Amazing Grace/Churches of Christ in Decline?: Rescuing the Churches of Christ, Part 2

grace2.jpgIX. Church plants have been shown to work.

A. By “church plant” I mean a team of 15 to 20 or so who go to a city and start a church. “Domestic missionary team” may be a more helpful term.

B. The people who run these programs have tried many things, some of which work and some of which fail. But they’ve now found approaches that have an over 80% success rate. Indeed, most plants are self-supporting in 5 years or less — and planting daughter churches.

C. Church plants often convert more people in 3 years than we convert (other than our own children) in 20!

D. What do they do that works, even in communities with few Christians, often where people are very hostile to Christianity?

1. Very intentional, detailed, intense plans for getting the word out through community events, advertising, marketing, personal contact.

2. Emphasis on relationship building and personal evangelism but with additional methods used as well.

3. Intense training of leadership

4. A core membership committed to the vision of the church

5. Utter rejection of legalism in all its forms

6. Commitment to being missionaries — studying local culture, “language,” etc. and learning to communicate in those terms. Hence, in most towns, they’d never wear suits to church.

7. Instrumental music. Now, no church can outperform the entertainment industry. Entertainment does not bring in people, who can hear better music on CDs and at local concert halls. Rather, a cappella music bespeaks legalism (why not use a guitar unless we think the guitar is evil?) In modern America there is virtually no a cappella music on the radio or TV. Say what you will, to someone with no history in the Churches of Christ, the absence of instruments seems peculiar, legalistic, and even irrational.

This hardly means that a church must use instruments for every song or even at every service. However, a church that never uses an instrument is forced to explain the obvious omission, and the explanation is necessarily that we consider it wrong — which is legalism. If that’s not so, why aren’t there any Methodist or Southern Baptist churches that just happen to prefer a cappella? I mean, it can’t be defended purely as a matter of taste or even tradition.

It is certainly our tradition, but it was also the tradition of the Catholics and every Protestant denomination that existed in the 19th Century other than the Episcopalians, who’ve never been a cappella. Every denomination and every congregation that remains a cappella does so because they believe the Bible requires it or because they have members who so believe. It is never just tradition or just preference. Every denomination that has changed its doctrinal position has also changed its practice.

Among the Churches of Christ, moreover, the instrument carries huge symbolic meaning. It’s our identity. We’re the people who were kicked out churches and lost our buildings so we could avoid the instrument. We’re the people who care enough to get worship right. We’re the people who correctly apply the obvious implications of silence. We’re the people who fought and paid a high price to be a cappella.

And in this sense, a cappella music to the Churches of Christ is very much like circumcision was to First Century Jews. There were hundreds of Mosaic commands, but the Jews saw circumcision as particularly marking their identity. Indeed, they referred to Gentiles simply as “the uncircumcised” (Eph. 2:11). They could have picked love for their neighbors or a refusal to bear false witness, but they picked an external practice of no real moral consequence as their identity marker.

Paul declared in Galatians,

(Gal 5:3-4) Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Circumcision is not a sin. But making it the dividing line between lost and saved is. Indeed, it damns.

(Gal 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

We need to be people known for  our faith in Jesus and our love for others. That’s the identity Jesus died to give us. Nothing else will do. And if we insist on remaining exclusively a cappella, we’ll never be as effective in evangelism as we’ll need to be. After all, we can never be effective as long as we continue to fight and divide over such matters.

8. The absence of turf wars, politics, and silos. In other words, a church plant is formed by people who are united as to vision and method. They’ve agreed to follow the leadership. Hence, there’s no split risked as unconventional methods are attempted. The goal is reaching the lost, not serving the membership. Rather, the membership has committed to work toward the vision of the congregation.

9. Cooperation.

a. Church planters who succeed are those who have coaches — experienced men and women who’ve been in field and who regularly consult with and mentor the leaders. In fact, because the method is so effective, one Baptist denomination has decided that every pastor is required to have a coach.

b. Church planters who succeed are those who have support networks with other planters. This way, they can call people trying the same thing for advice and help.

c. Church planters who succeed have sponsoring congregations that not only provide financial support but also serve as encouragers and pastors for the leadership.

