The last few weeks, I've spent a lot of time painting. Mostly I've been using a color my wife calls "Noncommittal Beige" and I'll be honest, I'm getting quite tired of it. It's the purgatory of paint colors - it's not really white, because that would feel like a sterile hospital, but it's not really vibrant color either, because a potential homebuyer might not like the same colors that I do. So we put up something that's neutral, something onto which color could be added, without too much trouble.
There's a metaphor that's gone around a lot, likening the style of worship music to a coat of paint. Changing a worship style to make the church look more relevant and attract new people is like putting a new coat of paint on a condemned building; sure, it might look good, but soon the cracks appear again and the building still collapses - the structural damage was never addressed, and in the end, a couple hundred bucks spent on paint didn't amount to much if the building ended up as rubble anyway.
I agree with that.
Music alone won't fix a dying church.
But it's not the whole story.
You see, paint can make a room or building beautiful. We must be careful when we debate this not to swing our pendulums too far the other direction and say "your style doesn't matter" because that would not be true; every family paints their house in colors that they find pleasing, something that expresses their unique personalities and preferences. Likewise, every Church has a style. You can see it in their music, in the way they choose to literally paint their building (or lack thereof), in their food, and in the way they practice hospitality. You'll likely discover, with some digging, that there are multiple cultural preferences ("worship cultures") floating around in the background. Lots of people like lots of different colors, and some like multiple colors in the same room (though oddly enough, beige isn't often used alone).
So really, the paint matters; if you care about something, you make it beautiful. You can see a lot about a group of people by the way they paint or by the songs they sing and the way they sing them.
Do they sing loudly or softly?
Do they sing lots of words or the same ones repeated?
Do they sing with guitars or organs or no instruments at all?
Do they sing for nostalgia or to sing themselves into a new reality?
The metaphor of paint only goes so far, because music - beauty - is not simply a nice thing to have around in the Kingdom, it is alive. Beauty is strength; beauty is expression; beauty is formation; beauty is structural, both an effect and a cause. So sometimes, changing the music means we start to repair the structure. New poetry, new melodies, new instrumentation can start to build a new infrastructure, new motivations, new habits.
New music breathes new life.
It's no wonder that God says to sing a new song. The old songs won't always do, because we've sung those already - they're expressions of a time already past. We sing them to remember who we once were, to remember the place from which we've come, but if they're the only thing we sing, we're missing out on what God is doing now, and what God is about to do.
So take care with what paint you choose, and if your community changes, make sure you don't try to hold onto only the old colors; hold them with open hands. Let your colors change with the people, and likewise your music. Sing the old and remember, sing the new and anticipate. The God you sing of, with, about, and to remains the same, He is ever-loving, ever-leading, ever-creative. He breathed life through the old colors, and He will still breathe life through the new.