What’s not about the band? When churches experience decline, members leaving and more wood than people, there’s always someone who says, “We need a praise band.” That’s the easy answer: to point to the most visible difference between your church and the church where you think people are going. “They’ve got contemporary Christian music. They’ve got a band!” Then that must be it! Eureka! All we need to do is get a praise band and sing contemporary Christian music! So you look into it, get some people who can play, try to incorporate it, buy some second hand speakers, amplifiers, mixers and maybe a drum set and you’re off!
But does it work? No, not really. If you’re going to do it, you should do it well. It might be energizing for a while, or it might even backfire. But without addressing the deeper issue things won’t change in your church. It’s not about the location, the style of worship, the instruments, the architecture or even the kind of programs offered. Those are surface things. It goes much deeper.
At this point let me insert a disclaimer: I’m not talking about doctrine. While doctrine is supreme, especially the doctrine of justification which shapes and affects all other teachings, we’re not talking about or discounting doctrine. For this blog let’s assume that declining and healthy churches teach the same thing! I’m talking about something else.
Let me use an analogy. Imagine two elementary school classrooms at the same school teaching the same grade level. One has students engaged, respectful, happy, on task, excelling. The other classroom has students who are distracted, disrespectful, frustrated and floundering. What’s the difference? Is it the classroom? The color the walls are painted? The technology employed? The curriculum? Each may be helpful to a point but the real difference goes much deeper. The difference is the “culture” or personality of the classroom. It is shaped by many things but comes out in the way the students interact with the teacher, one another and the material. One is a productive classroom and the other is one that struggles. The externals are secondary.
The same is true with the church. They may teach the same thing but their health may be very different. The worship style, instruments, music, architecture and so on play a part in it doing well but only slightly. The real difference is the culture of the congregation. Culture is the pattern of shared values, beliefs and assumptions. Culture is shaped by what is rewarded, what is given attention, what is modeled, what stories are told and retold about the church, how operations are structured, how people are treated and so on. It creates a mood or personality that once established, influences how people behave, interact and react to people and situations.
We may assume that churches that play contemporary Christian music with a praise band are always growing. But that’s not necessarily true. Rather the real reason some are growing has much more to do with the personality or culture of the church. The most visible difference is the music but the substance of the difference is that those churches have something else going for them. Their “personality” or culture is all about getting people closer to Jesus. It is what is rewarded, given attention, celebrated and reinforced through stories told, how operations and activities are structured and shaped and how people are treated. The mood or culture is then established: we are here to bring people closer to Jesus.
Put another way, what a church is passionate about they focus on and live out, for good or for ill. For a growing church, that passion for bringing people to Jesus shapes and inspires innovative programs and strategies. Technology, web sites, smartphone apps, small groups, community involvement, everything is focussed on that and not much else. Then they truly celebrate when someone is baptized and confesses Christ (even if it is decision theology). The organizational culture of a growing church is the driver that is based in valuing Jesus as Savior.
Contrast that with churches with more wood than people. They tend to concentrate or worry about internal things. There are debates about budgets and protecting turf and who will use what space. They argue about the choice of hymns and can nit pick about a lot of things including the pastor and one another. Their “personality” can often resemble a closed social club where outsiders are often looked upon with suspicion. Their concern for those far away from Jesus, while often acknowledged as important, does not translate into behavior or moving out of their comfort zones. Other priorities are overwhelmingly reflected in church calendars and budgets. Sure, the doctrine may arguably be more scriptural (in the unhealthy church) but what they actually teach isn't always what they actually value. Their culture or personality isn’t consistently demonstrated by their love for the outsider and evident in their programs and activities. They tend to celebrate small “insider” accomplishments. So the church is plateaued and often declining. There is more wood than people.
Then what’s the answer? It’s not about the band! Playing and singing contemporary Christian can be great! And whatever worship style followed should be done to the best of our ability as an expression of worship to God. But music isn’t going to change the deeper underlying organizational culture which may very well be a “disconnect” with a church’s teachings (and even lyrics)! A praise band may seem like a logical answer but it is far from the solution, and that’s not because “praise music” is somehow unbiblical or doctrinally incorrect or misguided. Rather, faithful Christian leaders will seek to change the culture by concentrating on addressing the incongruence between what is taught and what is lived out. They will seek to bring people closer to Jesus and celebrate every step in the right direction. Through what is rewarded, what is given attention, what is modeled, what stories are shared, how operations are structured, how people are treated and what is celebrated they will consciously keep the main thing the main thing!
This is challenging and spiritually difficult work. Yet this is the Lord’s church and He is in the resurrection business! If God can raise the dead and make each of us as individuals new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5), including our personality, habits and behaviors then he can also miraculously change the personality or culture of the local congregation. Eureka! Or better, Hallelujah!
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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, email@example.com or scottgress.com