You see, the Churches of Christ have made a huge mistake in being far too autonomous, confusing isolation for autonomy. As a result, we often don’t hear of others’ mistakes and are unwilling to submit to coaching or pastoring outside of our congregation.

This is not a hierarchy. Rather, it’s a sharing of talents and working together toward a common vision. It’s love for one another applied to evangelism.

d. Church planters who succeed usually have the support of a parachurch organization devoted to church plants.

This is because most sponsoring congregations don’t have the experience or knowledge necessary to coach a planting team to success. A parachurch organization (nonprofit) with talented, experienced men and women can gather talent literally from across the globe and cooperate with the sponsoring church and the church plant as a resource of counsel and research to help the plant team deal with problems.

Moreover, the nonprofit creates institutional memory, so that lessons learned can be shared with other plants, preventing the needless repetition of mistakes and so the church planting community can rejoice with those who rejoice.

10. Service to the community. Plants very intentionally get involved with local social service organizations or otherwise work to show the love of Jesus to their communities in very practical ways.

X. The same model, with local variations, has been shown to work in Latin America and Europe. Solo missionaries typically struggle, but church plant teams that follow the above model usually succeed.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Amazing Grace/Churches of Christ in Decline?: Rescuing the Churches of Christ, Part 2

  1. Melina says:

    The "International Church of Christ" group grew pretty explosively in its first decade when it had strictly accapella singing. During my time there I talked to scores of new visitors and new converts. Virtually no one had an issue about the accapella singing. On the contrary, they were usually quite impressed with it. Impressed that the members not only brought a bible with them (we were in rental space) but also carried a song book. Impressed that the members actually knew the songs and sang them with zeal and energy. Impressed with the variety of different song types. I have a preference for accapella because it seems to be more involving for each saint. I've attended instrumental services and the band tends to dominate and as I scan the congregation a number of people aren't even singing at all. What's encouraging about that? Based on my observations, the other items in this article are far more important for growth than the musical issue. By the way the ICOC didn't make a big deal about the singing. It wasn't constantly preached on and it wasn't the primary identity. Rather the emphasis was on becoming a Christian and living as a follower of Christ every day and spreading the message. That is ultimately what led to the dramatic growth in numbers IMO. Later on the ICOC allowed instrumental music as an option. Based on my observation, It didn't improve anything; again as I spoke to new visitors it wasn't a concern of theirs either way. That said I'll add that I'm in a part of the country where most people are unfamiliar with the CoC and its controversies. I agree with you that focusing on all the disputes drains a lot of energy away from evangelism.

  2. Anonymous says:

    While the ICOC did grow most of the growth I am pretty sure was from the mailine church of Christ folks switching over. I met Kip when he came to town to switch over the local church of Christ, my grand parents were the only ones who did not switch over to the ICOC. Well since that has tapperd off the ICOC is in the same boat as everyone else. While they could boast a few converts the majority were from the good old cofC.

  3. Melina says:

    To anonymous: that was true in the earliest days but most of the folks in my ICOC congregation had no prior connection to the CoC (myself included). Most had never even heard of it. I personally brought many new visitors and saw many people baptized who had no prior connection to the CoC. I'm no longer a member of that congregation but sticking to my main point, virtually no new converts in that congregation worried much about acapella singing. Folks had plenty of questions about Christianity and the Bible but people just didn't get caught up in the music issue. it was like "oh you sing? cool. next question"

  4. To elaborate on Melina's point — I attended an ICOC congregation for about 5 years. We used instruments and sang acapella — what stands out is that the use or non-use of instruments was never an issue. It was the enthusiastic participation that made the music meaningful and valuable.

    As Melina observed, one of the "dangers" of instrumental music is that it can over-power the singing and discourage participation.

    But that is also manageable, it does not have to be so

  5. Jay Guin says:

    These are very intriguing thoughts, but they lead to a question. The churches you describe — were they attractive to today's young people? Or was this too far in the past to know?

