In light of all the discussion surrounding music, I thought this piece by Columnist Ben Ratliff of the New York Times on High Desert Church in Victorville, California is apropos. If I didn’t know any better after reading his whole article, I’d think Christianity is all about music.
I’ve quoted fifteen points from this article (and numbered them for your convenience if you wish to comment on particular ones). I think you’ll find them rather interesting!
1).Mike Day, singer and guitarist, gathered his rock band around him. Dressed in a faded black T-shirt, jeans and skateboard sneakers, he bent his shaved head. “God,” he said, “I hope these songs we sing will be much more than music. I know it’s so difficult at times when we’re thinking about chords and lyrics and when to hit the right effect patch, but would you just help that to become second nature, so that we can truly worship you from our hearts?” A few minutes later the band broke into three songs of slightly funky, distorted rock with heaving choruses . . .
2).There has been enormous growth in the evangelical Protestant movement in America over the last 25 years, and bands . . . now provide one of the major ways that Americans hear live music. [Of] the house bands that play every weekend in High Desert Church there are a dozen or so [who] scavenge some of their musical style from the radio and television. They reflect popular taste, though with lyrics about the power of God, not teenage turmoil.
3).“When you start a church,” said Tom Mercer, 52, the senior pastor, “you don’t decide who you’re going to reach and then pick a music style. You pick a music style, and that determines who’s going to come.”
4).HighDesertChurch has a sprawling concrete campus that includes a lavish auditorium, a gym, classrooms and office space for its 70 employees.
5).A number of factors encouraged the church’s expansion . . . . in 1993 the church hired Jeff Crandall, the drummer for a Christian punk band called the Alter Boys, as its music director. Mr. Crandall, 46, spent more than a decade crossing the country in vans, playing in churches, nightclubs and high school gyms, fighting the battle for a more progressive and aggressive worship music. “I knew that the future, even in the early ‘80s, was with bands in churches,” he said. “I liked hymns as a kid, but I just didn’t see myself waving my arms and directing them. I’ve always been one of those guys who tries to figure his own way.”
6).What he did was to pack the church with rock ‘n’ roll. He organized a rotation of bands . . . playing to multiple services. And then he let them play, loudly.
7).High Desert Church holds three different large services over the weekend for three different age groups, with music tailored to each audience . . . Seven . . . the 18-to-30-year-old set . . . Harbor, the 30-to-55 group . . . and Classic, for people 55 and over.
8).The church also maintains even more bands for services at the junior high, high school and elementary levels. Each band carefully calibrates its sound toward the pop culture disposition of the target age group.
9).Young people and future generations are in fact the fixation of High Desert Church, which has already broken ground on building a children’s ministry complex called Pointe Discovery, a $20 million project financed entirely by worshiper donations. “If I ask God’s people to give me $20 million,” Mr. Mercer said during an interview in his corner office, “when I stand before God someday, I don’t want to hear him say, ‘Dude, you wasted a ton of my money.’ I want him to say, ‘You did a good job.’ My definition of a good job is that it will impact people until Christ comes back.”
10).Praise-rock is at the heart of that impact. The teenagers and young adults at High Desert . . . say they joined the church for the teaching and the community, and stayed because of the bands. But some are clearly more enthusiastic about the music itself. “I started out in Harbor, but I moved to Seven because I liked the music more,” said Tony Cherco, 32, a recent arrival to the church who would not have been out of place in the EastVillage: he wore a long beard and large rings in his earlobes. “Between Pastor Tom and the music of Seven, I was like, yes!”
11).To generalize, the music tailored to the Seven service is modern rock, with a modicum of wired aggressiveness. (In its sets before and after the pastor’s sermon, the band does play some adaptations of hymns, including a power-chord version of the doxology. It was arranged by the worship minister Matt Coulombe to approximate the droning, locomotive style of the secular New York rock band Secret Machines, one of his favorite groups).
12).The music of Harbor, meanwhile, resembles U2 from about 1985, while the Classic crowd gets a softer and more acoustic sound, like the West Coast folk-rock of the 1970s. For the children, in both their Sunday school classes and youth group events, the music is pop-punk. The idea is to keep their attention with high energy, then to slide gradually toward contemplation.
13).On a Saturday afternoon in October a group for the junior high contingent, called Power Surge, which included four guitarists and two bassists, played in the church gym, rehearsing a version of the Jason Wallis song “Hey God.” Fifteen girls performed choreographed hand motions to the music, which sounded like pious Ramones:
Hey, hey, hey, God I love you
Hey, hey, hey, God I need you
I know there’s not anything you can’t do
I know there’s nothing you won’t see me through
14).For the most part the groups at HighDesertChurch don’t write their own songs; they are high-functioning garage bands, playing cover versions. But they operate in a large, modern auditorium with top-quality sound, lights and video operated by young volunteers; there are smoke machines and overhead screens that announce the title of each song and its lyrics.
15).Bobby Stolp, 39, a drummer in several different bands here, agreed. “It’s all about the heart of worship,” he said. “God can enjoy a distorted guitar as well as a clean guitar. Especially when you’re playing it for him.”