Whether it’s verbalized or not, a church’s music style communicates doctrine — or at the very least, it communicates values. That’s not something that we often think about. Unfortunately, we are usually more concerned with the sound than the substance, and we don’t stop to contemplate the greater implications of our style choices.
What does style communicate? For the hymn-singing church, it may be that “Church tradition is inherently valuable.” For the blended church, it may be that “Everyone should get along.” For the contemporary church, “Sunday morning ain’t so bad.” For the modern church, “Newer is better.” And for the emerging church, “There is more to worship than video screens.”
There are tremendous truths in those statements. However, once we establish what we are communicating, we then need to ask ourselves, “Is this what we want to be communicating? What are we saying about the Kingdom?”
Most often, we’ll find that we need say more. For the soft rock church, that may mean trying a new style of music. After all, there will be all kinds of voices in heaven. For the traditional church, that may mean incorporating some gospel songs or contemporary hymns — to communicate that God continues to speak through the ages. Or a blended church could cancel the music and read the Psalms for 20 minutes, emphasizing that worship goes beyond musical preferences.
While serving at Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, I realized how much musical styles communicate. The church is full of ethnic and economic diversity, and the musical styles are also quite diverse — including traditional, African, contemporary, reggae, and gospel. As far as style goes, nothing was off limits.
At UBC, the different styles communicated a message about heaven: That every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The congregation not only looked different, but we sounded different and sang different. Even a first-time visitor would have heard that our vision of heaven is a bit different than the church in a nearby suburb.
Now for your turn. What do the styles in your church communicate?