by Rick Chromey
Have you ever wondered how we got here?
Next Sunday, look around at the “concert.” We’ve got worship pastors, bands, and backup singers. We’ve got dark “houses” and lighted stages with lyrics projected on giant screens where audiences stand on cue to neatly planned and timed worship sets.
So how did we get here? The answer might surprise.
The big bang of “concert culture” detonated February 9, 1964. That’s when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan to a viewing audience of 73 million people (mostly Boomers). Soon the Liverpool lads were selling out American stadiums everywhere. Five years later in upstate New York, a half million people gathered to experience Woodstock. Thanks to the mammoth speakers, masses, and muck, it was standing room only.
Gen X was the first purely television generation. So it’s not surprising Xers gravitated toward visual media, whether it was KISS theatrics, album art, or music videos. Video truly killed the radio star. Michael Jackson proved an MTV thriller, but when U2 debuted ZooTV—a cornucopia of concert eye candy—another shift happened. U2 found what everyone was looking for: visual spiritual experiences. So Bono preached, the band played, the giant screens blared, and nobody sat down. This was better than church.
Consequently, Millennials dined upon audiovisual buffets: downloadable personalized playlists (sometimes unplugged); super-sized concerts; and open-sourced, multicultural, morally diverse tunes. The “Selfie Generation” added one more twist: they tweeted, posted, and snapchatted concert experiences via social media. Their world was flat and f-a-t: fluid, accessible, and temporary (just like the “cloud” Millennials stored their stuff in).
For the past half century, church worship has dramatically evolved. Anyone over 50 can recall steeple bells, hardback pews, hymnals, and responsive readings. In my home church worship leaders were volunteer, organists were highly desired, and everyone sang in parts. There were no sound systems, screens, or fog machines. Most of the time we worshipped seated, quiet, and reverent in the “sanctuary.”
But that church is a dinosaur.
Today’s worship plays more like Woodstock or ZooTV or Snapchat. I’ll let you debate the merits of such changes, but would offer these observations:
- Change happens. I remember well the worship wars of the 1980s. Perhaps your church is still fighting them. When the Boom “Jesus Movement” generation unleashed a new catalog of worship songs, it was only natural to sing them in church (using slide and overhead projectors). Unfortunately, the older generations fiercely favored hymns. Many churches answered with split services (traditional and contemporary). Others just split. Eventually Boomers won the war and the stage. The problem now? Woodstock worship is failing to engage younger generations. Change is whistling…again.
- Experiences matter. It’s tragic that the least experiential place on the planet is Sunday morning church. In a sensory-saturated culture where “eye-deas” abound and visual experiences dominate, the Church has lost traction. Now I’m not saying church should look or feel like a U2 concert, but let’s not forget worship is a verb and more than just a song. As Bono rightly sings: “let me in the sound!”
- Relationships rule. A concert culture embraces interactivity. They want to rub shoulders, high-five, mosh, and dance. Our worship gatherings should be rich in relationships, soaked in interactive moments, and seasoned with friendship opportunities. A primary reason people go to church? Their friends. A primary reason they don’t? No friends. If we must stand, let’s at least stand together.
A survey of recent music history reveals how we got the Sunday morning “concert.” It’s why we stand to sing from screens and have bands, sound systems, and lights.
It’s really how we got here.
But now where do we go?