A few years ago my wife and I took a five-week road trip. On Sundays we worshiped at various churches. All of them were evangelical and they ranged from mid-size to megachurches. I decided to keep a worship journal, taking note of information such as the speaker, text and sermon, the praise team, prayers, and, of course, the music for the service.
The experiment proved enlightening—particularly the music. We sang or listened to about 30 songs, with no duplication and only one that we recognized. An Evangelical Free Church in Minnesota sang “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” Variety might be the spice of life, but I wonder if such worship diversity brings some unintended consequences.
For 13 years I served as a part-time chaplain at a Christian care facility. On Sunday mornings we held a worship service led by one of the chaplains. Three unwritten rules guided our worship planning: we never stand up, we never take an offering, and we never sing praise songs.
The first two rules were self-explanatory, considering the nursing home population. The third rule stemmed from the fact that the residents were unfamiliar with praise songs, and poor eyesight prohibited many from seeing well enough to read. The residents were much more comfortable singing the songs they had sung since childhood and had probably sung hundreds of times. Songs like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and, of course, “Jesus Loves Me.” Though they might not know all the words any longer, when the chorus came, smiles and tears came with it.
Do you want to experience a foretaste of heaven? On a Sunday morning stand in front of 60 to 70 residents from skilled nursing care. Look at their faces and listen to their voices as they sing by heart, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
On one of the forays my wife and I took to Salt Lake City, Utah, to visit our daughter and her family, we attended a birthday party. One of the guests was the minister of music at a megachurch in Salt Lake City. As we talked, I told him about the worship journal I was keeping and about the worship in the care facility. Then I asked him this question: “When this generation gets old and moves into a care facility, what songs will they all know?” He looked at me for a moment, then shook his head and responded, “There won't be any.”
For a denomination that values its heritage as much as ours does, that’s one unintended consequence we need to strive to avoid.