Multicultural Worship

By | April 2, 2005

It’s good to hear someone else in support of what I’ve been recommending for a while now. That is, being flexible with worship styles, having a variety, not being afraid to do something drastically different from one week to the next. I haven’t been a big fan of the attitude that “contemporary” churches have taken, being basically let’s serve the majority. I admit here that I’m not into “contemporary” churches’ attitude of let’s just serve the majority. I admit here that I don’t like “contemporary praise” music. However the church usually says that I’m supposed to just like it because of the lyrics, and that I can worship God through it even if I don’t like it. I think that it’s sad that probably by many criticizing this music is considered close to heretical. So in a very small way, I understand the idea of not fitting in. I think of describing it to people this way: pick a type of music you don’t really care for. I’ll pick on country music (though I don’t have a big problem with it myself), because many people claim they can’t stand it. So can you imagine what you would feel like if the church you attended played country music every week? Wouldn’t you have a hard time “getting into” the worship, even if the lyrics were good?

I guess my point is that we are going to have to do more than hoping we get some people in who don’t look like us but who act like us. We are going to have to change and be changed by people who are outside our own culture.

I am glad to say that I attend a church who recognizes these issues, and which desires to do something about them. Our worship team has occasionally done something outside of the box, which to me is real cool. We still have room for improvement of course—90% of the time it is still pretty much the same thing, but I do understand that there is logistical difficulty in doing something that you’re not familiar with. For example I readily admit that I’d have little idea how to play bass in a gospel group.

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  • ladyofglass

    That’s an awesome idea. I like the fact that College Park tends to go back and forth between the “contemporary praise music” (which I’m not nuts about, for the most part) and the Hymns. I think it’d be good for them to get in a lot of other styles as well, but that’s a start… especially in bridging the gap between the “HYMNS ONLY!” people and the “CONTEMPORARY ONLY!” people. Personally, I think that both styles have their strengths, as well as a lot of other styles. Worship is worship, no matter what beat you use, no matter what instruments you use. Diversity is a beautiful thing in the arena of worship.

    One question: How do you answer the people who say, “Well, if you want a different worship style, go to a different church”?

    • “One question: How do you answer the people who say, ‘Well, if you want a different worship style, go to a different church’?”

      Well that’s not an option for me because virtually no one is doing the kind of worship stylistically that I’d like to do at all, let alone in the context of a church service. I’d wish that we could open up our ideas of what worship is. For one, and this is a real small things, but it shows just how entrenched people are in doing things one way; I attend a church that has one of it’s regular normal sevices on Sunday evening. This is great for me because I’m not for getting up in the morning when I don’t have to. However it seems a lot of people have a hard time believing it’s a “real” service.

      Well, another thing that I’ll say in response to that. That makes me feel to a degree that people don’t care about me and I also feel that I don’t really fit in at church and feel somewhat spiritually disconnected in general.

  • gRegor

    I like the idea of changing up the worship styles, but I’m somewhere between that and the “try-a-different-church-for-a-different-style” position. I don’t think it’s necessary to have every church (referring to the scope of America here) be equally multi-cultural in their worship styles. Or more simply put, there is no problem having one church that does hymns, one that does contemporary, one that does more “fringe” worship, etc. I don’t think that divides the Body up, really. Silly doctrinal differences, and individuals actions divide the Body much moreso, I think.

    • I believe there are plenty of ways for churches to be unique and different in ways other than culturally. And yes, as touched on in one of the articles, there are places where being multi racial is impractical,
      say in a small country town where generally everyone shares a culture.

      But maybe we could think of it this way, could it be like saying, “Well not every church needs to follow the bible,” or ” Not every church should take communion.”?

      • ladyofglass

        Mmmm, I dunno, I think that Bible and Communion are a little bit more clearly outlined in the Bible than “make sure your worship service appeases everyone who might be there”. To some extent, it’s simply impracticle to try and design a worship service around every possible culture that might be in the area. And what happens when we tailor the worship service specifically to what we THINK the “typical African-American attender” wants, and it turns out that, because every individual has a different taste, it’s NOT what the particular “African-American attender” in our congregation wants to hear? And, in fact, they’re offended, because we just stereotyped them based on the color of their skin?

        Don’t get me wrong, I’d LOVE to see multicultural worship services. I’d love to see CPC have a worship service using instruments and music styles from Mexico, Africa, Greece, the Mid-East, Ireland… but I don’t think that we’re being insensitive to the Mexican attender, the African attender, the Greek attender, the Middle-Eastern attender or the Irish attender because we don’t do so. And, there are churches around the city who DO do their worship service in these particular culture styles (alright, maybe not Irish, but you get the picture)… that I am more than welcome to visit if I am hungry for that particular style.

