Rick Warren on Matching Music to Your Target

"Match the Music to the People You Want to Reach" by Rick Warren
Three thoughts about music in worship

I'm often asked what I would do differently if I could start Saddleback over. My answer is this: From the first day of the new church, I’d put more energy and money into insuring a first-class music ministry that
matched our target audience.

In the first years of Saddleback, I made the mistake of underestimating the power of music. Because we didn’t have a lot of talented musicians, we minimized the use of music in our services. I regret that now.

Music is powerful

Music is an integral part of our lives. We eat with it, drive with it, shop with it, relax with it, and some non-Baptists even dance to it!
A song often can touch people in a way that a sermon can’t. Music can bypass intellectual barriers and take the message straight to the heart.

It is a potent tool for evangelism.
In Psalm 40:3 (NCV) David says, “He put a NEW song in my mouth. … Many people will see this and worship him. Then they will trust the Lord.”  Notice the clear connection between music and evangelism: “Then they will trust the Lord.”

Music is a force that cannot be ignored. The rock lyrics of the 1960s and 1970s shaped the values of most Americans who are now in the 30 to 50 age bracket. Today, MTV shapes the values of most people in their 20s.  Music is the primary communicator of values to the younger generation.  If we don't use contemporary music to spread godly values, Satan will have an unchallenged access to an entire generation.

You can’t please everyone
The other mistake I made at the beginning of Saddleback was trying to appeal to everybody’s taste. We covered the gamut, from "Bach to Rock," often in a single service!  We’d alternate between traditional hymns, praise choruses, and contemporary Christian songs. We wanted to make everyone happy, so we used classical, country, jazz, rock, reggae, easy listening, and even rap. The crowd never knew what was coming next.

Do you know who we pleased? Nobody!

Do you know who we frustrated? Everybody!

It’s impossible to appeal to everyone’s musical preference and taste. Music styles separate generations, regions of the country, personality types, and even family members!  We shouldn’t be surprised when opinions differ in the church.

You must decide who you’re trying to reach, identify their preferred style of music, and then stick with it. Define your target audience, bite the bullet, and go for it. You’re wasting your time if you’re searching for a style of music that everyone in your church will agree on.

The style of music you choose to use in your services will be one of the most critical (and controversial!) decisions you make in the life of your church. It may be the most influential factor in determining who your church reaches for Christ and whether or not your church grows. You must match your music to the kind of people God wants your church to reach.

The music you use “positions” your church in your community. It defines who you are. Once you have decided on the style of music you’re going to use in worship, you have set the direction of your church in far more ways than you realize. It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep,
and the kind of people you lose.

It’s the message, not the music

I reject the idea that music styles can be judged as either “good” or “bad” music.  Who decides this? The kind of music you like is determined by your background and culture. Certain tones and scales sound pleasant to Asian ears. Other tones and scales sound pleasant to Middle Eastern ears. Africans enjoy different rhythms than South Americans.
To insist that all “good” music was written in Europe 200 years ago is cultural elitism. There certainly isn’t any biblical basis for that view. Depending on where you grew up, you may love Kentucky bluegrass, Dixieland jazz, Chicago blues, Milwaukee polka, or Nashville country and western.  None of these styles is any “better” music than the other.

In churches, we also need to admit that no particular style of music is “sacred.” What makes a song sacred is the message of it.  That sacred message may be communicated in a wide variety of musical styles.

For 2,000 years, the Holy Spirit has used all different kinds of music to bring glory to God.  It takes all kinds of churches, using all kinds of music styles, to reach all kinds of people. To insist that one
particular style of music is sacred is simply idolatry.

There is no such thing as “Christian music.” There are only Christian lyrics!  Music is just an arrangement of notes and rhythms.  It’s the words that make a song spiritual.  If I were to play a tune for you without any words, you wouldn’t know if it was a Christian song or not.

I’m amused whenever I hear Christians resist the contemporary Christian songs by saying, “We need to get back to our musical roots!”  I wonder how far back they want to go. Back to the Gregorian chant? Back to the Jewish melodies of the Jerusalem church? They usually only want to go back about 50 to 100 years.

What style of music did they use in the New Testament churches? The truth is, we don’t know what their hymns sounded like. I can tell you that they used the style that matched the instruments and culture common to that day. They obviously didn’t have pianos or organs back then, so the music wouldn’t sound at all like the music in your church!

On the other hand, when I read about biblical worship in the Psalms, I see that they used drums, cymbals, trumpets, tambourines, and stringed instruments. That sounds a lot like contemporary music to me!

My point is simply this: Match your music to the kind of people God wants your church to reach!

From Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox # 190, January 19, 2005, ©Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc.