Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Praise Music Discontent: Part 2 - Demographics That Are Malnourished by Praise Music - Jeff Wiersma

Part 2 - Demographics That Are
Malnourished by Praise Music

"When we continue to trot out the same old, stale Praise Music year after year, decade after decade, it sends the message (hopefully unintentional) to these demographics that they are not an audience worthy of consideration or attention, let alone being understood, accommodated or valued."

In Part 1 - "Missing The Biblical Narrative & Why Music That You Do Matters" - I provided a lot of questions to think about regarding how the church relies too heavily on unfiltered Praise Music and the missed opportunities that result from that.

In Part 3  - "An Alternate Approach" - I will explain some of the techniques and practices I have implemented in the effort to provide a more holistic, corporate, creatively and intellectually satisfying and engaging time of music during Sunday Service.

In Part 2,  I will discuss how the following demographic groups are malnourished spirituality by Praise Music...
  • Praise Music and Those Already Attending Church
  • Praise Music and Those Not Already Attending Church
  • Praise Music, Gen X and Millenials

Praise Music and Those Already Attending
These points apply mainly to churches whose weekly service is meant to be a place where people of faith can grow together in the context of a community. (However they also apply to churches whose weekly service is designed to be a safe place for people that have given up on church but not on God, especially if they have people who have stuck around, kept attending and want to grow spiritually.)

Spiritual Growth
One main area where Praise Music fails those who already attend church is in what it teaches about God. According to our creeds and Biblical narrative, God is triune and lives in community. Christianity isn't a private relationship.

Yet you wouldn't know this based on the individualistic lyrics in a lot of Praise Music.

In their book Worship Words - Disciplining Language For Faithful Ministry, authors Debra and Ron Rienstra cite Lester Ruth's research on Trinitarian language in contemporary worship music. Ruth, who teaches worship and liturgy at Asbury Theological Seminary, used Christian Copyright Licensing Information (CCLI) top 25 song data from 1989-2004. (Many songs stayed so popular that only 72 songs made the list during that time).

NONE of the songs named the Trinity or God's triune nature. Just 3 songs mentioned all three persons of the Trinity.  Most named only Jesus.

According to our creeds and Biblical narrative, what God does is the holistic, incarnational work of redemption. This is far cry from the compartmentalized, escapist lyrics often found in Praise Music.

The missed opportunities to teach of the relational dynamic of the Triune God and richness of redemption that Praise Music represents are indeed heart-breaking.

The post-enlightenment church has reduced the beauty of a community of faith doing theology in dialogue to an individualistic, reductionist and linear enterprise. However the current transition from modern to post-modern necessitates the utilization of creative, lateral thinking at the congregational level to get beyond the shallowness of contemporary evangelicalism.

We need to be helped to think bigger.  Sadly, Praise Music is often not up to the task. 

Depth and Meaning
Praise Music is certainly helpful to some specific demographics among those who already attend church, but there is a significant and growing population within the church (and among those who - while spiritually active and seeking - have left it) for to whom a lot of Praise Music isn't helpful at all.

Many praise songs don't say the significant things they (as well as I) want to say to or about God. The art that nourishes these people is deeper and engaging; causing them to stop, look and listen. It takes a questioning, reflective posture.

As religious survey group U.S. Congregations says, "[s]trong congregations (make) certain their services are connecting with all. Are there unmet needs in your congregation? Is it time to offer more variety in worship and music styles?"

Some people want to scuba dive and explore the depth of the water and all that it contains instead of jet skiing across the surface.

Praise Music and Those Not Attending
These points apply mainly to churches whose weekly service is designed to be a safe place for people that have given up on church but not on God. (However, they also apply to any church that seeks to be welcoming in its weekly service.)

What you don't want is for people to come to your service and notice that they don't know the Christianese language being spoken AND WORSE that they'll need to learn it to connect or participate.

Everyone would agree with this in the abstract, but how many churches express themselves on a weekly basis denies the veracity of such statements.

Unchurched People
Churched people are usually multilingual; they speak both Christianese and how people speak in everyday life. Unchurched people are uni-lingual;  they speak how people speak in everyday life but don't speak Christianese.

So what language does the music that your church uses speak? What language is your service spoken in? Is it narrow-cast in Christianese or broadcast in the language that people speak in everyday life?

If the only language that people really understand is their own, are you speaking it? Should translation be a visitors job and responsibility or yours?

Are you even aware of the language barrier and what needs to be translated in the first place? What does the language you use provide as answers to these questions?

