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Look at the popular Top 40. How many of those songs sound like Coldplay and U2?

Three? Four? But the majority of churches turn every song into a Coldplay or U2 song. We even do covers of their songs to start our services.

So here?s the question:

Does our worship reflect the shifting musical preferences of our culture? Should it? Do we show the same amount of innovation and creativity as the music industry does?

As a worship leader, I had to examine my church when I thought about those questions.[quote]Does our worship reflect the shifting musical preferences of our culture? Should it?[/quote]

I don?t really listen to the radio. And I?m not proposing we swap our worship sets between Coldplay, Nicki Minaj, and Justin Bieber.

But how we do initiate new things into our worship? How do we avoid perpetuating dead music in our services?

Keep Things Fresh

Introduce new music! Everyone may love ?God of Wonders,? but it?s time for something new.

Twitter is one of the places I gather the most information on what other worship pastors are doing in their churches. It?s also how I find a ton of new music to introduce to my congregation. The idea is to keep your vision fresh by changing things up now and then.

Throw in an acoustic set every now and then. It can be a breath of fresh air.

Most radio listeners have very eclectic tastes.You and I may love Hillsong, Tomlin, Crowder, and Redman; but to a lot of people, our worship sets sound like the same thing every week. Many people are listening to one station that will play Coldplay, Nicki Minaj, Needtobreathe, and (everyone?s favorite) Nickelback, one right after another. Don?t be schizophrenic with each song in your worship set, but don?t be afraid to try something new.

Explore New Territory

We all get stuck in ruts. Routines. But staying in the same place for too long can be bad for you. Get out there and figure out what is new in 2012. Do the work and study your culture. Find new bands that are currently in the top ten on iTunes and listen to some of their music.

Is there anything that you can implement into the way you play a particular worship song? Maybe it?s a guitar or vocal part that you?ve never heard before and gives you new inspiration.

What are people in your church listening to? I found the best way to find new music for pre-service mixes and songs we play on Sunday (secular or worship) was to ask people. Make it your status update on Facebook. You might be surprised at the feedback you get. Bite the bullet and listen to new stuff you normally wouldn?t. Who knows, you might even like that new Maroon 5 song.

Risk and Excellence

Things are changing all the time. Musical styles, graphics, sermon series, staff people. What should never change is your willingness to take a risk and to make sure you do it with excellence: risk and excellence. I find when I talk to worship pastors these are the two things we most often lack. It?s usually because we don?t want to put in the time to get better, find something new, and do it the best way we can. This is often reflected in how we lead our teams through rehearsals, walkthroughs on Sunday mornings, and for some of us, not giving God our best during our gatherings. Some weeks we may feel like we have ?it? and some weeks we don?t.

Regardless of what musical style your church leans toward, we need to be in a constant state of examination about what is and isn?t working on Sundays to better glorify God and bring people closer to Him. We need to be willing to make the hard decisions: if something needs to be put to death in our services or if we need to come to the realization that something has been dead for a while.

I?d love to hear your thoughts. Are we missing out on what our culture is interested in musically? What do we need to change to try to reach the hearts of those wanting to worship God in a different way? Is something ?dead? in your worship services? Does something need to die??



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16 replies on “The Death of Rock and Roll in the Church”

Good stuff! It’s really exciting and empowering when you think about. Yea, also effort and struggle to get it right. But as creative stewards, we’ve got to go for it.

I particularly resonated with the part about learning your culture. It takes a real conscious effort but I believe it honors God and we can better serve our community. Thanks for the word Brennan.

This is so encouraging to me. I’ve been really challenging my thought process on worship for the past year, specifically our style. You know, rock was big in the 80s and 90s and the church, whether intentionally or not, sort of made an adjustment towards reaching people through a style they were familiar with.. And then we just sort of stopped.

My instrument leaders and I are actually getting ready to have a “pop country” rehearsal soon playing with songs that we already do but with a new flair. Country and Rap are the two most prominent genres of music in our region.. And so we’re going to play with changing our method to reach the people of our community in our weekend worship sets. Every church should evaluate the culture in which they live in to reach people. We are the ones that are sent, not the other way around. We don’t EVER change the message, but we should constantly be changing the methods according to our culture.

