In your efforts to revive a struggling church, the temptation is to lock in on the latest trend or someone else’s success story.  However, each situation is unique, and times are always changing.  There is no single solution that is guaranteed to work.

This is why I was concerned by the recent decision by the United Methodists to endorse ‘blended worship’ as THE solution to end flagging attendance.

The UM Portal itself noted on June 10 that some congregations were vibrant and growing by using hymns and choirs (in robes!).

I was recently in a growing Baptist congregation in upstate New York that uses hymns (piano accompaniment) – I was there for the 30-minute Wednesday night sermon.  We sang 4 or 5 hymns and an invitational.

It’s not the style of music but that the congregation participates.  In our Massachusetts church, after a couple of whole-church learning sessions, we decided on a blended service that started with choruses but also included hymns; that church now uses an active blend, but it is the music the congregation can sing.

Consider the Taize movement.  The songs are almost chants, and there is no real leader in the service, except that there is a suggested program for what comes next.  There are times of public and private scripture reading, times of silence and times of singing – the accompanist decides when is the appropriate time to start & stop singing.  Taize works because those who come participate.

The worst choice is one that the congregation doesn’t participate in.  They probably won’t join in to Gregorian chants, but neither will they join a too-loud concert of unfamiliar Contemporary Christian music.

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Trevor at “Toward an LDS Cinema” has tried to describe a link between shared viewing of a film (a film by LDS producers about LDS topics) and congregational hymn singing.  I’m not Mormon, but the post suggests that hymn singing is viewed differently in the LDS tradition than in the Baptist tradition, being an introduction to the ordinances rather than a part of the ordinance.

He says “is sung to prepare us, its singers, and us, its listeners, for the ordinance: be it the opening prayer (where we all are praying, but only one is speaking), the sacrament (again, a prayer), or the closing prayer. In other words, either direct communion with God, or a ritual where his power is manifest.”

I say part of the ordinance, because in my view, the congregational singing is not a warmup to the preaching, to the “main event”.  The congregational singing of a specific set of words around a theme moves people beyond the place of the theater trailer, the ads of coming attractions.

In my experience, singing – especially hymn singing – is prayer.  Consider the praying acrostic ACTS.  I’ve sung hymns of Adoration, hymns of Confession, of Thanksgiving, of Supplication (requests).  Whether from the old Methodist hymnal, the Broadman standard, or a Shape Note Songbook, many times I’ll hear more theology in the song service than in the speech that occupies the sermon slot in the service.

For that matter, if you have opportunity to attend a Taize service, go!  There is no leader, no sermon.  There is an order of service that guides – but does nor direct – the hour.  There are simple hymns, scripture readings and times of silence to facilitate private prayer.  But it is the music that draws you in.

And so, Trevor, thanks for causing me to think.  I will have to consider the rest of your post another day, after it ruminates a bit.