What I had initially, and admittedly skeptically, thought could be a watered-down church service ends up having a significant impact on me, and very likely more than just a few others.
The First United Methodist Church of Round Rock, near Austin, Texas, offers a mid-morning service called Crossroads. There, the gospel is spread predominantly via songs performed by a musical combo comprised of drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals, and at times saxophone and percussion. Each week, the contemporary Christian praise songs book-end a sermon by Senior Pastor, David Adkins. But it was not the sermon so much that struck me on this day. As the last note of one song faded, bandleader/youth director Andy David suggested something that struck me quite powerfully. It was an optional request not unheard of at any sort of gathering. But on this day Andy's words packed some significant meaning to me, because they got me thinking about the power of music—how musical style, instrumentation, and timing might empower a ministry. Gazing across the somewhat lackadaisical congregation, David suggested, "if you're on the fence about clapping and singing along, go ahead and do it. You never know, the person next to you may just be inspired by your energy."
This gentle prodding is the same sort of suggestion that a chaperon might make at a 6th grade dance. If you can get the first two wallflowers to dance, there's a much higher chance others will follow. The same impetus fuels Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point, in that trends move from person to person, slowly at first, then exponentially, until the exception becomes the norm. This process is a positive peer pressure of sorts. And in the setting of a church service, you never know what the outcome may be—from just a smile, some singing, or clapping, maximizing with a parishioner finding a deep connection with their God. All in all, not a bad potential set of outcomes from a mere simple request.
At Crossroads, you have an entire service based upon a style of music that seems to be more accessible or enticing to the attendees than perhaps the more traditional earlier or later Sunday services. The praising of a Christian God is the same, the same pastor delivers the sermon, etc. But there is a marked musical difference. A rock combo line-up replaces orchestral instruments and a choir, the tempos and phrasings of the compositions differ substantially, and perhaps even Crossroads' overall 2 and 4 backbeat entices some who would not otherwise be at church each Sunday.
Perhaps similarly to how rock 'n' roll songs are more simple and accessible than a typical classical composition, so is a Crossroads service when compared to a more traditional church service. While the criticism may be accurate, is it necessarily negative? If one member of the congregation hears the voice of God through the hymn "Here I Am, Lord," does it matter that at Crossroads another person converses with God while an ebow pulls a melody from an electric guitar?
Mistakenly, and prematurely, I was not prepared for the power within a more modern-formatted Christian church service. As open-minded as I may like to consider myself, I judged Crossroads' metaphorical book by its cover's musical genre. But at Andy David's request, not only did I begin to clap along and sing, but as I took another look around the Family Life Center, I saw a noticeable positive change. A previously stone-faced teen began to sway to the music while mouthing the words. A desperately uncoordinated middle-aged father-of-four sincerely tried his best to clap along in time. An elderly woman who was sitting alone began to clap, sing, a wide smile appearing across her face. I like to think that she was surprised that "fun" had somehow crept into her weekly worship. She was singing rock music with God, and her devotion grew in a way she had not previously been able to imagine.