Does Better Music Grow a Bigger Church?

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Don Chapman talks about church growth and worship styles.

I used to think that really good music grows a church. Get the hottest band and singers in town and the people will come.

I don’t think that anymore.

Now that I’m free from the weekly grind of the music director’s life I’ve been able to visit a lot of churches. I’ve been to huge megachurches with thousands of people and so-so, bland music. I’ve been to tiny, struggling churches with superb, cutting edge-music.

Recently in LA I was at a faaaamous church that had one of the worst, off pitch background praise singers ever. Another LA megachurch had the most horrible worship flow of any church I’ve ever attended. Sing a song. Stop cold. Sing another, random song. Stop cold. Sing another. What??

I’ve also been to huge churches with great blended music and huge churches with superb, cutting edge music.

Great music, huge churches. Lousy music, huge churches.

Small churches, great music. Small churches, lousy music.

Great music sure won’t hurt a church, but my worship algorithms are telling me that it ISN’T the music that’s primarily growing churches. It’s the PREACHING. Gasp.

If the preacher is theoretical, boring, irrelevant and clinical, the hottest music in town isn’t going to help draw a crowd.

If the preacher is relevant, personable and preaching on spiritual issues that matter to the common man, the lousiest music in the world won’t keep the throngs away. They’ll put up with anything to hear the Word speak into their lives.

So just what does music accomplish? It simply sets the tone and flavor of your church.

Your music style will attract a certain style of crowd. It’s no different from a radio station. Think of the different crowds associated with these music styles: Country. Heavy Metal. Classical. Can you picture what someone looks like who would listen to each style? How about: Cowboy hats. Long hair and tattoos. Suit & tie.

I see blended, orchestral churches attracting a “churchy” bunch in suits & ties and Sunday dresses.

Churches with cool rock bands and cutting-edge music are attracting the 20-30s.

The typical WillowCreek-esque church with 90’s praise band (which, I believe, is currently the mainstream of churches) is attracting younger baby boomers who are bored by the blended stuff, plus young families. I suspect the young families probably would prefer the cutting edge music church but those churches, attracting younger people with no money, generally have weak children’s programs. So young families put up with the baby boomer music style since they have the funds to afford nice nurseries and youth activities.

Different styles attract different looking people, but there’s another element to put into the mix: personality types.

One personality type revels in the mediocre; the other loves quality.

Ministries with a low standard of quality, no matter what the style, will attract people who have a low standard of quality. If the church allows off-pitch people to sing on the praise team, they’ll attract people who like to hear off-pitch singing. Believe it or not, there are actually people in this world who thrill to hear off pitch singing on mic. These same people also enjoy karaoke.

This mindset would prefer to see a bunch of people who wanted to sing in a constant rotation so they can use their “gifts,” no matter how bad things sound, rather than see the talented few leading week after week.

Call me spritual or something, but I really don’t care who’s up there as I go into my own personal world of worship. What gets me out of that world is the jarring effect of hearing someone yelping the wrong notes.

A church, contemporary or traditional, who insists on a high standard of quality generally attracts people who like quality.

The two personality types don’t mix. If you’re trying to build a quality music ministry, have you ever experienced this phenomena: an off-pitch singer demands to sing in church, you won’t let them and they throw a tantrum… threaten to leave the church… etc.

I know of a case where a talented vocalist found themselves in a low-quality church. This person is a dream vocalist you’d give your left leg to have in your ministry—and spiritually minded to boot. This person was rarely asked to sing and was baffled. I’ve heard the same story over and over.

I found an answer to these mysteries from Oprah, of all people. For some reason I flipped on the TV one day and watched her for five minutes. In that span she said something that rocked my world: “Mediocrity hates quality.”

Worship leader, have you been banging your head against the wall? Now you know why. Maybe you’re the right type of person in the wrong type of church.  

Don Chapman Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.

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  • nigel

    This is the best I have ever read on worship it really strike the balance ,as a bishop over a few churches this is some thing I will share with those involved at this levle.

    My confession was alway we are strugling because we dont have the best musician and singer well here it come.

    If there anything you or anyone can do to help us in these part of the world ( third world) where resource is minemal ,we sure appreciate your help

    thank you
    bishop nigel

  • Pastor Adewale Adewumi

    I thank you for this article. You sum it up really well with that Oprah quote. Every church has her style and attracts like-minded members. I have seen churches spend huge amounts of money on equipments and gadgets. They say those things enhance worship. I agree, but now you have brought it all to the fore with your balanced approach. Every pastor needs to read this and adjust their focus accordingly. Thank you again for reminding us that "Mediocrity hates quality." Be blessed and remain rapturable.

