The Future of the Organ for Church Worship
Bob Dylan, the 1960’s folk artist, musician and songwriter, wrote a famous song entitled, “The Times, They are a Changing.” It was a song about the social unrest and 1960’s upheaval in our society. The following is a picture of the lyrics to the song.
Any good student of history knows the context in which that song was written. The rebellious, anti-authoritarian movement had hit the streets in America with some positive changing of the guard but also some very destructive cultural shifts that would affect the moral, spiritual and social climate of our land for generations to come. While this writer is not a proponent of what the movement was about, the title is provocative enough to “wake up” to the changing nature of church music and how that music is used in the corporate worship life of the modern church.
There’s no question that church music has changed dramatically during the past 100 years. Prior to the 1960’s, the church organ was always the primary instrument leading the musical parts of the service. Certain Pentecostal groups utilized other instrumentation, as did revival based movements, but for hundreds of years the organ was always the primary tool for worship music. Large churches had very large and complex organs with extravagant pipes and sounds while small churches had smaller pump organs and eventually electronic organs with limited sound capability. Some organs are somewhere in between the two. Since I am not familiar with the exact nature of a particular church’s organ I cannot comment on its capability. But for example, here at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, our organ does have MIDI capability which we use for programming services when our organist is away. For MIDI capable organs, you can buy a “box” that you can record MIDI songs in and have them play your organ by simply the touch of a button. When our organist is away, he can pre-record the hymns and service music and appoint someone to play the selections at the appropriate times in the service. He also can select prerecorded selections by Bach and others for preludes and postludes.
But I digress. The bottom line is that since the 1960’s church music has drastically changed as has church instrumentation. Organists, cantors, and choirs have been replaced by worship teams consisting of singers, guitars, keyboards, bass and drums and if lucky strings and horns in the larger churches. While larger churches may still have a choir, many newer style churches have worship teams from simple duo’s to larger sets of instrumentalists and singers.
To understand these shifts in musical style, instrumentation, and content selection, we have to mention the changes in church worship theology that have combined with these musical shifts.
Worship Movements Shifts
In the past 50 years, there have been several key changes that have affected how churches worship and the associated instrumentation that is used in facilitating that worship.
1.The Pentecostal Movement- from the early 1900’s through the 20thCentury. Worship was and driven including horns, woodwinds, strings, and piano.
- Four Square Churches
- Assemblies of God Churches
- Open Bible Churches
2.The Folk Mass Movementof the 1960’s-Roman Catholic Church. Worship was acoustic guitar driven sometimes with several guitars. “Think John Denver!”
3.The Charismatic Movement- 1960’s and 1980’s. The beginnings of the modern worship Team with guitars (mostly acoustic), tambourines, electronic bass, electronic keyboard, singers, drums.
4.The PTL and Television Ministry Movement. Along with worship bands, tracts and special music singers and songs are included as a more “entertainment based” approach to church worship developed. Talented singers sang special songs to inspire worship and support the message/movement.
- PTL- Jim Baker
- Jimmy Swaggart
- Billy Graham Crusades
- Robert Schuler
5.The Willow Creek Movement-This was the most impactful shift in regards to how the church worships. Coming out of Willow Creek Church and Pastor Bill Hybels in the Chicago area was an attempt to change the Paradigm of how the church worships on Sunday Morning. Instead of the Saints gathered together worshipping God, the Sunday Service was viewed as the Church’s opportunity to evangelize and target “seekers.” In order to do that, the worship service was revamped to be relevant, non-offensive, and attractive to worldly minded people who then were exposed to the gospel through music, drama, lifestyle and motivational based preaching and teaching. Along with that dramatic change came the change in musical styles and approach. The organ was completely removed along with any images and references to “offensive” symbols and Christian imagery like the cross, the blood, churchy type relics and furniture. Even the architecture changed to a theatre style auditorium and the music was more of a performance based approach by professional musicians.
6.The Modern Church- Today, the impact from the Willow Creek approach can be seen all around. Rock bands with smoke and fog, and special lighting. These facilitate an environment of loud, pumping rhythms that at one time would have been viewed as sacrilegious. They are typical fair at many churches in auditorium style sanctuaries with sound systems and acoustics that approach and even surpass Carnegie Hall. Some of these churches do not even have a piano let alone an organ. Pastors no longer preach from a pulpit or lectern and the service utilizes high tech video for sermon notes, worship song lyrics, and video clips and announcements. Some churches have such elaborate stages that rise up out of the ground from an invisible place and return back down at the end of the singing. At these style churches, the pastor is not dressed in liturgical wear or even a suit and shirt with a tie but in jeans and a casual shirt. My, how the times are a changin!
