Music — the Bellwether of Church Health

September 22, 2014

Music — the Bellwether of Church Health

by Michael White and Tom Corcoran

Michael White and Tom CorcoranAfter air quality, music is the single greatest environmental factor for your community, because it determines how people feel in your church. It has the power to make them feel like pampered customers or dissatisfied ones. It also has the power to make them feel like they’re part of the movement of growing disciples that we want our parish to be. Furthermore, and emphatically, we are convinced that churches will remain consumer-driven as long as people aren’t singing. It’s not exactly clear to us why that is so, but congregational singing seems to be a reliable bellwether for church health. We like to say coming to church and not singing is like going to the gym and not working out. You gotta sing! When a parish is worshipping God together through song, in a sincere and selfless way, it is transformative.

It’s about discovering what music works in your community — not the personal preferences of the pastor and the music director, not the demands from the pews, not even the stated preferences of the majority. The music must be all about attracting the lost and growing disciples through worship.

To get where you need to go isn’t about talent or luck or even money. It’s about consistently following a few basic principles:

  • Make sure you have the best musicians you can find (paid or volunteer) and use them; do the difficult things and ask people who are holding your program down or even making it worse to step aside. Face the hard facts and lean into the conflict in order to advance your program.
  • Raise your music and musicians up in prayer. Fast for them.
  • Whatever the style, make sure your music is worship and that your musicians are worship leaders.
  • Take care with the selection of your music and do it in view of the liturgy as well as the lost. You need to be talking to your musicians about the music.It’s not about what you like or they want; it’s about the lost.
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat music from week to week. In loving ways, encourage your congregation to sing, and sing with them.
Father Michael White is pastor and Tom Corcoran is associate to the pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, near Baltimore. This article is excerpted from Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter by Michael White and Tom Corcoran. Copyright 2013 by Ave Maria Press, Inc., P.O. Box 428, Notre Dame, IN 46556, Used with permission of the publisher from which the book is available (, as well as from Amazon and Cokesbury.)
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