Worship and music have always been an integral part of both the Christian and Jewish faith. We have 150 Psalms as part of a sacred writ in Scripture that demonstrates this point. Truly, we were created by God to love and enjoy Him, and by implication, to worship and adore Him forever.
That being said, some people in the modern Church movement have gone a step further and made worship music the central point in their Sunday services. Many popular movements have even branded their ministries more on their worship than on their preaching and teaching.
This is nothing new. Decades ago I realized that many churches have prioritized the funding of a choir/worship leader over that of a youth pastor. Many churches are more known for their gospel choirs/worship bands than for any other component of their congregational service.
This shift towards music has created a new phenomenon that I am calling, “the concert-driven church.” Many people in this movement have built up such a branding based on their amazing worship performances. They can open up a church and have thousands in attendance in a few months. (Of course, most of it is transfer growth from other smaller feeder churches.)
This ability to build a church solely on branding means that these churches do not have to do the hard work of contextualization and incarnation. They neglect the task of learning the nuances of the surrounding culture and do not put time into allowing the community residents to get to know them and their leaders before they launch a church plant.
This new phenomenon has discouraged many church planters, who wonder if they should pay the price to practice the incarnational approach.
I will now give a typical scenario practiced by a particular large contemporary church as an example of why the concert-driven church model frustrates many pastors. (I am intentionally leaving the name out of this movement, so as to not exacerbate or elicit a judgmental attitude towards them.)
These concert-driven churches will start by having “worship” concerts in a major city, which they heavily promote on social media. To reach their target audience (other Christians who are usually already committed to attending other churches on Sunday mornings), they would usually schedule their concert for a Sunday evening. As a result, huge crowds of Christians would show up to their weekly inspirational concerts. After about six months, or when they perceive they have reached a tipping point, they “suddenly” announce to the thousands of concert-goers that they are opening a church while encouraging them to come to their services. This process is repeated in other major cities and garner huge crowds. Some of these churches end up having multiple campuses with thousands in attendance in a very short period of time. This is an example of huge church growth through branding without the process of contextualizing their community.
Unfortunately, while their church movement grows, the Kingdom is not initially enlarged because these churches are planted with attendees from other churches (usually without the input and cooperation of the pastors affected by their people’s migration to this megachurch movement). I am stating facts. I have seen it done in NYC and heard from many others regarding the same things being done in other major cities. I am not trying to judge the motives of the leaders of these kinds of church movements, but I have every right to compare their principles to biblical models.
The following are attributes of the concert-driven church:
1. They build a church by attracting other Christians.
As was already mentioned, their target audience is initially not the un-churched, but the low hanging fruit of those already in churches who already listen to the concert-driven church’s worship music.
2. They build mega-churches through their branding.
Since these churches already have years of successful branding behind their names, they can usually open up a church, with thousands in attendance because they can guarantee a great worship experience.
3. Believers are initially attracted through the visceral experience of the concert.
People flock to these churches for a visceral experience, not primarily to hear a sermon, or to assimilate and serve in a church body (unless it’s to join the illustrious worship team). Hence, they are attracted to a powerful musical experience, along with the presence of Christ, more than to learning and growing in the knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
4. The program is the focus more than discipleship.
Although these kinds of churches may have some small affinity groups, the effective discipleship that comes from one on one mentoring is not generally systematized in these large church movements. They usually grow too large, too quickly, to keep up with the scale that discipleship focused churches demand. However, some churches may provide theological training or teaching during mid-week services to which a small percentage of their church usually attends. (I base this opinion on conversations with other leaders familiar with the concert-driven church movement.)
5. The teaching is meant to motivate more than to mature.
Usually, the messages are less than thirty minutes and are geared towards encouraging people. Hence, much of the Sunday teaching is pablum to accommodate the large crowds’ mixed multitudes. Most don’t attend for the teaching anyway. However, after a year or so, those hungry to grow in the Word may look elsewhere for spiritual meat.
6. There is much turnover in attendance.
Generally, any church or movement that grows rapidly will also have a high rate of transition and change in attendees and staff because it is hard to provide enough shepherds and small groups to meet all the needs of the people.
7. The standards for serving are not high.
To keep up with the scale of growth, generally, it will be a challenge for these churches to properly vet those who serve in the ministry. Consequently, it is usually not as difficult to volunteer to minister in such a church unless it demands a specific type of giftedness (like being on the worship team or being a pastor). It would not be a surprise if the percentage of those serving in these churches, who indulge in immoral lifestyles, is higher than other churches with a different approach to ministries (such as the incarnational, the parish, the missional, and the New Testament apostolic model.)
8. The focus is the franchise.
To keep a tight rein and protect these concert-driven church movements’ DNA, the mother church often controls all the finances and major leadership decisions. The mother church also usually employs a strict system of assessing the lead pastors and churches’ performance under their umbrella. Hence, the focus is the franchise, more than the uniqueness of each church campus or community.
9. There is rarely a stand taken on cultural issues.
The pastors of these campuses will rarely, if ever, take a stand on controversial cultural issues like abortion, homosexuality, and transsexuality. They will often not give a direct answer to a question regarding these hot topics but will instead say something to this effect, “We take each case on an individual basis.”
10. There is little accountability.
I know of believers who do not want to be held accountable or mentored because they do not want anyone to correct them or speak into their lives. Often, these believers will go to a concert-driven church where they can enjoy the presence of God without being accountable to the personal Lordship of Christ. (I am not saying that every attendee in concert driven churches are like this.)
In conclusion, do I think the concert-driven church is the best biblical model? Obviously not. Anyone who reads my articles or read my book, “Essays in Apostolic Leadership,” knows the answer to this question. I am especially negative regarding the way many concert-driven churches start on the backs of other churches. However, despite my concerns, I do believe that God is using them to spread the gospel and expose many unsaved to the love and presence of Christ, (especially after a church they launch grows large and garners much attention with secular media). They also can bring many cultural elites and celebrities to faith. The big question is whether those who attend the concert-driven church will become mature Christ-followers who will adequately represent Jesus and positively affect this world.