An Afternoon with Rick Atchley and Chris Seidman – Part 4 (Sept-Dec 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

By Jay Guin

In September 2010, I was privileged to sit down with Rick Atchley and Chris Seidman in Ft. Worth and interview them regarding instrumental worship.

Rick is the pulpit minister for The Hills Church of Christ, formerly Richland Hills Church of Christ, in Ft. Worth, which is the largest Church of Christ in the world. Chris is the pulpit minister for the Farmers Branch Church of Christ, in Dallas, also referred to as “The Branch.”

The Farmers Branch congregation added an instrumental service in 2002. In 2007, it added a second campus, The Branch at Vista Ridge, where the worship services are entirely instrumental. Between the two campuses of The Branch there are two a cappella services and four instrumental services.

The Hills congregation added an instrumental service in 2006 and is in the process of opening a second campus.

Jay: What other surprises did you experience in adding an instrumental service?

Rick: People think, “Oh, man, if we just get over this instrumental music thing, the worship wars will be over!” But there are so many ways to worship with instruments! Even among those who were for it, I quickly found out everyone had their idea of what it was supposed to be like. You can do the acoustic thing, you can do the organ thing, there are so many styles.

We actually sometimes intentionally do something a little different. About once a year we’ll have what we call “stained glass bluegrass,” and we just do bluegrass sounds. And some of our people love it, and some of our people hate it.

But for the most part, it’s electric guitar, and it’s drums, and it’s pretty loud, and it’s intentional, because this is the music that speaks to the people we’re trying to reach. I must add, though, that our instrumental services are amazingly cross-generational in their makeup. In fact, I would estimate that at least 30% of our attendees are 50 and over.

We just say up front that there are so many kinds of music, we are intentionally picking what we think is best for this mission — so if it’s not your thing, then we have one of the greatest a cappella worship experiences in America. You’ve enjoyed it for years. You can continue to worship that way.

Chris: I had some older folks get excited thinking we were going to do some Bill Gaither when we made the transition. We had to tell them from the get go, we’re not going to Bill Gaither, we’re not even going to do Michael W. Smith. We’re going to do Passion and Hillsong. It’s going to be a pretty rocking experience.

They were disappointed, but they appreciated me shooting straight with them. Sometimes, six weekends out of the year, we have nothing but a guitar and the worship leader up there, and it’s very laid back. The other 46 weekends, it is a very full sound with a full band.

The genre of instrumental music we appropriate leans more toward a younger demographic That’s not to say we don’t have some brothers and sisters in there from the Boomers and the generation beyond.

In regard to surprises, there’s another thing that comes to mind. I didn’t know what a luxury we had being exclusively a cappella until we added instrumental services. It does introduce a whole new set of issues when it comes to everything from working with the technical and acoustical aspects of the experience to people and personality-types. You are bringing more “artists” into the experience. It’s a blessing but it also brings with it implications.

Jay: How do you see the future of the progressive Churches of Christ?

Rick: The era of the progressive Church of Christ is over.

Back in the 80’s you could go to any major city, especially in the South, and you could find a progressive Church of Christ — and if they would preach grace, and if they would put words on a screen, and if they would let divorced people place membership, they would grow.

The generation of Boomers has enough denominational loyalty that they’re going to find the least legalistic Church of Christ they can find, and that’s where they’re going to attend.

Well, we discipled the children of those progressive churches for a whole generation to grow past us Boomers. They never heard the sermons we heard. They never heard the rationale for a cappella music. We sent them to youth rallies and Church of Christ events with some of the finest Christian bands in the world. We discipled our children to leave our Movement! <br>They’re not leaving the kingdom of God, and I’m not saying that — so please hear me say, I’m not placing the health of the Movement above the kingdom of God — I want my kids to love Jesus, but I do think that Churches need to understand. If you look at most of the “progressive Churches of Christ” across the country, they’re plateaued. In fact, they are in decline.

They are older and smaller, and their kids are gone. Their kids have fond memories of growing up in that church. The church taught them about Jesus, but now they are somewhere else.

You know, when I hear some of those old arguments about music, because of my history, even though I disagree, at least I can connect the dots and see how you got there. My children don’t even have the graph paper!

Chris: Let me say this, I don’t think whether our churches become “hybrids” with a cappella and instrumental services will be the difference-maker in whether the younger generations stay with the Movement. I think there are bigger fish to fry in their minds. But I do think that music is a variable in their decision. Not only is the instrumental genre a part of the culture, but they are growing up with it being used in their children’s and youth ministries.

When they get to adulthood and begin functioning within a local church in our heritage, they will notice its absence. And I think that in the long run, they won’t engage in a discussion because, as Rick said, they don’t even have the graph paper to connect the dots. They’ll be more likely just to quietly transition to another part of Christendom.

This is happening right now. Between our concern for the younger generations in the Movement and our desire to reach those who have disengaged or never connected with Jesus in our culture, we think it’s worth addressing the matter.

Jay: Last question: In your instrumental services, is the singing always instrumental or is it sometimes a cappella?

Chris: It is not a deal where, okay, we’re going to do these songs and then we’re going to slide in an a cappella song. It’s more up to the worship leader, and sometimes on the third song he’ll have the band just drop out, and we’ll be lifting our voices without instruments on the third verse of a song.

But there’s no strategy of putting in one a cappella song in each service. No, we’re worshiping full throttle, and maybe the guy at the piano or the guitar, whoever the worship leader is, he’ll just back off and lead a little bit a cappella.

Rick: We rarely do an entire song only a cappella, but it’s not uncommon for us to have a cappella moments. A verse of a song is that way or we start a song that way. But, no, it’s not three songs instrumental, two songs a cappella. It’s an instrumental service.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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