Do Young People Really Care About Instrumental Music?

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I don’t have any research to back this up but I do have a theory. I don’t know about the young people you know, especially the young adults. But one thing I have observed over and over again is that if people come to the place you worship on Sunday morning and they can easily and quickly see that people there take seriously the mission of God, chances are they are going to want to come back regardless of what type of worship you have. I think instrumental music in many ways can be a smoke screen to bigger issues. When churches feel like they can only engage today’s young people if the 30 minutes of singing in the worship is done with instruments there are probably deeper issues.

I think we have made our young people out to be too shallow. We haven’t given them enough credit. Somehow we have dumbed down the draw of worship to what appeals to people rather than asking ourselves the question, “How are we actively engaging the members of this congregation in the mission of God?” Or this question, “Does our worship put God front and center in the service or has something else replaced Him?” Those kinds of questions make the main thing the main thing. Young people can smell a fake a mile off. They can tell when we are just putting on a show. But if they come and see that we are serious about the same things Jesus was serious about they will want to be a part.

The mistake some have made is what we think draws people. Entertainment might draw more people but does it make disciples or are you just pouring water on seeds in rocky soil? Bring people to experience Jesus and Spirit-filled community and they will walk away changed. If we are going to make rocky soil into good soil and thereby give those seeds a chance to grow it is going to come by them encountering Christ through our Christian community and worship rather than simply entertaining them for an hour.

Listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians when it comes to outsiders in the worship and what draws them in:

“Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” – 1 Corinthians 14:22-25

I think speaking in tongues might be far more fantastical to witness than hearing a prophesy. That’s just my opinion. Paul says it is not the ecstatic experiences of the Spirit that are going to reach the outsider, it is the prophesy (words from God) that will convict them and lead them toward repentance and worship. It is not a mean guitar solo, an amazing set on the drums, or an outstanding choir that will bring people to their knees in as rich a way as will pointing them to the words and life of Jesus Christ. We have to keep the main thing the main thing and not try to incorporate new aspects into our worship to mask symptoms and postpone addressing deeper issues that may be present in a given congregation such as spiritual shallowness, the entertainment mentality, and an appreciation for ancient and meaningful forms of worship.

Trendy does not always equal greater spiritual depth.

0 Responses

  1. Right on all counts. When I talk to non-believers, the last thing that they seem to care about is the “how” of our worship. Their questions are much harder: they want to know “why” and they demand evidence. That evidence can take on many forms but one such form, as you have suggested, is the form presented by a loving, engaging, and serving congregation. Instruments, number and type of songs, and multimedia presentations are just details.

    I hope that the day comes when all of us – progressive, traditionalist, and moderate alike, realize exactly how much time has been wasted arguing over methodology while people around us live hopeless lives without knowing Christ. God have mercy on us all.

  2. Good news for you, there has been research done on how people feel about the music in worship. Thom Ranier in Surprising Insights from the Unchurched found in his research that the style of music really has very little bearing on whether or not an unchurched person will attend a specific church. It is ultimately far more important for the church to have good, inspiring worship – regardless of the particular style.

    Ok, here’s a beef of mine. Instruments do not equate with entertainment any more than vocal music equates with worship. Worship is more accurately described as an attitude toward God (the Greek words translated as worship mean either laying prostrate or service as in the temple). Is our attitude one of bowing before the throne of God? Is our heart one of service to the King? Those things equate with worship, not ANY style of music.

    Sure, we are told to sing and make music in our heart as the sign of a Spirit filled life (Eph. 5), but that is not indicated as an evangelistic method, but rather the result of a transformed, Spirit filled life (as are good marriage, good parenting, and good master-slave relations).

    I think you’re right in pointing to 1 Corinthians 14 as the guide for how we can use our Christian gatherings as an evangelistic entry point. I would argue that whether it is prophecy, singing, or a killer guitar solo – the tangible presence of God is what will draw the unbeliever (young or old).

    I will say, though, that it is wrong to require people to use only one style as the approved method of worship. Worship is life, it is breath, it is language (Rom. 12:1-2). For anyone to claim that one style is right and another style is wrong is sinning when they cause believers to mute their worship to God. People, young and old, don’t really care about one style over another. What they do care about is that a multiplicity of styles are used and encouraged when worshiping God. We can paint, pray, sing, play, hike, eat, cook, work, love, etc. as we worship God – he desires that our lives are worship, not just one hour a week.

    Ok, I think I got all of that out of my system. Thanks, that was cathartic.