Love the article Brennan, as usual!

At our church we are going from rock, to bluegrass, to gospel… in the same service! I heard one of our elders talking with another when we were preparing to do a newer styled song. He said, “I might not connect with this song like the younger crowd in the church will, but I know I’ll still hear some of what I do connect with.” This was encouraging to me because since our start we have been determined to not just play to one group. When you see an older person singing the words to “Saving One” by Starfield, and your kid comes home humming “I’ll Fly Away” you thank God for his grace to bring generations together.

Our culture here is diverse and to reach out, we need to strive to be that way in our worship. In a few weeks, we are going country to shift it up!

Good stuff, Brennan!

Now, listen to a movie soundtrack and you will hear an orchestra, a banjo, a rock tune and some hip hop lead into ambient.

What this says to me is that our culture and generations are capable of engaging in many styles. But, those styles need what a movie has–context of story.


Well said . . . I’ve always operated under the pretense that excellence and risk go hand in band. You can’t take risks without thinking through how it should be done well.
Otherwise don’t take the risk. But thankfully we have a lot of people in our churches who will give us margin for trying new things without expecting a U2 quality lights how or performance!
That being said I appreciate your encouragement to keep digging for what’s best In us and our teams. Striving for improvement each time we try something new . . .


I think we’re ultimately bored with worship and we are tired of chasing after trends and styles.

We say we’re all about “story” but there’s no narrative in our modern approach to worship these days. Musically. Or visually.

The Liturgy (liturgical approach to worship, the christian calendar, lectionary, etc) can really help with this. I’m not talking boring, vain repetition… I’m talking about story & narrative…. through the course of a worship gathering, and through the course of a season of worship. There are movements. Conflict. Darkness. Light. Reflection. Celebration.
It takes you through the story of Christ… and through the story of humanity and all of our emotional complexities.

Modern worship is like a body of flesh without a skeleton. A big amoeba like blob. We need a backbone & a skeleton. We can have our own flesh, skin, color, personality and face to it…but we need proper structure and story back in our worship.

Now THAT transcends style and trends. Liturgy is something that is timeless and will last.
Everything else is just skin on the body.

Thanks for the content and the reminder Mr. VJ! 🙂 Always appreciate what you have to say on the subject of how we can tell the Story better. Walk us through how a service at your church proceeds? Do you go to The Journey (nashiville)??

I do go to Journey, but even we have barely scratched the surface with this. I honestly can’t walk you through what a service is supposed to look like…. I’ve only experienced the liturgy done well a few times. And it’s starting to show me why our modern, trend-chasing approach is starting to bore many of us. You can only do rock-n-roll for so long, with no backbone, until it becomes a loud, flashy, noisy blob.
We can go all banjo & Civil Wars on worship, but it will only last a few years. And then we’ll be bored with that and move on to the next style.

Styles come & go… but we have very little to say. There’s SO MUCH to be said in the Story of God that isn’t being said. That’s my observation.

I’m not expert on this. Trust me.
But the closest thing I can come to figuring out a solution is to explore the Liturgy. To pick it up, dust it off, and try to put some life back into it.
Many modern worship leaders are doing this:

Styles will continue to come and go… and different styles can fit into liturgical worship.

I will also add that we have missed out on LAMENT. & darkness.
And rock-n-roll isn’t exactly lament until it’s a crazy dramatic rock opera, i think. 😉

I hear you, though I wonder if the problem is that we always try to copy what’s out there on the radio. Im not sure perusing itunes top 10 gets us somewhere fresh. I understand that U2 and Coldplay are mainstays. (I’ve very much led my fair share of those styles.) But I am always battling that the reason I fall back on what everyone else is doing is due to complacency in creativity.
In my cynicism I feel like most of radio music is force fed to people and they like it because that’s all they hear… For all the reasons that are too much to write here. I guess I long for a day when the church itself (individual communities) are determining what songs are being written and how they sound. When the songs reflect their own cultural context. We are such a cookie cutter culture that we always are looking for who else is doing something well and copying it. Remember when Delirious in the 90’s did something fresh and it was meaningful for their community?Then we all copied it. I know Charlie Hall has done some similar stuff with his own community.
It’s a big, long, discussion.
I guess I’ve just grown tired of trying to sound more like Hillsong United than other churches can, as though that’s the measure of doing things well. Alright, cynical rant aside… God uses these songs to minister to people, so who am I?

