Music menu: Churches offer a smorgasbord of music styles to meet needs of worshippers

Published: Saturday, Nov. 24 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

The ambiance created by the urban rock sound at Calvary in Texas is geared to appeal to people who Wead said would normally not consider church as a place where they can get closer to God.

"The lyrics are strong about the Lord and exalting Jesus, but the music is guitar-driven with lots of strong percussion," Wead said. "It’s loud, and the kind of music (young nonchurchgoers) can get into. They feel that they can relate to the Lord from their hearts because the music fits what they are used to."

'Medicine for the soul'

Given music's ability to elicit powerful emotions, it should be expected that strong feelings can surface among believers who either do or don't want to change the way they worship through the songs they sing or listen to at church.

Changing the music was the toughest task for church planter Jim Armpriester when he revived a declining Assemblies of God congregation in Niagara Falls in 2008.

"Before my first Sunday, some seniors sneaked in and moved the organ to the platform," he recalled. Armpriester eventually sold the organ and installed a new digital sound system for a band that played more contemporary music.

"But truthfully, the seniors never did face the changes. Newer people came and (the seniors) learned to tolerate them but they never liked it," he said.

That's not an uncommon scenario, but Willmington said the contention is often unnecessary.

"One of the missing links in churches is that the younger people and the older people aren’t even talking to each other about these things," he said. "I think there are some legitimate issues that need to be addressed. But I am concerned about the lack of conversation and preferring one another as the scriptures talk about."

At another church named Calvary, this one in Salt Lake City and aligned with the Baptist faith, the Rev. France Davis takes all of this into account when he signs off on the week's worship music. It usually includes a traditional hymn for the senior members, an upbeat gospel number for the baby boomers and a contemporary number for the youths.

"The styles continue to change, so whatever is the most popular thing for the younger people, we try to include some of that," says Davis. In addition to talking out differences to understand each other's spiritual needs, Willmington said an understanding of the role music can play in a worship service can help smooth over differences.

"Music is powerful in affecting memory and behavior," Willington said. "If you connect the power of music, regardless of style, with your faith, you could really have a great powerful connection that I think people are missing on both sides of the spectrum."

Without understanding that connection, everything from traditional hymns to contemporary songs are nothing more than a set list with no connection to the theme of the service, Willmington said.

"The best of both worlds is to have a vision for how the arts can connect with faith. The style can come later," he said. "There are dancers, guitars, choirs and an organ that all can express that, and a unified people of God can appreciate the person next to them and their expression. That way we are not focused on the style but on our faith in God."

African-American churches have long been at the forefront of incorporating music into their worship in a way that involves the congregations and moves the services forward, Willmington said.

Davis said that the service at Calvary Baptist is "packed with music" that employs a call-and-response pattern designed to encourage participation and communicate a message.

"We believe that music prepares people’s hearts emotionally to receive the word of God, which is the highlight of the whole worship service," Davis said. "It also helps them to unload their own burdens. It’s medicine for the soul."

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