Wineskins Archive

December 16, 2013

An Afternoon with Rick Atchley and Chris Seidman – Part 1 (Sept-Dec 2010)

Filed under: — @ 3:19 pm and

By Jay Guin

Jay: How has adding an instrumental service helped your congregation become more missional, that is, to better fulfill God’s redemptive mission?

Chris: I’ll go ahead and start the ball rolling. We started our first instrumental service in September 2002. We were a 100-year old church at the time, and so there was a lot of heritage in it. In other words, it wasn’t a start-up church. It had history, heritage, tradition.

I think your reason is as important as your “mission” or your “vision.” Once we walked through the Word with the church and helped them to understand where we were coming from, saying that we think this is an issue of freedom and that instrumental music is not a doctrinal issue, we then spent more of our time talking about, well then, why do it?

Talking about “why do it?” first with the elders in fall 2001 and then with the church in spring 2002 helped our church to be more mission-minded — existing for something more than ourselves — and took down a barrier to reach a wider segment of people.

So I feel like the educational process just to get there helped us begin to think beyond ourselves.

Jay: And now that you’ve added instrumental services, have you seen the results you were hoping for?

Chris: Although it’s a shallow way of answering, I’ll first answer in terms of our numbers. Today, we minister to three times the number of people that we did when we added an instrumental service. We were at about 700 at the time I first started talking about it with the elders, and this spring we ran between 1,700 to 1,800 folks.

To be honest, I think it made us a less “attractive” church to people from Church of Christ backgrounds in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but now we have a wider swath of people from outside the Churches of Christ. Some are people who grew up in other tribes in Christendom but were “de-churched” and re-engaged with God in the context of our church. It didn’t bother us too much to become “less attractive” to those with Church of Christ backgrounds, because there are many solid traditional Churches of Christ in our area that are great options. We were spending more time thinking about those in our culture who might be disengaged with God and most likely not engaged with any kind of church.

And then we have some that didn’t have much of a church background at all, and they didn’t even know instrumental music was an issue. They came in, and it was kind of what they expected — there would be some music and some preaching. <br><br>One of the things we had to stress to our people is not to say to the leadership, “So you think this is a magic bullet!” This by no means is a magic bullet! I mean the only thing worse that bad a cappella is bad instrumental. There are plenty of dead churches with instrumental music.

I don’t think a person from the local community who comes into the life of The Branch leaves on a given Sunday saying “Wow! Wasn’t that music incredible?” For some people, good instrumental music is almost a given, like air conditioning. Nobody in the South leaves talking about how great the air conditioning was. But if it’s not on several weekends in a row, they begin to ask, “Well, I wonder what the deal is here with this?”

So I would say instrumental music expanded our front door as a church.

Rick: Yes, my answer would be similar. In fact, let me just say quickly, Chris is right that Fort Worth is filled with dead churches with bands — so it’s not the magic bullet.

A mistake many churches make is to think, “We’re not healthy, we’re in decline — let’s get a band!” This will not fix anything. You can’t do this unless your leadership is united and you’re healthy. Unless your church has a healthy theology of grace, instrumental music won’t work.

As far as how it has helped us missionally – at the service level it’s opened more doors to our church. We started in 2006, our 50th anniversary. Only 2% of the churches in America that are 50 years old are still growing. We had been about 3,000 for some years, but since then we’ve added 1,000 people. Last Sunday we had 4,400 people in our services. So for a 50-year old church to suddenly start to grow again, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

However, it’s not just that we’ve opened more doors to our church by having worship that is more culturally relevant to some of the people we’re reaching. It is this: every church says that the mission trumps tradition, but when push comes to shove, very few churches do it.

In 2005 we laid out a “2020 Vision” for our church — here’s what we want to do, here’s what we want to accomplish, and we’re serious about this. When we made the instrumental music announcement later in the year, the church said, “I think they’re serious! The mission is going to drive this church!”

Instead, most will say the mission guides a church — but heritage will trump the mission. Tradition will trump the mission. Fear will trump the mission. And so, when our church began to realize we mean it, that we are really going to pursue this mission, they began to think more missionally.

