In case you missed it, here are points 1 - 5 of "Ten Reasons Why I'm Not Coming Back to Your Church - Part 1"
6. Bad, Just Bad Audio
GO HIRE YOURSELF A REAL PROFESSIONAL AUDIO CONSULTANT! There, now I feel better. Seriously, nearly every church had major audio issues. The most common one was a muddy, flat affect sound. In an effort to “hear” it better, the universal answer seems to be: raise the volume. But louder doesn’t solve the underlying audio issues. Sound should fill the room and immerse each person in it. It should feel good and clear, not painful and muddled. It should have a full driving bass, a well defined mid-range and a clear, articulated top. Audio is a complex science and art that needs professional guidance. Go get some.
Let’s talk about that volume. I love loud music. Remember, boomers are the original hard rockers. Our nursing homes are going to play the Stones and such. We aren’t objecting to loud. However, at one church it was so bad, so loud and so dark that I simply couldn’t be there and went back to the car. Your volunteer sound guys may lack sufficient professional training to get it right. You need to fix that this week before even more people run for their cars.
7. Un-singable Songs
Yes, I have a background in music and yes, I grew up singing the great hymns and evangelistic songs of the church. They have meaningful lyrics held hostage in tunes of another era. One of my pastor friends recently took a church that still sings out of hymnbooks. His junior high age daughters were raised in up-to-the-minute praise and worship songs. When telling about it his older daughter said, “It is so cool. They sing this pretty poetry that they have in these books!” Ok, a real generational difference! Maybe hymns will make a comeback in her generation! I have also spent the last thirty years learning every new trend in praise and worship music and love virtually all of it. I think the “pretty poetry has a place and so do the songs of the fresh wind of the Spirit.
I expect to have to learn new songs in a new church. That is not the issue, However, I attended several services that offered not a single song that I had ever heard of and I know a LOT of songs old and new! If congregational participation is the goal, all new songs is not the strategy. If congregational participation is not the goal, label it a concert and treat it that way.
FOR MUSIC PEOPLE: The major issue in praise and worship in the local church today is how the songs are keyed. This is how we got here. Pop music in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was played on the radio and records were bought primarily by high schoolers. In an effort to capture more and more of that market, songs were keyed higher and higher for male singers so that high school girls can sing along with them comfortably in their “chest voice” in exactly the same octave as the guy artists. Female artists were nearly always mid- to lower-pitched belters who used their chest voices and virtually never their higher head tones. Hence, virtually everyone since Elvis - male and female - has sung in about a G below middle C to the C above middle C range with few exceptions.
This continues to this day and persists in praise and worship music. Here’s why it’s a problem. The praise leader—nearly always a male and nearly always a tenor—developed as a singer because he has the range to sing popular songs where they are written. He likely learns new songs by ear off of a praise and worship music service, YouTube video or similar format performed by groups looking to sell the song to a mass audience. The problem develops because what’s comfortable for a tenor, say G to G, is very high when sung an octave higher by women in their natural voice and it is too high for most men. That leaves most women singing lower than they would like or looking for an alto part if they can, many men taking it down an octave and nothing soaring or lifting because only a few people are singing in a comfortable octave. The solution is to key the songs so the melody line stays pretty close to C to C. That way it’s comfortable for all men in the male octave (middle C to the C below it) and all women in the female octave (middle C to the C above it).
This also allows for easy harmonizing since the alto and tenor parts will be in comfortable range for those singers. This helps the praise and worship singers a lot! It will also give a huge boost to the number of people actually singing, vis-à-vis , worshipping! A worship or band leader who cannot key the songs so everyone can sing them with their full voice needs to be replaced by a more skilled musician. Since the praise team gets the all important first half of the service where first impressions are made, it is crucially important.
8. Skip the “greeting one another” awkwardness.
People coming to your church for the first time are not there to draw attention to themselves. Your attempt to be “friendly” through a “greet one another” or “high five at least five people” period in your service is usually pretty uncomfortable for most visitors and I didn’t find any of the churches we visited use any clever ways to make it more effective and less awkward. But since you are probably going to do it anyway, I offer these suggestions to produce more of the results you are hoping for. 1. Tone down the band if you want people to be able to talk to each other. 2. Give it some real time. It takes a minute to find the right connection and say something more than “Hi, how are you?” which is superficial and a waste of time. 3. Train a few folks in how to actually have a conversation with someone new. They could memorize some useful ice breakers/openers and learn how to develop a real, if short, exchange.
9. Who are you?
Over the course of the summer we listened to a lot of people on the platform doing praise and worship, giving announcements, taking the offering, preaching and such. Surprisingly, most of the time the people who were leading the different parts of the service were never introduced! We had no idea who was talking or what their function within the church was. Are you an Associate Pastor? A lay leader? The Pastor’s son? We looked in the bulletins but we rarely found any names—not of the Pastor nor any of the people leading the service. If there were any names, it was usually the Pastor, which is good, but never the person you first encounter—the praise and worship leader. It would be helpful to know who is doing what with maybe a small pic and a little bio about them in bulletin. It’s a useful first step in navigating a new church. It surprised me, too, since I assumed we left our names off our bulletins in previous churches because we thought it might look self-important, but eliminating names can come off as clique-ish, like “we all know everybody already” and “you must be an outsider” type of thing. Since that’s not the goal, if a person has a visible, audible, leading position, think about listing his or her name in the bulletin, on a PowerPoint slide or whatever you use.
10. What do you believe?
In this era of the diluting of denominational lines we were sometimes unsure what you believe. Some of you have a statement of faith on your bulletin, most of you don’t. How refreshing it would be to have your core beliefs stated in some fresh, non-churchy language and creative illustrations. Beyond that, since actions manifest beliefs, it would be useful to know what you believe in doing.
That’s vital information because what you’re doing will be what’s available for new people like me to get involved in. I want to know. In what ways are you out in the community? Do you give practical help to the spouses and children of prisoners? Do you support a kids’ sports team? Do you buy ads in the high school and community college theater and concert programs as a show of support? Do you supply mentors to the public school mentoring programs? Have you supplied waters for a 5K or marathon? Did you do a school supplies/backpacks drive for the school closest to you? How about residents in Assisted Living visitation? What do you do within the church? Do you heavily support foreign missions? Do you promote short term missions? Do you do a lot of benevolence work? Do you emphasize music ministry? Are you youth centered? Kid-centered? Couple centered?
Are you heavy into Bible Studies? Do you push home groups? Do you do anything substantive for older Christians or give opportunities for older Christians to serve the church? In what ways is the community in your church? Childcare? Elder care? GED classes? Hot meals served? Red Cross shelter? Parole officers meeting with parolees meeting space? English classes? Special needs children’s Sunday School classes/Children’s Church? Jobs and Career ministry? Are you a voting place? Do you have a wedding ministry? Do you offer concerts, plays, seminars? How about health screenings? I’d love to hear what your church is in to, but I didn’t find out much when I visited.
We all love the church. For years my Dad (a missionary, pastor and professor) had a sign hung in his office that said, “Christ loved the church and gave his life for it.” (Ephesians 5:25) It was actually part of an ad for something on the back of a Christian magazine. He just loved the verse and the graphics of it and so my sister cut it out and had it framed nicely. I am glad she did. I saw it a gazillion times as a teenager.
My Dad often quoted the verse to me when I sometimes got frustrated doing various jobs within the church. He’d simply say the verse, I’d sigh heavily and I knew I was to keep on keeping on. It drives my heart still today.
It’s the standard for how we treat the church and our relationship to it, because like Him, we love the church.