Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Church consultant Lyle Schaller says that one of the questions he likes to ask when he enters a church to observe is, "What year is it?" Is it 1958? It was in the church in which I grew up. Is it 1972? 1980? There is a tendency for churches to get stuck in a certain era, and not stay current with culture. We need new wineskins for the wine. So what year is it at CTK? I would say about 1995. At least that's my assessment of our overall musical scene. We are doing a mostly rock/pop style with a full band. It is a big sound, suited for big songs. Top worship songs from 1995 included Shout to the Lord and Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.

1995 was a memorable year for me, because it was the year that I began to attend CTK in Bellingham. In many ways that era defined the culture I exported to Skagit Valley in 1999, where CTK was new to many people. The early adopters have since handed the culture and music off to many other newbies in dozens of worship centers, and in some cases there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren now carrying the culture. While 1995 is not that far in the distant past, there has been a lot happen in our culture in the past 15 years (like the internet). There has been an explosion of media, as people who once were consumers of information have now become producers of information through vlogs, blogs and tweets. TV channels have gone from dozens to hundreds. Cell phones have become ubiquitous. The news cycle is 24 hours a day. The need to sort through the clutter has produced a new verb: Google ("Let me google that").

Modernity is giving rise to "alternative" approaches. Some call it post-modernism, but I prefer the word pre-modernism. There is a hunger for life "as it used to be," with less clutter and less noise. In the world of "now" less is more and better is bigger. Clarity has become the new creativity. The modern music scene has caught on. An indicator? The results of the recent American Idol competition. It came down to two contestants: Kris Allen, a funky, straight-ahead balladeer with a lot of "space" in his music, and Adam Lambert, a "glam" rocker with a big voice whose presentations were over the top. Clearly, Adam was the bigger talent. Kris won easily. It's not 1995 anymore.

The pendulum tends to swing when it comes to culture. Following loud eras, things get softer. Following softer eras, things get louder. Such may be the case in worship as well. Shout to the Lord followed I Love Your Lord. What will follow Shout to the Lord? I'm not sure yet, but I believe we are in a softer era. If you close your eyes during commercials, you will notice an obvious understatement in the music bed nowadays. Popular movie soundtracks are also employing a variety of independent, alternative and eclectic artists (my favorite example is the soundtrack for the movie Juno). There is not as much instrumentation in this music; maybe one or two instruments, maybe a harmonica or a mandolin. The chord structures are simple. Percussion is more an accent, than a driving force. It doesn't have to blow your hair back to be cool any more.

I don't get to a lot of concerts, but I recently went to a Third Day concert. Third Day is a classic band from the nineties, noted for songs like God of Wonders and Your Love Oh Lord. The best part of the concert? When lead singer Mac Powell showed up in the middle of the crowd, took requests, and played them "unplugged." It was real. It was informal. It was tasty. It was 2009. I walked out saying, "That was cool." I'm anxious to see our "next generation" of worship leaders take us into the present. I'll know we're current when an unchurched person walks out and says, "Wow, that was cool"....the same thing I said in 1995.

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