Today I want to talk about the 4 Musical Languages of Worship.
We don't all speak the same language. The language or languages you speak depend on the places you've been, how you grew up, and the languages you heard as a kid.
The same is true for music. Music is language and we don't all speak the same one. The music that moves you, makes it possible for you to worship, will depend on the music of the places you've been, the music you enjoyed in happy times, the music that comforted you in tough times, the musical language of your walk though history.
The quickest way to get somebody in the worship mood is to speak their musical language. The quickest way to disconnect them is to urge them out of their musical comfort zone. So I think it's important to try to speak each person's musical language at some time during the worship experience.
I think there are 4 such languages, and the languages correspond to the group of folks that speak that language. There are four groups: the regulars, the n00bs, the shoppers, and the traditionals. Let me explain.
The regulars are the folks who come out to worship regularly. Like Homer having a beer at Moe's Tavern, the regulars want things to be pretty much the same as they were last week. They loved the way things were last week or they wouldn't be coming back week after week. The regulars like to worship to songs that they know, songs from the top 10 or 20 songs on your CCLI play list, the songs you play week after week. The regulars love the hits from past Sundays. The regulars love those contemporary worship songs that you sing regularly. The regulars love what you play already.
The n00bs have never been to your worship, in fact they may not have ever been to any worship of any kind in their adult life, so they won't know much contemporary church music. They'll know and like the music they hear in their regular lives, music that gets airplay, music that gets downloaded, ambient music played at the gym and the grocery store, music from movies, music from tv, music of the street.
The shoppers have a background of regular worship attendance but for some reason, they're not plugged in to your specific community. They are looking for a new place to plug in, with all of the things that they loved about the old place, just none of the things that made them decide to make a change. This group includes college students away from home, kids at a new summer camp, family members visiting relatives from out of town, committed worshipers who are new to the area, as well as folks looking for a change because they just don't like where they've been going. What kind of musical language do the shoppers speak? They like the hits, the songs from the CCLI top 25 for the last year, the songs chosen for compilation CDs and WOW Worship. Like the n00bs, the shoppers listen to some kind of radio station, and like the songs played on the radio, downloads, movies and tv. But this time, the stations, downloads, tv shows and movies are playing Christian music. For the shoppers, we should choose those popular worship songs that worship leaders love to hate. Yes, we've played "Shout to the Lord" a zillion times, and yes, we're tired of it and want to play newer cooler songs, but the older reliable songs are the ones that will touch the heart of worshipers who are not familiar yet with your current favorites.
Traditionals love that old time religion and are still looking for a place to get some. They like those old hymns, and some of the new hymns too. The more traditional the hymn, the more comfortable the traditional worshiper will be. n00bs might like traditional hymns, too if they had an older relative that loved them very much and brought them to church. I have seen small group worship experiences dissolve into happy tears whenever I'd play a traditional hymn. Afterward, folks would come up and tell me "That was my grandmother's favorite hymn. She used to let me sit on her lap when we visited her church. I cried just thinking about her."
So, there are the four groups of people with their preferred musical languages, the songs they prefer to hear in a worship experience:
- regulars like what you already play
- n00bs like what's popular on secular radio, on tv, or downloaded
- shoppers like the top worship hits, what's popular nationwide
- traditionals like those old hymns
Need a scripture reference for this? Try these. God asks us to speak in the language of the listener, not in our preferred language. Check these out.
7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
16If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? 17You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.
So let's learn to speak the language of our worshipers. Let's learn some music that may be not our favorite, but will speak love into the world of those who hear it. Let's learn some songs that may be new to us, but will speak comfort and love into the ears of the listener, whether they're regulars, shoppers, n00bs, or even traditionals.