Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Myth Alert! Silly Pro-CCM Arguements

Let's turn the tables for a minute and dispose of a few myths on the other side. Pro-Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) fanatics have their own share of half-truths, stereotypes, and down-right lies. As a former praise and worship leader, I know what I am talking about. I bought into all of these at one point or another.

Myth 1: Modern Christians, especially youth, universally prefer praise music to hymnody.

Fact: There are studies that show that a significant majority (I think that it is close 75%) of church-going Christians under the age of 25 believe that modern praise music has no place in church. The majority gets even higher (8 to 9 out of 10 respondents) when dealing with youth from conservative congregations and denominations. Most demographic evidence (including what has been done by many megachurches within the Praise and Worship movement) points to the fact that this style of music does not attract young people. It exclusively targets baby-boomers.

Myth 2: Hymnody, as a genre, does not sound as good as modern praise music. To do a hymn, it must be jazzed up to appeal to modern audiences.

Fact: The majority of people that I have talked to who believe this do not sing hymns properly in church. First, few congregations sing hymns the way that they are written: in SATB (four part harmony.) Not only is this an absolute tragedy, it does not present hymnody in its proper light. The CCM equivalent would be singing praise and worship music with only a piano (one part) or with just a guitar and a vocalist. While this works, it is far from impressive. The drums, guitar, bass, brass, etc are all a part of the CCM music. When you are missing part of that, people notice. Alto, Tenor, and Bass parts are the same way for hymnody. When hymnody is sung as it is written, it becomes complex, beautiful, and engaging. Rather than giving up on something, supporters of this argument should take the effort to perform the hymns correctly before they are abandoned or altered. Second, many congregations who complain about hymns perform a hatchet job on the verses. If you have an eight verse hymn and you only sing the first and seventh verses; do not be surprised if the seventh verse seems out of place. Third, most congregations do not play hymns at their proper tempo. They drone on at a painful pace. In summary, poorly executed music is bad no matter what the genre is. If your hymnody is dull, dusty, and boring, you should take the time to teach and sing it correctly: the way the author intended.

Myth 3: Early service, our hymn service, has only 70 people. Late service, our Praise and Worship service, has 300 people. Clearly our congregation prefers Praise and Worship to hymns.

Fact: This is the worst example of non sequitur logic and I hear it all too often. Even in churches that perform identical services, you will often find that the late service has more people. Since the music is constant, there is clearly another variable at work here: time. Young people typically go to later services. Older people tend to get up for earlier services. More people usually go to the later service as a rule. They go--not so much for the music style--but because they can sleep in. The causality between musical style and attendance is dubious at best. There are too many variables to make that kind of "evidence" scientific.

Myth 4: Worshipers are more actively engaged in Praise and Worship music.

Fact: I bought into this one for a long time. As a musician I saw how people reacted to the music and I was encouraged by the positive response. That is just a matter of perspective from a performer... not the congregation. Much later, I stood in the congregation and was surprised at how many mind-numbed robots I had overlooked. People space out in praise and worship music as well and I had never seen it. The truth is that people get distracted because of their short attention spans. The music has little to do with it.

Myth 5: Praise and Worship gets to the heart of Scripture.

Fact: While many Praise and Worship songs are taken directly out of Scripture, they do not hold a monopoly on Scriptural music. Hymns have a wealth of Scriptural references in themselves, but remember that the hymn is only part of the liturgy. The Introit, Gradual, Responaries, and Psalter are all direct passages of Scripture. In terms of Scriptural content, they usually outstrip even the most dedicated CCM service.

Myth 6: Hymns are too long.

Fact: The average four verse hymn runs about 3 to 4 minutes. After repeating choruses, verses, bridges, key changes, and tag lines, the average Praise and Worship song runs at least 3 minutes. If they are under that, they are usually combined with several others songs in a medley of... you guessed it 3 to 4 minutes. Most performances of "Heart of Worship" by Sonicflood are 3 to 4 minutes long. A good version of "He Is Here" runs close to 5 minutes. As a musician, I personally clocked our version of "Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down" at 6 minutes. With all of that in mind, remember that many Praise and Worship sessions are done in a medley format that blends seamlessly from song to song over the course of 10 to 30 minutes. In terms of length, the styles are comparable in length if not turned the other way around where hymns are often the shorter songs that offer the congregation more frequent (and longer) breaks from singing.

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