As U.S. Congregations noted, "[s]trong congregations ... work to ensure that their services are meaningful to those they hope to bring into their midst." This requires constantly considering those who haven't come yet.

Dr. David Manner, Director of Worship and Administration for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, writes, "Welcoming includes those who are not and may never be present. Welcoming worship purposefully considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored."

So if you are designing your weekly service to be safe place for those who have given up on church, consider this: What percentage of people who are unchurched or who have given up on church relate to Praise Music vs regular music?

If we're being honest, we'd have to acknowledge that Praise Music would account for a microscopic percentage. This doesn't mean that these people aren't on a spiritual journey and don't draw spiritual truth, meaning and sustenance from all kinds of sources in creation. What it means is that Praise Music is not usually among them.

"Given Up On Church" People
It is of utmost importance to make the following distinction clear; a person who has given up on church is often VERY DIFFERENT from a person who has given up on the last church that they were attending. These people tend to fall into two categories; (1) those who have attended a church recently/regulary and are Wounded/Disenfranchised and (2) those who attend church nominally as children but stopped attending later in life.

The "Wounded/Disenfranchised" are people who have  left the church to save their faith.  At some point, it became clear to them that attending church was detrimental to their spiritual well-being. These aren't people who had stylistic differences with or weren't "being fed" at their most recent place of worship. These are people who talk about their leaving the church in terms of "exile" or "Post Traumatic Church Syndrome."

The Wounded/Disenfranchised have often been wounded by abusive leaders, boundary police and uncritical thinking. Christianese language was often part of the suffocating, wounding experience they endured before hitting the eject button to save their spiritual lives.

If your weekly service is designed to be a safe place for the Wounded/Disenfranchised, you need to make sure that you aren't utilizing unfiltered Christianese/Evangelical language. This is part of what made these people feel like they were unwelcome, didn't fit in, or couldn't be authentic in their church-attending experience.

Although being careful with the vocabulary used would seem obviously necessary your goal is to provide a safe harbor for the Wounded/Disenfranchised, the scope of this effort isn't always extended to Praise Music.  It doesn't use the language of lament, doubt and questioning that these people desperately need to hear. 

These wounded souls need your sensitivity so that they can heal. You can avoid unintentionally jabbing their sore spots by simply changing words here and there. However, this requires the knowledge of what those words are in the first place. Does your church have, value and make use of that knowledge and sensitivity? What does the language you use provide as an answer to that question?

Other "Given-Ups" fall into the category of those who attend church nominally as children but stopped attending later in life.  People from this group who decide to give your church a try will not be fluent in the Christianese language that churched people have been immersed it.  Though Christianese may not be a trigger for them that jabs bruised and wounded areas in their spirits like it does for the Wounded/Disenfranchised, they will not know what those words mean.  This has the potential to serve as an unnecessary barrier to their being able to connect.

Praise Music and Gen X/Millennials
Members of these two generations have been saturated with marketing since birth. As a result, they've been conditioned to smell inauthenticity and sales pitches from a mile away.  They are far less tolerant of mediocrity than previous generations. As a result, Praise Music often doesn't resonate with them.

Despite they are often negatively stereotyped in popular culture and the media, Gen Xers and Millenials have a lot to offer. They are both the result of and agents of change in the current transition from modern to postmodern. They are willing to brainstorm and make improvements in the groups they belong to, yet they want to be a part of groups that want new and innovative ideas.

Any group or organization that wishes to connect with members of these generations must use imagery and vocabulary that indicate that they are current and progressive. If a group or organization isn't pursuing those things, members of this generation will go elsewhere. This can be seen in study after study that show that Gen Xers and Millenials tend to avoid church services en mass.

To these generations, genre is language. Christianese has never resonated with them, with the exception of a small percentage who are lifelong church-goers. It doesn't relate to them, it doesn't speak their language and it doesn't resonate with how they experience spirituality, awe, wonder, meaning, connection and community.

Praise Music's lack of diversity, creativity and variety is a powerful turn off.

When we continue to trot out the same old, stale Praise Music year after year, decade after decade, it sends the (hopefully) unintentional message to these demographics that they are not an audience being taken into consideration, let alone being understood, accommodated or valued.

This is all the more tragic because they, much better than the generations before them, understand the need for and value of community, connection and cooperative learning. They are deeply spiritual and want to ask critical questions that will stimulate new understanding and growth.

For the most part, Praise Music doesn't provide them the format or vocabulary to do that. So who will provide it?