  6. Melina says:

    They were very attractive to young people in the 1980's when I was a college student. One of the big criticisms of the group at the time was that it was full of young people and not enough "mature" folks! We packed our "college devotional" with 18 year-olds singing acapella at the top of their lungs and loving it. The college and teen ministries were always pretty active and had teens in them whose parents were not members. Even after IM was allowed, my congregation didn't use it every week. Even into the early 2000's, there were plenty of young people and young couples joining. So yes joyful creative accapella singing is attractive to all ages. Legalism, gracelessness and rigidity in other areas drove some away though. The younger people coming to Christ were thinking about they were going stop being sexually active, how they were going to give up pot, how they'd have the courage to share Jesus at school or with their non-religious family, how they would balance school work and church activities; what kind of music this church played was hardly an issue in light of the massive life change Jesus was bringing them. Jay, I once visited an Instrumental CoC and that group seemed pretty legalistic on all the other issues and the man giving the sermon was bashing so-called progressive groups! Major turn-off for me but they had a band! When we make melody in our hearts and come to the assembly prepared to speak to others in song a message of hope and encouragement as well as praise the Lord, that is powerful! If the congregation understands grace and isn't overly rigid and doesn't obsess with condemning others that is a beautiful thing as well.

  7. Alan says:


    It is my opinion that the instrumental vs a cappella controversy is a non-issue to people who don't have a background in the mainline churches of Christ. And for those who do have that background, the issue is exaggerated out of proportion. It's a big issue in those churches because the members of those churches have made it a big issue — not because outsiders consider it to be of great significance one way or the other.

  8. Melina says:

    another thought on youth…when I was in college Punk Rock was all the rage. I even dressed in the style of punk rock. We didn't sing any punk rock at church but lots of kids came anyway. Today some kids like rap and spoken word, some like hip hop, some like hardcore/grindcore, some like other styles. No matter what music you have at church, some group of kids will think it lame. That said, lots of comtemporary songs can be done accapella. Folks shouldn't feel limited by what's in the song book. Learning some new songs keeps things fresh. IMO Ephesians 5 contrasts a worldly party of drunkeness with a christian party of spirit-filled singing and rejoicing. Youth know all about getting drunk and high. The assembly's got to be fun (okay faint everyone) and the singing engaging and encouraging and an overflow of the inner life of the congregation. It's a party, people! If folks are doing 3 dreary hymns so they can check off a an act of worship…..then the point's been missed entirely.

  9. Alan says:

    Good points Melina.

    We all know how bad it looks when a 50-year-old tries to act like a cool teenager (the clothes, the lingo, the attitude… and the music). I think the church can look equally bad trying to look like modern popular culture. We wouldn't be fooling anyone. It would be a bit embarrassing to everyone involved. Instead let's be ourselves, and be real.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Re instruments —

    Imagine a church plant of 12 people, meeting in a home. They invite friends over for Sunday worship, and they are thrilled their friends accept and show up.

    They start by singing a few hymns, and one of the visitors pulls out a guitar and starts to play along.

    It just seems to me that if the group makes him stop, they've hurt their effort pretty severely. They have to explain why the guitar is not permitted.

    On the other hand, they certainly don't need the guitar to be effective. But refusing the offering of instrumental worship seems very problematic on a practical level.

    Now, once the church is big enough to be up and going in a large worship hall with organized worship, it won't happen that way. But a new member may well volunteer to play keyboard. How do you say no?

    I should add that there are a lot of great contemporary Christian songs that sound pretty lame a cappella. Some of these tunes beg for drums and a bass, for example.

  11. Nick Gill says:

    I know I'm going to sound contrarian here, but the abiding principle Paul uses in 1 Cor is loving edification. So how do you say no?

    The same way the leaders in Corinth were expected to say 'no' to the tongue speaker who lacked an interpreter, to the prophet who didn't want to be quiet when another prophet received a message, to the wives who wanted to quiz their husbands.

    Musical ability is like every other gift from God: its appropriateness to the public assembly must be measured by its ability to upBUILD the gathered saints, not just make them feel upLIFTED.

