In many Churches of Christ, the kinds with “worship leaders” rather than “song leaders,” we’ve rejected hymnals altogether, replacing them with projection of the lyrics on a screen (actually, a very good idea) backed by a waterfall scene.
For a while, we projected the notes with the lyrics — but this is becoming unfashionable on the theory that visitors will not know how to read notes and will feel intimidated. Besides, Willow Creek doesn’t project the notes. And they’re big.
As a result, we’re now back to where the church was before the Protestant Reformation, with songs that are often unsingable by the church members, no hymnals, and no notes (all in the name of making our music more accessible to visitors).
Of course, this theory reflects a rather low opinion of the musical gifts of our visitors (we’re just a little too full of ourselves on this point) and surrenders one of the biggest advantages we have because of our Church of Christ heritage: we sing beautiful four-part harmonies. Why do we want to throw this away?
Is it the empirical evidence? I doubt it. I’ve heard many visitors speak of how much they enjoyed the singing, the harmonies, and our obvious delight in the song service. No one has ever said, “I’m just so intimidated by those notes on the screen. I’m never coming back until you project a waterfall!”)
Several years ago, a famous evangelical preacher wrote an article on the Internet arguing, utterly without evidence, that people were no longer reading their Bibles because we were projecting verses on the screen rather than making our members brings their Bibles to church. Soon, we had preachers and elders issuing edicts to stop putting verses in the PowerPoint — just because a famous author said to.
Go visit a megachurch, and you’ll find they have no notes projected on the screen. But they will likely be part of a denomination that has no recent history of four-part harmony. They used to drown out their singing with organs. Now they use guitars and drums to overwhelm the congregation.
Oh, and they have a waterfall picture. Because someone wrote a book about bringing art and creativity to the assembly. Now, I agree that we need more art and creativity in every aspect of our church lives — but a waterfall picture is not going to draw in crowds of bohemian artists from across town. Hint: if you’re buying it, it’s not really being creative. You can’t buy me love, and you can’t buy me art.
We are so desperate for the right formula, the right gimmick, the right paperback book of solutions that will make us grow that we’ll fall for just about anything anybody wants to sell. And we forget about the basics.
No, it’s not that PowerPoint slides of waterfalls damn. They won’t. It’s that we’re trying to put lipstick on a pig. If we really think such superficialities will turn our church around and save a dying world, then we’ve completely bought into American marketing and forgotten the gospel. We’d may as well be offering discounts on tithes every tenth visit — or indulgences. We’re just so far removed from what people really care about and need.
One thing that really matters to visitors is to see in the members the joy that Christianity brings to our lives. Standing there and barely mouthing words while the band or praise team drowns out a church that doesn’t know the song doesn’t get it. My conservative brothers badly over-reach when they accuse all others of seeking entertainment rather than worship — but there is an element of truth to it. We need to evaluate the music, not by how close we get to Willow Creek or Saddleback, but how the members are impacted. If the visitors see the members moved, they’ll be moved, too. Skip the members and go straight for the visitors, and you’ve forgotten why we’re there in the first place.
Remember: 1 Cor 14 says we’re there to edify each other — not to watch visitors edified by the praise team, worship leader, preacher, or anyone else. Each other. And that happens best when the church gets to sing full-throated in heavenly joy — which means they can’t be struggling to know or sing or harmonize the tune. Or even to hear each other.
Campbell was wrong. We need the notes.