Music as outreach
Some people argue that our worship music should be more contemporary not because of personal taste but in order to be more appealing to visitors. Unchurched people are accustomed to modern music and they feel more comfortable visiting churches where the music reflects their listening preferences.
Certain evangelical groups have applied this principle and have developed very successful ministries. In fact, not just the music, but the entire worship service was adapted to cater to the needs of a secular crowd. The music was contemporary, the services were entertainment-based and the messages were short on doctrine and Christian distinctives and heavy on feel-good and self-help concepts. Basically, the church experience was brought to a level where the transition between secular life and church life would be as painless as possible.
But there are several things to understand about this model of ministry:
1) It is typically used by non-denominational churches or by churches that have a congregational form of church government. Because the ministers are not paid a salary by a denomination they have to fill up the pews in order to pay church expenses and support themselves. The larger the congregation, the more successful they are as well so it pays to do whatever it takes to bring people in.
2) Because the members are not willing or not capable of reaching out to the community while the ministers are either also unwilling or too busy to meet the people where they are, it makes more sense to put on a show and invite the community to come to them. Through concerts, skits, various programs and more, the church itself becomes the initial point of contact between the unchurched community and the congregation.
3) Theologically, this type of churches tend to have a once-saved-always-saved view of the gospel. So if they could squeeze in a little bit of gospel presentation amidst the music, the drama and the self-help preaching, they have done their job. Helping people grow in their Christian experience is nice but not essential so it is far more important to keep things simple so that as many visitors can come through as possible and get at least some exposure to the gospel invitation.
As Adventists however, we don’t subscribe to the Once Saved Always Saved view of the gospel. We believe that discipleship and nurturing are essential to the spiritual health of a congregation and the worship service is a significant fraction of the time that is available for this. We can’t adapt our services entirely to the needs of unchurched visitors without this becoming detrimental to the spiritual health of our own congregations.
Moreover, because congregational/nondenominational type churches are relatively independent, it makes sense to grow the congregation as large as possible. The minister cannot be in several places at once so he must bring everyone he can to his location. The Adventist church on the other hand has a global perspective. It is more conducive to our mission to have many smaller churches spread everywhere rather than a few large ones in select locations. To have a large congregation you need celebrity-like preachers that can hold the attention of thousands. To have many smaller churches you need a model of ministry that is easily replicable and can be learned and applied by average people.
Finally, when it comes to the Adventist church, the idea of adjusting our worship services to make the transition painless for the unchurched falls flat from the very start. Having to attend our services on Saturday instead of Sunday already goes against what everyone else is doing and is itself a major transition. And, that is only the beginning because even a superficial look at Adventism will reveal that it entails major shifts in doctrinal perspective and lifestyle. So in essence, it is next to impossible to create a seamless transition into Adventism for the unchurched, no matter what our worship services are like.
But, this is actually not such a bad thing because it forces us to follow the New Testament model of outreach where we focus on reaching people where they are instead of trying to convince them to come to us. This requires stepping out of our comfort zones and requires the cooperation of members and ministers, but it gives us access to far more people (no matter how successful a seeker-sensitive megachurch is, there are always people that just don’t come). And, because we reach people where they are instead of waiting for them to come to us, when they do come to church, they are usually further along the ‘buying funnel’. They come to church looking for substance not entertainment.
Now this is not to be taken to mean that we are justified in continuing our boring worship services where people sing as if carrying a heavy load up a steep mountain. But it does mean that we don’t have the same pressures to impress the unchurched as other denominations so when working through our music issues the priority should be placed on finding a middle ground where the majority of us could worship together comfortably.