Church music

Countryside Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska is a remarkable institution. When we visited a couple of weeks ago, I was immediately impressed by the size and design of its brand new church building. The congregation moved from a previous location to the site of the tri-faith initiative, where a Jewish synagogue, a Muslim community center and a Christian congregation share the same campus and will soon be sharing a community building. The expense of leaving the old building behind and constructing an all new church home was very high - beyond the reach of many congregations - and definitely a stretch for the Countryside congregation. The results are stunning.

The congregation features three worship services each Sunday. One is a traditional service, the second is a jazz service and the third a quiet meditative service. The services feature three different styles of music, each with very talented professional musicians. As a big fan of church music, I’ll tell you what really stood out to me as a first impression: In that brand-new sanctuary is a Fazioli F308 10’2” grand piano. The instrument is clearly one of the world’s greatest pianos, hand-crafted in Sacile, Italy. Such a piano doesn’t come cheap. Our congregation is very proud of our 9’ Bluthner grand piano, but it wasn’t added to our congregation’s musical instruments until more than 40 years after we moved into our building. In defense of our congregation, the first pipe organ, about 2/3 of the existing organ was installed early in the life of the congregation. Countryside, while having clearly made provisions for the installation of a pipe organ has yet to start building their instrument.

What i have seen in new church buildings recently follows one of two patterns. The first, and most common is a building that is not designed for long-term use. These are often steel framed buildings that resemble warehouses on the outside. They are built with large volumes of interior space and outfitted with some of the fixtures one expects in a church building, but they are definitely not cathedrals. They are designed for 25 or 50 years of use with the expectation that the congregation will move beyond the building in that amount of time. You won’t find pipe organs or concert pianos in those buildings. What you will find is theatre-quality sound equipment and space for a small folk or rock band. There will almost always be a drum set in that type of church.

The second pattern for new church buildings is the phase-build building. A design exists for a complete church, but it is not all built at once. The congregation undertakes a series of capital funds drives, adding to the building as funds are raised.

Countryside stands in stark contrast to either pattern. They build from scratch a complete church building designed to be a lasting location for their church. I was told by a member of the building committee that they had invested over 24 million in the building. Our congregation undertook a similar adventure when they moved into our current building in 1959. Our congregation was, at the time, about half the size of Countryside, so they built a smaller building, but the idea was the same: build for the future, using the best materials and techniques available. In the case of our congregation the venture paid off. 60 years later we have a very functional and workable building, no debt, and are freed to engage in significant ministry together.

Again, I am struck by the musical instruments. Music plays a critical role in the life of a congregation. It is more important and deeper than just accompaniment for congregational singing, though singing is important. As long as there have been humans, there has been music. Music is an expression of our spiritual lives. Because humans are a very diverse lot, our music is also very diverse. There are a lot of different styles of music and most styles have found their way into worship experiences. A congregation that ignores music as an essential element in their life, fails to live up to its full potential. Christians are people of the book and we are people of the word, but we are not just people of dry words and dusty books. Our faith is a living faith that is expressed in music.

It is essential to note that there is a place for amateur music in churches. Not all musicians need to be professional in the sense that they are paid for their contributions. The word amateur comes from the same base word as love. Amateurs pursue their passions out of love. An amateur musician is someone who makes music for the love of music. Those musicians bring great quality to church music. Amateur does not need to mean poorly presented. Amateurs are capable of practicing and presenting polished music. Having high standards for musical quality doesn’t mean that people need to be excluded from the program. Rather individuals need to be matched to musical opportunities that are appropriate for their skill level.

Excellent music has been a hallmark of our congregation and one of the reasons we continue to attract new members. There are plenty of congregations that have ignored music in their plans and it almost always is a problem with the long term health of the congregation. A healthy congregation is a musical congregation

There is no magical formula. No one style of music is appropriate for every congregation. In our congregation classical music has long been one of the hallmarks of our worship life. In another congregation it might be jazz or rock or another style of music. Some, like Countryside can have more than one specialty of musical expression.

Our spirits and our music are entwined in a way that can’t be pinned down. Music is an essential part of the life of a congregation. As we continue to plan for our future, may we always keep music in our hearts.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!