People Say Worship Music All Sounds the Same. They Might Mean Something Else.

“when I hear someone say, ‘Contemporary worship music all sounds the same,’ I think of my music history students and wonder if that person simply doesn’t like the music very much.” - CToday


Author elaborates more on the thesis…

Now, the genre is distinct within the Christian music world and the mainstream music industry. Worship albums have their own category at the Dove Awards; Spotify has multiple curated playlists devoted to the genre. Like most genres, contemporary worship music has a small group of influential stars (the Big Four) reliably producing its most popular hits. The songs don’t sound the same, but they do sound like they belong together.

“In any genre, there will be key markers,” said Shannan Baker, a member of the Worship Leader Research team and a postdoctoral fellow in music and digital humanities at Baylor. “There are similar themes, text devices like ‘broken chains,’ but the more you’re in the music, the more you’ll hear the differences and pieces that make certain artists unique.”

The idea that contemporary worship music is now its own genre is interesting for the style ethics debates. If one of the arguments for older styles is that the newer ones carry cultural baggage not compatible with Christian truth and worship, what happens to that argument when the style becomes its own genre?

One counter argument might be that the lines between styles and genres are murky, and who says CCM is really its own style now vs. a hodgepodge of what has come before? But this counter also weakens the “bad styles” argument: if CCM is now a hodgepodge, how much past cultural stylistic meaning can we really say it still carries?

All the evidence points to musical style being a complex phenomenon that doesn’t easily fit into categories with firm, bold boundaries.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Signs of the times,

Conspiracy theories about politically connected Satanic cults, check.

The rising influence of epistemic relativism, check.

Undefined spiritualism and mysticism has a rising profile, check.

Christians arguing over stupid and insignificant issues, check.

I like good bluegrass, it moves me, I also get why people who didn't grow up listening to the Stanley Brothers or country (bluegrass's "less pure" cousin) don't hear the nuances and subtleties I hear. It's not worth a fight, and if our church doesn't play Three Men on a Mountain I can always youtube it. In the big expanse of issues, we should learn from the past rather than falling into the same traps over and over again. Probably pointless, but I thought the worship wars were over minus a few schismatic curmudgeon here and there.

My sense of the most important distinction in worship music over the years has shifted from Contemporary/Traditional to Congregational/Performance.

I honestly wish more people would move the discourse to the latter than the former, b/c that's where the real battle is, imo.

Music in church should be set in a way that encourages congregational singing--even among those who lack talent. This isn't optional; it's commanded. Performance music should be reserved for listening.

What we have instead in many churches--including my current one--is a messy hybrid where some people sing, but it doesn't really matter because you can't hear it anyway over the team on the stage, which is doing crazy things nobody can follow and throwing in bridges and chorus extensions nobody expects. Oh, and there's a new song every week which nobody knows, but again, that doesn't matter because the worship team heard it on the radio last month and has been eager to try it out.

To me, this is serious enough an issue to consider a church move, even though I would never move over the former issue (contemporary vs. traditional music).

I'm sorry to hear about that struggle. Yes, I would agree, that is a big issue, there is a place for a choir or a special, but congregational singing is the main event. This, I think, requires some simplicity in style (and there is irony here), I'll pray on this today.