something else which really surprised me, and they all seemed to agree. "In those Evangelical churches, they have to have a band and screens and all those toys to get people interested in coming and keep them listening. But you don't need to do that. We come because what we hear is helpful to us. We don't need any other rewards."

I'd never thought of it that way.

Do any UU churches have a true contemporary worship service, I wonder? Readers?


Jess said...

I tend to agree with your young adult group -- every "contemporary" worship service I've attended in a UU church has left me rather empty and sad, for its lack of substance.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, if you add a 3rd service that is different from the other 2, you attract new people or a certain sub-group, but sooner or later they want to mainstream into the regular service. So, you end up having the same problem as you had before- overcrowded services.
I am not young enough to be the target audience for so-called Contemporary Worship. But I can tell you I almost walked out on the vaunted Joel Osteen in Houston because it all felt so phony to me.

Kelsey Atherton said...

I remember being on the worship committee and being asked about contemporary music in service. Being the youngest by easily a decade, I was in the unusual position of being less excited than many about the prospect. The music in church worked for me as it was, as the distinctive set of music that ties into meaning and doesn't detract from the atmosphere.
As for modern music, it seems to me that while I think Sufjan Stevens (look up the song "For the Widows in Paradise; For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti" by him; lyrics here or perhaps even the Shins may be appropriate. But I have a minority view with regards to music, and even music within the genre (one male with a guitar and other instruments for Sufjan; indie band for the Shins) of those bands I may find detestable. Music is fractious, and the benefit of hearing a contemporary song I really like in church is outweighed by how miserable I would be, or how distracting it would be to have music that I didn't like, and that felt out of place.

I could tell that many enjoyed Spare Parts at the service you mentioned, but those songs just didn't have much meaning for me, the connections were lacking, and when James Taylor was played at FUUNO this past Sunday, I felt the same disconnect.

Of course, if there is an audience for contemporary music, they will show up for that service. I would just find it alienating, and so attend a different service where the music felt like church, and did not distract from the message.

Sorry to be so down on the idea, and to be fair I am very much in the minority of opinions, but I felt I needed to share my piece

Christine Robinson said...

Kelsey, are you saying that popular music is so age-segmented that it's dangerous to use in worship? I can see this point...we try to avoid doing things in worship that will alienate people, and I suppose that another generation's popular music could do that.

Kelsey Atherton said...

I'm saying not that popular music is particularly age-segmented, I'm saying that popular music is so segmented in and of itself that it is impossible to get agreeable music for everyone within one generation's cache, much less many generations stockpile.
Music is heavy on individual choice and preference, which is something UUs already have in abundance, and I see any attempt to steadily introduce popular music as inviting a cat herding fiasco, with consensus unattainable.

I am also saying that most music we use in worship has a timelessness, or at least a church-appropriateness to it, which makes it fitting for the place, in harmony with the atmosphere, and equally fitting decade(s) ago (I can only really say decade) as many years in the future.

This is not to say that new music and change from the tried and true isn't good - I just think that taking popular culture as a way to find new and exciting music is the wrong way to go. A song that speaks to a given person may well alienate another or, more likely, cause indifference, and the whole mood of the music, while church appropriate for the one who finds it meaningful, would detract from the church atmosphere for others.

kjr said...

Interesting discussion --- especially as we are just beginning to kick around the idea of another service and whether it should be the same or different music.

On question I have about Kelsey's comments is that having served several churches recently, although none was contemporary each had a disticntly different musical style. Current church is heavy on the organ for many but lovely, uplifting, classical, for many others. Previous churches have had more and less "upbeat" or relatively recent church music versus 19th century classics. My personal worship favorite would be Black Church style with a moderate to liberal theology like the UCC church in Chicago I used to visit. my point is that I doubt whatever you are doing now is generic "UU church", so the folks who are there are probably those who are happy enough worhipping with that kind of music --- so it is hard to choose a "new" style from scratch. I expect anything with integrity will get some new folks in the door. I am attracted by some of the things I saw in soem UU churches in California --- enthusiastic singing to start out worship, music that had more of the feel of the new hymnal supplement, had a "younger" appeal but was church music and wasn't out of the question for an aging babyboomer.

Christine Robinson said...

KJR, can you get us in touch with the folks in your congregation who are thinking about a third service? Let's think together..


Philocrites said...

Christine, the New York Times ran a fine piece on musical diversity in evangelical churches in the fall. The pastor of the featured church says, "When you start a church, you don't decide who you're going to reach and then pick a music style. You pick a music style, and that determines who's going to come." Hmm.

Here's a passage from the story: "High Desert Church holds three different large services over the weekend for three different age groups, with music tailored to each audience: Seven (so named for the number’s positive associations in the Bible), the 18-to-30-year-old set that made up Mr. Day’s audience; Harbor, the 30-to-55 group; and Classic, for people 55 and over. The church also maintains even more bands for services at the junior high, high school and elementary school levels. Each band carefully calibrates its sound toward the pop culture disposition of the target age group."

This doesn't appeal to me at all, but I became a classical music junkie in Junior High and added jazz in high school, so I'm definitely not in the target audience for this kind of culture-evangelicalism. (I'm not a fan of pop-music UUism, either.)

I'd suggest that UUs might want to pay attention to the "emergent" trend among evangelicals, who are finding that many young adults are drawn to more "ancient" and liturgical practices and music that differ markedly from "pop" music and megachurch Christianity.