  3. How many members have gotten burned out on Christianity because of the time we have wasted arguing methodology?

  4. Good questions and points.

    I agree that most people are looking for authentic and inspiring rather than instrumental or acapella. However, I think acapella churches are handicapped in trying to present inspiring music. While one person on a piano/keyboard can create a full 4 part harmony, it takes four singers vocally. While one guy with good rhythm can keep songs moving with a drum, acapella churches have to find someone who can carry a tune and maintain rhythm.

    Granted, if an acapella church has a gifted song leader then they have an advantage in that they only need one guy while an instrumental church has to coordinate multiple people. But those “gifted songleaders” are a rare breed, particularly in smaller churches.

    Yes, these are practical points rather than theological, but surely the way we lead singing and the style of singing communicates something about our relationship with God. People may not visit our churches based on whether or not we have instruments, but if our song leading consists of uncertain notes/words and dreary tempo, then the church will likely appear uninspiring, and irrelevant.

    Thankfully, there’s much more to church than the music, and relevant preaching, friendly people, and genuine interest in guests will probably mean a lot more in the long run than just the music.

  5. Many young people may not care about instrumental music, but they certainly care about sectarianism and our tradition of a cappella has been one of the ways in which we have separated ourselves from other Christians. I think we can hold on to this tradition of a cappella sining, but we must do so with more grace and less dogmatically if we are going to have any chance of raising up new generations of church of Christ members and leaders.

    On that note, instrumental music offers many of us another avenue for worshiping and more quickly connects with “outsiders” as well. If it takes using musical instruments to get people to open themselves up to worshipping than I personally wiling to make that concession. However, I agree that we musnt let issues like these be at the forefront of our time and energy. Loving others and teaching them the Truth of Jesus is most important.

    To counter your final sentence, trendy isnt always in opposition spiritual depth.

  6. I can tell you that they don’t, and I do have numbers to back that up.

    Actually, I lied. I don’t – but I know a guy that does.

    Randy Willingham at Harding University surveys each incoming Freshman Bible class he teaches (which often get quite large), and his own surveys have revealed that most young people (at least those coming into Harding) really don’t care about the instrumental music issue – and those are mostly CoC kids.

    You get out into the world, and sheesh. People don’t know THEY SUPPOSED (*wink) to care – give me a break.

  7. James and RM,

    I am pointing toward some attitudes that I have noticed…the attitude or trend to be about entertaining and the trend to be “trendy.” I am not saying that each and every person who worships with an instrument is doing to solely for the purpose of entertainment. I am also not saying that all trendy things are unscriptural or unwarranted. I am saying that if the only basis we have for doing what we do is entertainment and trendiness then we need to reevaluate what we are doing and why. That was my point there.

    Just wanted to clarify that.

  8. I don’t think most young people would care much about whether a church has or does not have instruments. However, I do think that would change if a church tells Leroy Brown or Peggy Sue that they are wrong if they attend a Christian worship where there are instruments because they 1) would see through inconsistencies of the very modern/enlightment rationale needed to buy into the CoC’s traditional argument against instruments.

    The same goes for the prevailing views and practices regarding women in ministry, worship, and leadership of the church. Actually, in Ithaca (where women did read scripture in the public worship) I know some people who thought we still were oppresive to women.

    Grace and peace,


  9. I have so frequently heard (from my Church of Christ brothers) this automatic leap that using instruments in worship is pure entertainment and basically just done to attract young people (or others who are looking for such “entertainment”). I used to buy into this logic.

    I don’t buy it anymore. Feel free to tell me I’m on the slippery slope to apostasy. I won’t even try to get into arguing the rightness or wrongness of “instrumental music.” Too much energy has been spent by many there already. I just want to challenge this kind of logic:

    “The mistake some have made is what we think draws people. Entertainment might draw more people but does it make disciples or are you just pouring water on seeds in rocky soil?”

    Musical instruments in worship = entertainment? Automatically? Come on! What about preacher’s telling jokes, using drama at youth events, or just learning new songs because we’re getting a little tired of the old repertoire? Could be entertainment.

  10. Matt,

    Just read your follow-up comment. And I do agree with the point you made in it. Should have read the comments more thoroughly before I posted mine. However, I still think it can be easy to cast a wide net regarding an “entertainment mindset” of would be worshippers, and then step back and say this may not apply to everyone.

    And I fully recognize I am responding to over 30 years of being a Church of Christ goer, and not just to your post. It just seemed to so typify what I experienced for so long that was just not life-giving, which was clearly the mission of Christ.

  11. Roger,

    Glad the followup comment was helpful. As best I can tell the point was entirely missed. That is probably my own fault here. I should have been more clear.

