24 April, 2007

Enjoy The Music-You're Paying For It



God, Mammon, and the “Worship Wars”
Charlotte World April 16, 2007 by Warren Smith


COMMENTARY--If you’ve been to a church at any time in the past 30 years, you have no doubt been subjected to the “worship wars.” Contemporary vs. Traditional. Modern vs. Postmodern. The worship wars have been fought in virtually every evangelical church at some time during the past generation. Those on the traditional side say the conflict is ultimately a matter of theology. Those on the contemporary side say it is ultimately a matter of relevance.
I’ve got my own opinions about this question, and – just for the record – let me say that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to matters of worship. When I hear people talk about relevance, I want to ask: “Relevant to whom?” Any attempt at relevance is by definition an exclusionary activity. Attempts to be culturally relevant to a teenager are exclusionary for an elderly widow.


The Body of Christ should be about bringing the teenager and the grandmother together, not driving them apart. The purpose of true biblical worship is not to change it to suit us or an arbitrarily defined target market. The purpose of biblical worship is to transform us. It should proclaim the glory of God, and be a means of grace by which we are transformed. Worship is a sacrifice, not an entertainment.


But that is not really the point I want to make here. The real point I want to make that in this arena – as in many others of evangelical worship and culture today – money is the real driving force, and most evangelicals don’t even know it.


To understand this, consider that when a congregation sings Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” no money changes hands. But when that same congregation sings “God of Wonders,” written by Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd, both men – and their music publishing company, get a small payday. Why is that? Because “A Mighty Fortress” is in the public domain, but “God of Wonders” is owned by Hindalong and Burd and both they and their publishers have an economic self interest in seeing that these songs are sung and played in churches around the country.


This phenomenon of Sunday morning worship becoming not a day of praise, but a day of pay, is a recent one. It can be traced to the birth of an organization called Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). CCLI collects fees from churches and then pays the copyright holders – keeping a percentage for itself, of course. The size of the copyright fee depends on the size of the church, but a 500-member church would pay about $300 per year. Currently, approximately 140,000 churches are CCLI license holders. That means that $40- to $50-million per year is collected and re-distributed to copyright owners.


And this large and growing number is just one part of the CCLI empire. CCLI also allows churches to pay additional fees to use movie clips as sermon illustrations.


It’s probably no coincidence that the CCLI’s founding in 1984 corresponds more or less with the beginning of explosive growth in the contemporary Christian music industry, and with the growth of worship music in particular. Now, a kind of unholy trinity exists that has turned the ministry of Christian music into the industry of Christian music. Christian radio promotes the songs, the churches use them in worship, and CCLI collects fees for the copyright holders. The big winners are the Christian record companies, many of them now owned by secular corporations, who sell records into the millions. The big loser is the church itself, which now pays to have itself marketed to every Sunday morning at 11 am.

Contrast this with the “old” method. Hymn books contain songs that are mostly in the public domain and have little or no licensing fees. They have historically been published by denominational publishers who make them available to congregations more or less at cost. They were not aggressively marketed or promoted because they are typically denominationally specific, reflecting the doctrine and liturgy of a particular church. But that is a key point: the hymnals are informed by and reinforce the theology of the church. Said plainly, hymnals are discipleship tools.

Contemporary worship songs, on the other hand, are a revenue stream for copyright holders and music publishers. They are aggressively promoted and now make up a significant share of the $4.5-billion Christian retail market.




Indeed, no matter which side you are on in these “worship wars,” both sides can agree on this simple observation: for the most part, the traditionalists have lost this fight, at least in the evangelical church. Virtually every one of the 100 largest and 100 fastest growing churches on “Outreach” magazine’s annual list of the largest and fastest growing churches in America is a church that has one or more so-called “contemporary” services. Indeed, most of these churches have no traditional services at all.

And that, my friends, is a tragedy – another triumph of Mammon in the modern evangelical church.
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Warren Smith is the publisher of The Charlotte World. This article is excerpted from his upcoming book “A Lover’s Quarrel With The Evangelical Church,” due out later this year by Spence Publishing.

4 comments:

David Dansker said...

Lindon,

A real eye opener; and it goes a long way in explaining why a complete reassessment of organizational giving is long overdue.

David
TheNewsBeats.com

Lindon said...

Amen David. To think of tithe dollars going to make Christian song writers even richer when we sing their songs in church is beyond my reasoning. Isn't selling CD's and concert tickets enough?

Kathleen F. said...

This article expressed how I have felt about the CCLI for a number of years. It bothers me that our church pays to use the copyrighted material in services. Some of the modern, contemporary songs that are doctrinally sound (Sovereign Grace music, for example) are really great songs that sing the praise of God's great work, but I am dismayed that there seems to be money to be made, even in a church service.

I am also learning to write christian songs for congregational worship, as well as independent songs, but have struggled with whether I should, if they are even any good, send them for publication. Part of me reasons that they are like writing christian books to encourage the Body of Christ, and people will buy them if they like, but the other part of me argues that it should be a gift, and no money should be received for this spiritual creativity. This is a confusing issue to me, in regards to christian songwriting.

Lindon said...

Hi Kathleen!

My mom was a professional musician so I can understand where you are coming from. She did write some music and some new arrangments that she played at church with no compensation. However, she did make a few albums (long ago) and those were sold through various avenues but not at church.

It seems to me that if these artists had their songs sung and played in church would be enough. People can still buy the CD and pay for concert tickets. To expect payment for the use of them during corporate Worship...It reeks of the 'moneychangers' to me.

Pray for wisdom! Grace and Peace to you.