And so, for example, two months ago we announced that we were changing our name from “Richland Hills Church of Christ” to “the Hills Church of Christ” because we wanted a name that did not tie us to a location as we launched other sites of our congregation. So here we are, we’re 54 years old, and we change a 54-year old name, simply by making an announcement — and the whole church is supportive. Makes sense. It fits the mission.

There was a guest preacher of a pretty large mainline Church of Christ with us on vacation that day, and he said, “How do you do that? How can you just stand up and make an announcement to change like that and not get a dozen red flags up?” And I said, “We’ve taught our church that missions trumps around here.”

So I would say that it’s not even so much that you have a different kind of music as the message you send about what prioritizes your agenda; what really trumps around here. That’s what’s key.

Second, our instrumental services are where most of our growth is coming. For those who don’t have a Church of Christ background, that’s almost completely where our growth is coming. I have more unchurched people and I have more baptisms in my 11:30 Sunday morning late service — the instrumental service.

But here is an interesting phenomenon: we have a number of people with non-Church of Christ backgrounds who wound up in our a cappella services. They enjoy the harmonies, and it’s a new experience for them, and yet they would say to you, “I never considered coming until you had the instruments. Now that you’ve proved that it really is just a preference, I’m okay with it.”

Third, one reason we’ve made a conscious decision to start our other campuses entirely instrumental is that instrumental music is the most culturally relevant way to worship. I also think it’s easier to have a pretty dynamic worship experience of 150 to 200 people when you’re starting with an instrumental service.

A cappella music done poorly is not an evangelistic blessing. But when we have 2,000 people at our a cappella 9:00 morning service with a great praise team, I tell you, even if you’re a guest and this is a new thing to you, you come away saying, “Wow!” You may not go out and buy “A Cappella” CD’s, but you will say, “Wow!” But you can’t reproduce that with 200 people.

Chris: That’s exactly right. Especially when you’re starting something new, such as planting churches.

I couldn’t agree with Rick more about the energy in worship. When we started the instrumental service, we started with about 250 folks and the energy level was so much different than having 250 folks in an a cappella service trying to get it going.

This may sound crazy to some, but I actually think it’s a greater challenge to lead an exclusively a cappella worship environment than it is to lead worship with instrumental music. If a cappella is a biblical or doctrinal mandate, then we have no choice but to accept the challenge and to do it with joy. But if it’s not, why not explore an additional option?

Rick: I don’t even know why it is. The campus we are starting on the west side is already meeting at 9:00 in morning. So, tomorrow, I will be preaching live in the auditorium for the a cappella service and at the same time they will be meeting in the youth center, about 220 last week, with a band, the screen will come down, and they will watch me on video. So we’re practicing what we’re going to be doing when we get over there.

I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know why 220 people in the right room with a good band is a pretty cool experience, but that same crowd with a song leader rarely generates the same energy. And if you were just a guest walking in, and church is kind of strange to you, there is no question which one would make you feel more immediately comfortable.

Chris: It’s a cultural concession. There is something about the energy, when it’s done well. I think it’s similar to opening a message with a funny story to loosen people up. Is the funny story “necessary” to the message? No. Does it create an “expanded hearing” for the message? Potentially. I feel the same way about instrumental music at times. Is it necessary to the worship experience? No. Can it be helpful? Potentially.

Rick: I get worn out by people who oppose what we do and they try to baptize it with, well, “We’re just not about entertainment and catering to the culture,” when these same people then send missionaries all over the world and tell them, “Don’t you dare plant an American church. You find out their language. You find out their culture. You plant a church that will reach them.”

Why can’t I have the same freedom to be a missionary in my culture that you’re training your students to do in Africa? That’s all I’m saying.

We know it’s not about entertainment. It’s about being missionaries.

My personal theology is, when you come to church, it needs to be church. So if you come to our church tomorrow, you’re going to see communion, and we’re going to talk Christ, and we’re going to mention blood, and we’re going to say “repent,” and you’re going to be in church. I don’t apologize. I don’t want you leaving and wondering what that was, okay?

But it is on me if you don’t even know what we’re saying because you couldn’t understand the language. I am not going to hide or water down the gospel, but I’m going to give you every possible chance to hear it.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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