With all these changes, what does the future hold? Is the traditional church dead? Is the organ gone? Are we left with only one type of church? How does this affect the choice we make for building the worship life of a church? While these “modern” style churches dominate the religious landscape, many millennial Christians seek something different. The “big box’ churches may attract the masses but many young Christians have grown weary of the high tech entertainment based worship and seek something with deeper ties to historical Christianity. They want to know about the church seasons, the colors, the traditions that are rich in meaning and purpose. While they enjoy some of the modern music and worship they seek a different worship connection that is not found in the modern style church. They seek ritual with meaning, worship with connection to the living God, multi-generational fellowship, and a liturgy rich with scripture, purpose, and depth. They also seek preaching and teaching that goes beyond what Michael Horton names as “individualistic self-help therapeutic deism.” They want to know a God who transcends the culture that we are so immersed within.
That’s where I wanted to get to in regards to formulating a worship life, style, and approach for your church. I believe that you don’t have to throw out the baby with the bath water nor do you have to eliminate the traditional while incorporating the newer when it comes to worship music in the church. Some would say that the organ is dead and has no place in modern worship but I disagree. You can formulate a wonderful and rich worship experience utilizing different styles, instrumentation, and methods by seeking out the musical gifts and talents both within your congregation and from outside sources. I understand that finding a good church organist is hard given the nature of the church and where things are at today. Organists are not lining up for jobs and many organists are not easily adaptable to a changing worship culture. Finding an organist who is willing to “give and take” is certainly a challenge. Many organists are “purists” when it comes to organ music making the challenge even more difficult. They are Kings and Queens of their domain and will certainly let you know that very thing!
I know that most what I have shared is common knowledge. But it is a good reminder of why we are where we are and hopefully provides a foundation for discussion of where a church may need to go in the future when it comes to formulating a church worship music identity. With the right attitudes and willingness to work towards a common purpose (which by the way is a worshipping church: people engaging with God through singing and praising), any church can revamp and revitalize its congregational participation and connection in worship.
Replacing the Organist
If your church finds itself without a regular organist or musical team, one option that many are not aware of is replacing the organist with either a weekly organ service or an “organ in a box.” The advantages are several.
- Pastoral control over weekly content
- Accurate and professional sounding organ led worship
- Diversity in styles and hymnal access
While it is great to have a good church organist they are, like I said, not easy to find. This option allows for versatility and dependability when good organists cannot be acquired. I have included some copies of materials with both an organ service and “organ” in a box. I have both spoken with the Church Music Solutions folks and have seen it used in a neighboring church. The service that they provide is really quite good and versatile. Using a tablet plugged into the PA system, the selections are made each week and put together on the tablet. Someone then simply presses the start button for each selection and the tablet plays through the pa system the selection. Organ sounds and styles can be selected along with the songs. The Web Site for this service is
If your organ utilizes “MIDI” technology then it can directly play your organ! That is what the neighboring church does. I don’t know that your organ has that technology. The cost is $45.00 per week which is usually much less than a paid organist. You go online each week, choose the hymns you will be using from different hymnals, what settings, and they will send you the downloads of digital music onto your tablet. You simply open up the app on the tablet and the service is laid out for you. Just hit start and stop. It’s that simple.
The gentleman’s name I spoke with at the company is Roland Kreke and his number is (618) 975-8435. He was very helpful and can walk with you through the process. They have Lutheran Hymnals, the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal and others.
The other option is the organ in a box option. These are digital hymn players and are limited to the quality of the sounds in the box. The best one I heard was the HT-400US but is a little pricy, like buying a keyboard. It is priced at $2,499.00. In addition, you will need an extra battery at $99.00, Typing Keyboard at $50.00, and a case at $70.00. There are cheaper models but the quality drops as you go down. You can listen to these online. I have included data sheets with web sites and prices at the end of this packet.
Ideas on Building Your Worship Team
The issues with smaller churches, especially aging congregations, is “where do we get talented people to be a part of the worship team?” I’d like to close out this short article with a few ideas for where to find people to assist in developing your musical team.
- Find unknown talents within the congregation. You will be surprised at what you might find.
- Contact the local Christian schools and the local high school. Place an add there asking for talented people to help build a worship team
- Facebook and Twitter. Send out requests for people to help start a worship team
- Craigslist. I see ads all the time on craigslist for worship teams.
- Any local seminaries or bible colleges. This is also a great place to look.
- Local colleges or universities. Place an ad on their ad board, especially if you can compensate to find a worship leader who plays guitar or keyboards.
- Relatives and friends of congregational members. Put out the need and see what God brings. You never know. Someone has a relative or friend that plays guitar or keys or some other instrument.
The most important thing of all is to begin praying as a church for God to bring the right people. You will be surprised (but you shouldn’t be!) at what God does. Make this a matter of corporate prayer for the whole church. Start thinking outside the box. “How can we facilitate the best worship fitting who we are?” Make it a matter of spiritual direction and corporate prayer. GOD WILL PROVIDE WHAT YOU NEED ACCORDING TO HIS RICHES IN GLORY!
Romans 15:13-1513May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 14I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.