Previous month:
March 2006
Next month:
May 2006

Easter Bunnies and Church Traditions

Bunny In your family, do you do the bunny thing or just the Jesus thing at Easter?  My wife and I have never really done bunny stuff with our kids (other than devouring a good chocolate critter we've bought in the post-Easter clearance sales).  To my 3-year old, Silas, Easter is the day we have a big party at church and Ms. Rhoda (his Sunday School teacher) gives him treats to eat.

This morning Silas and I went to a local home and garden store.  While standing in the check-out line at the store, we were approached by a 6' white rabbit carrying a basket of chocolates.  The rabbit didn't say anything, just held out the basket for Silas to take a treat.  Silas was stunned; SPEECHLESS!  And if you know my kids, silence is an oddity.  I had to explain to Silas that it was the "Easter Bunny" and that he was allowed to take the treat.  My explanation didn't calm his fears, but he took the chocolate anyway.

For the next hour, Silas kept talking about this tall rabbit with no mouth.  He was sure there was no mouth since the rabbit did not say anything to him.

As I pondered this encounter, I realized that the experience Silas had with the white rabbit is quite similar to the experience that unchurched people have when they visit church services.  Out of context, the traditions and language we use can be as senseless (and scary) as a six-foot white rabbit - without a mouth.

What kind of things are we doing as a church (what kind of family traditions do we keep) that make newcomers (specifically pre-Christians) feel uncomfortable?

Sing a New Song. Part Deux.

Another way to introduce new music while maintaining momentum in the worship time is to introduce "old" as new.

As I mentioned in my previous post, our Sunday crowd is made up of about 50% new church attendees.  A few weeks ago we introduced "Holy, Holy, Holy" as a new song.  Yes it's true!  Half the people in the crowd knew it, half did not.  We played it in a contemporary arrangement in context with the rest of our worship set.  We added a repeatable easy-to-sing chorus:

You are Holy
God Almighty
God of earth and sky and sea
Make me holy, Lord, like Thee

Just like that, we had a "new" song that introduced amazing truths about God and half the crowd was able to join in the song from the very first time we played it.  And all the folks with a church background were thrilled to be able to join in a chorus that they probably hadn't sung in years.

We've used this method with other hymns and will continue to utilize this approach in bringing to light some of the greatest songs ever written to an audience that might very well have never heard them.

Sing a New Song. But How Often?

The Psalms tell us repeatedly to "sing a new song" (Ps. 33:3, 96:1, 98:1 to name a few).  As a worshipper and worship leader I am always on the lookout for new worship songs that resonate with me and that I feel will translate well to the context of corporate worship at Grace.  Our Sunday crowd is made up of about a 50-50 split of people who have some church background with those who are experiencing church for the first time in their lives.  Additionally, probably close to 30% of those people have not yet begun a relationship with God.  Song selection in itself is a tricky one.  But the next trick is how to keep the worship time fresh with new songs without overdoing it.

I have a couple of simple rules that I follow:

1.  Never introduce more than one song in a single weekend.
2.  Any time I introduce a new song I use what I've seen others refer to as the 3-1-1 rule; use the song 3 consecutive weeks, take one week off and then reintroduce it on the 5th week.  I usually have a good sense by then as to whether or not it is connecting with our crowd.

I have found that one of the greatest ways to undermine the crowds connectivity with God during worship is by having too much new music.  And by new I mean any song that hasn't been used more than 5 times.  As musicians, we tend to learn songs very quickly.  We play a new song in rehearsal multiple times.  We listen to recordings of the songs in the car and at home.  A song can feel very old very fast for us while the average Joe or Jane in our crowd has only heard the song (in our worship time) once or twice.