        I’d say that if you flat out hate the style at a particular church, and you find yourself unable to enter into worship at that particular church, it’d probably be a good idea to try and go to another church. Because unless their particular worship style is flat out anti-biblical, it’s difficult to say to them, “You need to change your worship style for me”. I don’t think this is an excuse to be flat-out culturally insensitive, but I do think that it’d be pretty hard, if not impossible, for every single church in the US to tailor it’s worship service (musically, anyway) around what they *think* every possible culture-group who might attend would want. If you know that you have a multitude of attenders of a certain culture-group, then yes, you should think of altering the music. I think, though, that it tends to come down to the worship leader playing what he seems to like and sees the congregation responding to, and feels “led” to play, and if lots of people are drawn to the church and the teaching but would prefer the style of music to be slightly different, he’d be sensitive to that and to their needs and desires. But in a church of 3,000 attenders, it’d be pretty difficult to try and satisfy everyone. And sometimes, we have to come out of ourselves and worship in a style that might not be our favorite, put our focus on God, and realize that it’s not about what makes us feel comfortable. I have to do that a LOT at church. I like pretty much any style of music, and the only thing that I DON’T like about worship is when a lot of songs get played that are new that I don’t know. But I have to come out of myself a little bit and realize that the worship service is not about me, and put my brother or sister in the next seat before myself. I can’t ask my church to constantly accomadate me, or be angry at them because they might not know what my needs/wants are.


        • “And what happens when we tailor the worship service specifically to what we THINK the “typical African-American attender” wants…?”

          That’s why you have people from that culture involved in the planning and doing of worship.

          “I’d say that if you flat out hate the style at a particular church, and you find yourself unable to enter into worship at that particular church, it’d probably be a good idea to try and go to another church.”

          To me this translates into, “Why don’t you stop going to church,” because as I’ve said no one is doing stuff I’m into.

          You do make some good points about not coming at it from a perspective of “I want worship to fit my tastes.” I think part of the point is though, is not that each of us should fight to have our own tastes meant, but that it would be approached from the opposite perspective; that the church leadership would approach someone and say, “we want to help provide an place for you to worship in a way which best express your love for God.” It’s a way of inviting people in, and making them feel a part of the family. (I’ve only used myself as an example.)

          Another point is that it doesn’t have to be the same stuff every Sunday, that’s why I like the suggestion to have it different at different times. I think we need to greatly expand our idea of worship from simply praise music. As I’ve looked into it, I consider it to be a way of life. I believe that it includes things such as painting, dance, meditation, prayer, etc. I don’t think music is even an essential part of a service. And many people don’t realize that congregational singing has only been around for a few hundred years.

          I think a lot of the thoughts or fears people have of things going too far or being too forced (affirmative action), etc. seem to me excuses for not doing anything. Or in other words, we are very far away of any danger of going to extreme on multi-culturalism. If we start making some significant problems, then maybe those debates will be more allowable. As for each church trying to be all things to everyone, that might not need to be the case, but we could at least try to include a few, say the major populations here: white, black, hispanic, and asian would be a good start.

          Here’s a vision of what it could look like: many weeks there are a mix of traditional hymns, gospel songs, and contemporary choruses. From week to week it might be focus more on one or another, depending on the strengths of the worship leader (which would be on a rotation). On certain other weeks (perhaps once a month), there would be an emphasis on latin music. And on certain other occasions other styles could be incorporated. For example, a focus on Celtic styles of worship near St. Patrick’s day. Beyond just singing, there would be area for worshipers who wished, to do certain other activies, paint, draw, dance, pray, etc.

          “Mmmm, I dunno, I think that Bible and Communion are a little bit more clearly outlined in the Bible than “make sure your worship service appeases everyone who might be there”.”

          I don’t know. I do know that in evangelical christianity the bible is held in very high regard. However, I think about one of the main things Jesus prays for his followers is unity (John 17). Add to that Paul often rebuking divisions in the church, and preaching “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

          This was an early issue for the church, and the subject of the first church council. Well after Christ’s ascension, the church was still solely Jewish. It took some significant events to open up the gospel to gentiles (this is of course recorded in the book of Acts). Basically the debate came down to, “Do gentiles have to become culturally Jewish in order to have fellowship in the church?” The apostles decided that it was not so.

          But revisiting one of your points again, it may well be a wise suggestion that we not try to simply cater to everyones wants. We could look to the Roman and Orthodox lituragies to see a way of worship where musical preferences are a moot point.

          Well, that’s a lot of scattered thoughts. Hopefully they’re good though.

          • ladyofglass

            They are good thoughts. I think you’ve got some great points, and I’d love to see local congregations at the very least doing some sampling of cultures outside of their typical “comfort zone”. You know what I’d LOVE to see? An honest effort to conduct at least one worship service a month in a style that is completely foreign to the congregation. This could be done, I think, to some extent, in a spirit of Missions.