  • Louise





  • Brad

    Great article, Don – thank you! That put some things into perspective for me. I've been the worship pastor at my current church for 6+ years now, and I think you said a lot of what I've been feeling, putting words to my thoughts. I strive for excellence musically, on top of sound, biblical theology in our worship (which is most important!), and yet getting the congregation to engage seems impossible some days (though I'm thankful that we've made progress). But I think the mediocrity mindset that existed here for so long still lingers, and people don't seem to appreciate what we're trying to do. They just want their traditions, or they just really don't care at all. I'm speaking generally, of course, as they are many that DO appreciate it and offer encouragement. And I'm not trying to say we're amazing or anything (far from it!), but just that people don't get it…and I think the "mediocrity hates quality" idea really sums it up. Anyway…I could keep going, but all that to say thank you for sharing this. It is very helpful!

  • John Carlton

    I am in my mid 60's pastoring my first church. Previously I have served as a Minister of Music/Associate pastor. The Churches I have served before were larger and had some trained musicians. I am a soloist (1st Tenor) but when I took the church as pastor I told them that I was not going to do the music too. I love these people and they love me, but what I saw in this article is this: They are satisfied with the mediocre and poor. I am praying for God to change my mindset so that I can minister more effecitvely to them. Pray for me.

  • Fred MacLean

    Wow! good and thorough sweep of the different groups. Even to Oprah!!

    Is it a Human nature applicable to all cultures/religions (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.)? or just us Christians?

    I have witnessed SUVs pulling to a slidding stop wives and children pouring out with a father following after with the look of disgust that they are late again to Mosque and Synagogue as well as our churches…human nature. And the nature of gamily relationships we all seem to share in common across religious lines.

    What about worship?

  • Amy Tupe

    Do you want a big church? Or do you want a church that is moving for the Lord? Aim higher and meet people's needs in small group and community prayer, glorify the Lord with the lives of the members, reach out to the "mediocre", the quality, the poor, worship God with all your hearts, preach well and obey the Lord's commission. It will grow like a mustard seed. Jesus said so.

  • Larae McCarty

    OMG!  I had a delimma and you just confirmed everything I feel and think.  I have been praying and this was the answer…”Mediocrity hates quality” and to solidfy it..Worship leader, have you been banging your head against the wall? Now you know why. Maybe you’re the right type of person in the wrong type of church.  I thank you, thank you, thank you and may our God richly bless you!

  • Larae McCarty

    SN: I do think there should be a level of excellence in musicality that matches the message so that everything connects and they experience meeting God from the first note of P&W til the last Amen, it is the marriage of the music and the message that gives the church the culture that draws the people.  Good word and good music will draw all demographics of people regardless.

  • jAb

    Thank you so much Don. This is a very helpful article. I will surely share this with our Church’s worship team. God bless you and your ministry!

  • jAb

    Sorry Harvey, you missed the word ‘here’ by typing it as ‘hear’…

  • PastorC

    Is it really either? We are blessed with both. I am acutely aware of other churches that have very good music and very relevant preaching, but those churches remain small. Is it either or does it really matter? Of course we want good music singing to the audience of One, and we need messages that turn people towards Jesus. But, do either mean there will be a numerical response?

  • Z Money

    This article doesn’t reference Jesus or even use his name once. If neither incorporate Jesus, then it’s pointless anyways. Too much focus on what WE do in worship and what WE do in the message will lead to man-centered services and everyone will leave the services empty because of it.

  • SmallTimeMusic

    “Call me spritual or something, but I really don’t care who’s up there as
    I go into my own personal world of worship. What gets me out of that
    world is the jarring effect of hearing someone yelping the wrong notes.”

    Really? You’re suggesting you’re *spiritual* because you “don’t care who’s up there”. Yet at the same time your personal worship is frustrated because someone happens to sign out of tune? It would help me understand better if you would define worship…

  • MediocreMe

    I’m a mediocre music lover. I enjoy hearing the off pitch singing of my 20 year old son that is left tone deaf after a brain tumor…. I get teary eyed hearing my 80 year old Dad’s wavery voice singing “It is Well With My Soul” I’m moved to fall on my face and worship the creator who gives such a person as I a place in his kingdom. But I don’t hate quality…. I guess your conclusion is wrong….