August 23, 2013

God Gave Rock 'n' Roll To You

Some interesting conversation ensued yesterday in regards to an article posted at the Association of Religion Data Archives which summarized a report published by Faith Communities Today (HT: Randall Curtis). The reported attempted to answer these two questions:
"What is the involvement of young adults in local congregations of all faiths across the United States? And how are faith communities with significant proportion of young adults unique?"
Most of the traits of those congregations that were attractive to young adults made a lot of sense to the folks I chatted with. But one trait garnered quite a few, "What the..?!" The report states:
"Congregations that reported using [electric guitar or bass and projectors] in their worship 'often' or 'always' were about twice as likely as those who never used them to have significant numbers of young adults participating."
There's several things that some find unnerving about this. But it's important to take note of the fact that this report is simply stating what they found–not attempting to change tradition. Yet, for those faith communities which have not come close to considering more contemporary genres of music, this is a challenge. First, it feels to some as if this simply panders to popular consumer habits and trends. Second, it feels substance-less to some. One might ask, Is this to say that we are to be less concerned with the content and more with the packaging? I've argued before that there are steps to be taken before a faith community concerns themselves with "attraction." But there is a difference in being authentic and cosmetic about attractiveness. When we attempt to "put on" something that isn't authentic to who we are it is easily noticeable–a while back, I shared a video to demonstrate this–and it isn't truly attractive.

Resolving this begins with some serious self-awareness. A friend of mine here in DC leads a young church called, The Table. The Table feels like a more contemporary urban faith community. But it's music pulls deep from traditional hymnals. The leadership of The Table realized that they appreciated the theological richness of hymnody but that the musical complexity and common delivery would be completely unfamiliar to those they were compelled to nurture community and spirituality with. So, in true hipster form, they pulled out their acoustic guitars, banjos and melodicas and transposed the hymns they loved into something the growing number of Mumford & Sons fans gathering on H Street on weekend evenings could hear. It's nothing flashy and not all that unique but its attractive because its authentic to who they are.

Who has the Spirit called you to be?

Who has the Spirit called you to reach?

They are necessary questions that we must ask in tandem.

Here's what I would hope: that people would read this entire report and not get stuck on "electric guitars." There's a lot to pay attention to here in regards to spiritual practices and young adult programming. To get hung up on the guitars is to miss some really poignant, substantive stuff that needs to be paid attention to. And it is the substance, the stuff a faith community is made of that will ultimately be attractive or not. I grew up on hymns, choirs and organs. I'm familiar with them and can work my way through a hymnal. But I would never listen to that style of music for pleasure. At the same time, I can barely stand the happy, clappy, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend praise music that is found in most big box churches. Neither speak to me the way other genres have since my adolescent years. But every week, I participate in worship with faith communities with hymns, choirs and organs and I am fed, nurtured and come away having experienced the Holy. Why? Because there is a lot more than musical styles at work here. And the faith of people who have prayed the same prayers for ages and held together a community of faith through thick and thin have about them a faith that is contagious and enriching.

Still, I will say... it's important to remember that God gave rock 'n' roll to you... to everyone.

Kiss - God Gave Rock 'n' Roll To You by inthe80s

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