            I don’t disagree with anything that you’ve said, and I mean only friendly debate. The only concern I really have is various churches being condemned for not “doing worship” catering to the stereotypical musical tastes of certain cultural groups. I don’t think that you’re doing that, really.

            I’d love, personally, to see a worship service done with Greek or Indian music-style. 🙂 Or Latin. That’s just my perspective.


          • ladyofglass

            Just out of curiousity, since you’ve mentioned that no particular church has a worship-style that suits you, what would be your (personal) ideal musical-worship-service?

          • First off, I appreciate everyone who’s commented here. I was hoping on having some positive discussion here, which is what I feel we’ve been having.

            “Just out of curiosity, since you’ve mentioned that no particular church has a worship-style that suits you, what would be your (personal) ideal musical-worship-service?”

            there are a couple I suppose. I’ve honestly found electronic dance music to be quite conducive to worship. The cool thing about it is, times when I’ve been to the raves at Cornerstone, the focus isn’t all on the artist or DJ as it is with a normal concert. The lights are all out on the dance floor, and everyone is doing their own thing, it’s really cool. But that couldn’t be worked into a normal church service as we know it so much. You have to have the entire atmosphere, darkness, pulsing lights, fog, more than just the music. It would be a cool thing to do as an alternate thing on a Friday or Saturday night.

            Thinking back on this it’s funny to me, because I actually organized and DJed a couple of raves at my old church several years ago. It was right around the same time that one of the local news stations and the paper were doing stories on raves, and making them out to be real bad. Anyway, I don’t think anyone in the church really knew what was going on, or they might well have had a problem with it. For the most part no one showed up though, so I stopped doing it. I did make a couple of mix compilations in the past year or two though, one focused on worship.

            In addition to this, I actually spent several years trying to get a “modern alternative rock worship leading” band together. Although it got close at one point, it never completely materialized and eventually fell apart. I have wondered if that has gone into my frustration over the lack of getting much out of worship. Anyway, musical direction wise it was taking from my alternative, hard and electronic rock influences. The biggest influence was a band named Glisten. Other influences included Skillet, The Prayer Chain, The Violet Burning, Stavesacre, etc.

            I certainty don’t expect any church to do anything like this all the time. But at least maybe once, sometime, in some context. A year or so ago the worship pastor at Common Ground had just been to a Liptocoal concert. (They are a heavy band of christians.) On Sunday he talked about how we were going to have to do that sometime. He actually talked to one of my friends about it, and I talked to him too. Especially at the time I was interested in doing something like that. But it hasn’t happen. Actually kind of the opposite has.

            I’ve felt like I’m pushing the edge, even at Common Ground which is known as being pretty progressive or whatever. But what I’ve liked about Common Ground is that I’ve been accepted even though I may be more alternative–more on the edge than most of the people there.

            As I’m writing all of this out, it seems to be becoming clearer why I feel the way I do–that is why I feel frustrated with worship. Maybe it’s because I feel I haven’t really had the opportunity and forum to share what I’ve got inside to give. That’s why we should being looking for people of different cultures and discerningly encourage and give opportunities to the people who God wants to use.

          • ladyofglass

            Ah, I see. I think too that it would be interesting if our churches would at least sample into different worship styles, such as the style you described. We have a very stereotypical view of what “church” and “worship” is “supposed to be”… and anything that breaks out of that box makes us nervous. But God breaks out of the box all of the time, and He created all of us, with all of our styles and attitudes, unique. I think it would be great if we did more to celebrate that.

            Another curiousity question–is Adam Nevins still doing worship over at Common Ground? He’s an old buddy of mine, and last I heard he was over there. Was just wondering. =)


          • Yep.

          • ladyofglass


  • MBroaddus

    using college park as an example, eric anderson gets a lot of crap EVERY WEEK from people not happy with worship. i think he does a great job of mixing things up, but this partly goes to the idea that you can’t please everyone all the time.

    for instance, when college park-ers would ask me if i like more contemporary or more hymns, i say “i’d like more gospel”. the “debate,” such as it is, can be bigger than contemporary vs. hymns.

    as another example, shane fuller and i were discussing how to go about implementing a more interracial church. i told him that it’s been my experience, and the experience of other pastors who’ve worked across cultural lines, that for black people to leave the INSTITUTION of the black church without feeling like a “sell out”, we would need gospel music to ease the transition.

    churches of predominantly one culture do serve purposes, but let’s be clear, a lot of those purposes are SECONDARY to the main purpose of the church.

  • MBroaddus

    one last point and i’ll shut up. the historical black church was where the business of the black community was done. so, in addition to the spiritual aspects of church life, it also shepherded the socio-political aspects of life.

    which is why our (with our church plant) goal is to go after unchurched people or people without church homes. and why our music will reach across cultural lines. the contemporary vs. hymn debate is moot when you start talking about incorporating black worship styles and hispanic worship styles.