    Is it "worthy of the gospel" (Php 1:27) for us to spend six figures on instruments, equipment, and wiring, just to tickle our heartstrings? I'm not talking legalism; I'm talking worthiness and edification. This isn't about a guitar in the living room; it is about spending more money than most of our members make in a year on entertainment while people within hearing range of your soundboard are going hungry.

    in HIS love,

  12. Melina says:

    you may handle it differently than I would. I've been in housechurches and no visitor's ever whipped out a guitar unexpectedly. If he did I'd probably let him strum along to one song and then move on to something else. I don't see a need to make a scene. If he were to continue to be involved, then the issue could be looked at. (I'm female and wouldn't take it upon myself to deal with it anyway-I'm speaking theoretically). I've been in situations where guests bring a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer to share. I don't object to alcohol -(let's not get started on that issue!) but some do. I've seen hosts open it and serve it but others put it in the kitchen and not serve it if they felt it would create a struggle for others in attendance. Here's my 2 cents – . Don't worry about all this stuff. Get out and share and invite people. Teach people to be gracious and to not embarrass visitors. As to a new member I don't have a problem with telling someone the different sides of the instrument debate yet asking them to refrain since the congregation has decided not to use it. One of the lessons you want people to learn is it's not all about them; they are part of a community and other members of the community have strong views on it. This volunteer can surely participate in the meeting in other capacities and even offer his keyboard talents in other venues – maybe he could offer free or reduced-price lessons for underprivileged children, maybe he could play at nursing homes and cheer up the residents. That might be annoying to some but I don't find it right to impose instruments on people who have conscience issues or even just philosophical differences with it, when I think almost all of us agree that it's not required or necessary to have them in order to preach the gospel or have the assembly.

  13. Alan says:

    I can echo Melina's point. I've been a part of a house church consisting (originally) of eleven members, plus visitors, meeting in a member's living room. We sang a cappella and nobody even asked why. And trust me, nobody pulled out an instrument unexpectedly during service.

    It's just not an issue unless you make it an issue.

    Forget about whether or not to use insturments. It's irrelevant. A lot of people were brought to faith and conversion from that house church. Believe me, it wasn't the music that made it work.

  14. Joe Baggett says:

    Please consider this.

    When we helped start a church in Conway many of the people who came back to faith had a religious heritage that included instruments. One Sunday a very talented young music major said god had given him a song and he had brought his guitar we asked him to bless the whole assembly. He did and here was not a dry eye in the whole place. He also shared his beautiful story of returning to faith. 3 people put their faith in Christ that day and were baptized and to this day are spiritually growing disciples. Now if we had told him and others just like him that they could not play their instruments based on the traditional silence doctrine or other inconsistent arguments I believe that few if any would have ever come back. Did the instruments themselves bring people to God I don't know (probably not). There are thousands of churches who play instruments ever week and are in significant decline; no magic wand. Did our love and understanding of people and their religious heritage and refusal to outlaw musical instruments based upon shaky theology help people to open their hearts to God again? Yes!

  15. Jay Guin says:

    An old post that says it better than I've said it here.

    I don't think the instrument is the solution. But I do think the attitude that refuses to use an instrument is part of the problem.

  16. Melina says:

    Great story Joe….I doubt I'd stop a visitor from such a spontaneous outpouring even if he were speaking in tongues! That's way different though from the group introducing instruments to pre-emptively avoid questions. I think we are saying the same thing….love and sensitivity go a long way in any situation!

  17. Alan says:

    I don’t think the instrument is the solution. But I do think the attitude that refuses to use an instrument is part of the problem.

    Exactly. Insisting on instruments, or insisting on no instruments, are both part of the problem. It's focusing on the wrong thing in either case. I think Joe's comment above illustrates how we need to keep our focus on the more important matters.

  18. Pingback: Amazing Grace/Churches of Christ in Decline?: Transitional Issues, Part 4 « One In

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  20. Ivy says:

    When I became a Christian many years ago i was facinated by the words "we speak where the Bible speaks and we are silent where it is silent." I never hear that any more. I came our of a denomination where an organ and piano were both used. You could not be edified by those sounds as you could barely hear the words. It doesn't improve the worship service. Some, where I worship, clap and they sing during comunion, but not many. Yet it is encouraged by the song leader.
    I respect those who choose to clap but as more and more do, especially right behind my head , it makes me want to cringe. I was told once by a young friend of my son's that the singing was so beautiful. She said, "Do all of you have voice training?"
    "Sing and make melody in your heart . Edify one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." Does that ring a bell, anyone.

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