Why do we play recorded worship in church?

I sat in church last night listening to the band (we’re a bit liberal in our music) working through a number of songs. The songs were the usual Christian Evangelical type. The last song in the set had only three lines of text, and line two was line one repeated. We sang (excluding instrumental interludes) this verse eight times. In that time, the song was built up in terms of texture, volume, enthusiasm and slightly in terms of tempo. I’ll freely admit that’s not my preferred song structure, but it can be very effective.

The prayers during the service had been prepared by some young people who had requested the sound desk play some recorded worship songs during the prayer time. This same song was on their list, as performed by David Crowder, Chris Tomlin and others. It sounded great. It was obviously recorded live, with a massive responsive crowd and lots of cheering and crowd noise in the mix.

By comparison, our earlier efforts as a congregation now sounded a bit lifeless. Maybe that’s too harsh a word, but it’s quite true that as a congregation we weren’t raising many rafters last night. The crowd on the recording, however, were ecstatic.

Why play this stuff in church?

It’s not a rhetorical question. Let me break it down:

1. What is the purpose of this recorded music as used in church?

2. a. Could that purpose be served by the live talented musicians you have at your disposal? The band are experienced and talented.

2. b. Could that purpose be served by music which is not a contemporary congregational worship song? i.e. Christian music recorded as a pop song rather than a church worship song; or music which is not overtly Christian but suitable for the purpose.

3. How are we to relate this recorded worship to our own experience? That is, assuming the song is the same, are we (or how are we) to compare the two renditions? If we are not, how can we avoid involuntary comparisons?

Please don’t assume I’m knocking the song (I would, but it’s actually quite catchy) or the style. I’m knocking the unfortunate side effects of publishing this stuff for people to listen to and emulate live, and then finding the recording in a church service when I think there are viable alternatives.

Also, please don’t assume I’m knocking the choices of the people who set up the prayer time and chose that song. Maybe some forethought would have indicated checking their playlist with the band leader was a good idea, but that’s really all. The prayers were well thought out and useful. These people did their job properly. I’m really only nit-picking the principle and using their efforts as an example.

They could have picked worship songs that weren’t being used by the band, but I think my questions still stand.

This new song I wrote isn’t for a congregation to sing, but was designed to be hummable. It was deliberately conceived to be accessible and meaningful but suitable as background music in a church service if it was required. I don’t really want people to sing it in church. I want them to sing it in their kitchens or hum it in the shower, and for it to mean something to them on a personal level.

That way I get a big ego trip every time they tell me how great I am. But as a really nice side effect, they get a bit of themselves hooked up to a line of thought or tune or both that helps them connect to God. After all, that’s what the whole thing should be about.

So, if we’re able to sing them to a band (or organ), why do we play recorded worship in church? There’s so much other stuff out there and I think we need the wisdom to find it.


One Response to Why do we play recorded worship in church?

  1. Rod says:

    Yes, whilst recorded music is great in many respects, the downside is that, at least to a certain extent, I think it’s killed off “amateur” / “homegrown” talent. After all, not many of us can compete with the slick sounds we hear every day all around us. And nor can most worship bands.

    I don’t actually have a problem with using recorded music in church, although I agree that in the case you described, the juxtaposition must have been a bit awkward. But as someone who’s been involved in various worship bands for the better part of 20 years, I haven’t yet resolved some of these issues in my own mind either. Perhaps there isn’t really an answer – it is what it is.

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