    Here is the point – Acappella churches of Christ have more to offer than we often give ourselves credit for if we are willing to steadfastly commit ourselves to the kingdom of God. If we are a part of the mission. The basics of our faith are way more important than we often give them credit for. Instead some think we have to jazz things up to be relevant. I don’t think that is the case. I do believe energetic worship is important and am glad to be a part of a congregation that has that kind of worship. And I can tell you from experience that we have grown as a congregation since introducing more energetic worship without having instruments thrown in the mix.

    If you read this blog you know my take on instruments in the church. I have posted on that on several occasions. This post is addressed at one specific mindset and one alone and is not meant to broad brush anyone.

  12. Thanks for taking the time to clarify, Matt, and I will keep coming back to your site to hear more from your heart for the Kingdom.

    God shared James 1:19-20 with me in a very gentle, powerful way today. With that in mind, I will take more time to listen and be slower to “speak” on others’ blogs.

  13. The best preachers are the ones that can teach well AND keep their audience interested in what they’re saying (what some would call “entertaining”).

    In addition to feeding my spirit, vibrant worship IS ALSO entertaining to me … it’s fun!

    Does anyone really think those crowds following Jesus around weren’t, in addition to being spiritually fed by him, also entertained? Come on now … watching and listening to Him was a spectacle unlike any in this history of the world!

    Entertainment is not all bad – good, spiritually uplifting and holy things can be very entertaining! Why does entertainment get such a bad wrap by the frozen chosen?

  14. Wes,

    If we come solely to be entertained then we have a problem. Does anyone even hear that is my point here? πŸ˜‰ I hate splitting hairs and fine tuning things. I can’t see into someone’s heart. I don’t know if it is just entertainment or if there is something more. So I typically try to stay out of that. I am addressing individuals who come solely for the sake of entertainment. Only you know if that applies to you. I don’t and don’t claim to know when or where that takes place.

    What did Jesus do when people came asking for a sign? Why did he respond like that rather than doing more amazing things in front of their eyes? Jesus knew the value of what he was doing was not to be done based on the whims of people and for the sake of their own personal enjoyment. He could prove he was who he said he was without all that. So yes, people were entertained by Jesus. But that was not what he came to do. That was not the point or what he was all about. He didn’t come to seek and entertain the lost. He came to seek and save them. Anyway, I have said enough. I don’t want to be an old fogey or codger on this.

  15. My comment wasn’t directed at you, Matt. It was directed at a straw man that I knock down sometimes to – get this – ENTERTAIN myself.

    Trust that I do see your point πŸ™‚

  16. Matt, I think I do see your point, but I am not convinced that adding instruments to entertain or draw people in is such a bad thing. If we sacrifice substance to do so then yes there is a problem, but I think in an entertainment culture it may be appropriate to entertain in tandem with substance as a way of becoming all things to all people…

  17. I think most folks who have even an inkling of interest in being in a church would not care a whit whether the singing was a cappella or accompanied; whether the preaching was relevant or entertaining … if, as Matt seems to be saying, those folks were absolutely convinced that Jesus was present. (And I don’t think there’s an age limit on that yearning.)

    If we made it a regular practice to invite Him, to let Him preside at His table, to celebrate His life and resurrection as well as His death, to proclaim Him faithfully in prwaching and scripture and song … well, there’d be no doubt that He was there, would there?

    Why is that so rare?

  18. It is rare because we have accepted the traditions that have been passed down to us as “gospel truth” rather than recognizing which things are just traditions and which things are the actual core of our beliefs. We need to be spending way more time making the main thing the main thing and not trying to police things that are side issues and basically irrelevant in the whole scheme of things.

    We also need to engage people in doing application rather than just having application questions to open up opportunity for the Gospel to be lived out rather than just talked about.

  19. I’m a 16 year old member of the church and here’s what I have to say about this:

    I don’t see a problem with instrumental music, but I love acapella music too.

    Matt is right here about us young people caring more about the focus in worship and the such.

    What turns me and my friends of though, is those sermons you sometimes here from more conservative congregations about how sinful instrumental music is.
    Then, most of the time they go on to say that since we are basically the only people worshiping acapella, we are the only ones saved.

    I hate hearing this, and it makes me want to attend a Christian Church, not because they have instruments and I want those in worship, but because they aren’t being sectarian and judgmental, like the pharisees.

    On the side note, I’m a progressive member of the church, that supports acapella praise, but doesn’t condemn instrumental music! Us young people have friends in other churches that are very Godly, and do more for the Lord than we see some of the Church of Christ elders do! We don’t want to sit in the pew and listen to them be condemned for using instruments in worship.

    Is that really all our church is about? Acapella praise? I mean, we are told to sing and make melody in our heart. But that is NOT why I believe Jesus came and died for us.

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