Great comments. I agree with Jmont. We have a difficult place to navigate as both artists and worship leaders. We need to be able to hear our people and do whatever it takes to help them connect with the God of the universe. Creativity is an important piece to this.

The thing I think after reading this is, “Well I don’t want to follow “the trends”. Like Stephen Proctor said, the trends can be fickle. I think about the bands who are “trending” and I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t creating their music with the thought, “I’m going to do this style because everyone seems to love it right now.”

Loved the article, Brennan. Worship is less about trends, more about excellence and risk in our own creativity.

And this whole conversation scratches the surface of many deeper issues that we are all starting to notice in “modern worship”. It’s so much more than style and trends. And to be frankly honest here, we’re a bunch of “kids” trying to take on some really deep theological issues when it comes to worship & the role of art/beauty in the midst of it all.
In many other religions and in Christianity’s past, you don’t get to be any kind of “minister” until you are well into your 50s (at least)…b/c you’ve actually lived some life and have experienced a lot.
For us, we’re just getting started. Yet we’re the ones in charge & have so much influence. It’s really really scary.

Anyways… I’m just realizing more and more that we have so much growing up to do…myself included. We have so much to learn. And we HAVE to learn otherwise we’ll be leading shallow, flashy, feel-good worship rooted in really poor theology.

And for the record, my worship leaders “All Sons & Daughters” have been compared to “The Civil Wars” (who are also friends of mine…gotta love nashville)… and I can honestly say that AS&D are true & original in their art form, which was created specifically & quietly for my church Journey and not for the masses. They also didn’t look at Civil Wars and think “we need to create worship music that sounds like that.” that’s the furthest thing from the truth.
And I find most modern worship leaders & songwriters these days to be really authentic and original in their craft…which is refreshing.

But there’s still the industry… and radio… and CCLI charts… and iTunes Top 10… and, well, it’s all fed and driven by a consumeristic mob with really good intentions but really bad, shallow theology. anyways…

I think the most effective approach is to ask the Holy Spirit what the appropriate response is for that particular service and then figure out how dot do that with the musicians that are serving with you. The worst thing we can do is swap one stale tradition for a fresh set of rules. We reach people with the gospel – music is just a means to worshipping Jesus.

I definitely agree that we need to be led by the Holy Spirit in whatever decisions we make in regards to worship. Worship does have so much depth to it. But remember, we aren’t talking about changing the message, we’re talking about changing the method. Above theology and perfect doctrine, God looks at our heart. And if our heart is fixed on Him and we’re seeking Him for direction in reaching people through worship, then we cannot lose. That’s what was so special about David – A man who was a worshipper at heart, who brought so much depth in revealing the character and nature of God yet he bombed it by sinning and WAS STILL called a man after God’s own heart. < That's our God 🙂

Hi Brennan,
You seem quite caught up in our culture. Many Christians love that culture, perhaps to the neglect of the most important culture, the culture of the Word. Augustine said something along the lines of if we love the music about God more than God, we are committing idolatry. I would say many American Christians so consumed with their Christian rock should go on a musical fast, and meditate on the Word and pray. People in ministry would be well served to memorize all of Colossians chapter 3,then pray about how to do Colossians 3:16. Letting the message of Christ dwelling within us richly can be as simple as a melody alone – the important thing is the content – the text, the Truth of Spirit and Truth. If you really want to learn new something about music, learn how to sing the psalms as per Colossians 3:16 and not just a few verses but entire psalms – do that without a band and with your voice alone in the privacy of your prayer chamber and see if God doesn’t revolutionize your ministry. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Music is actually a very poor god and yet many in our day worship her.

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