Church: UK

Men and Church

According to a survey in the Daily Mail:

They have stood the test of time and it seems that today, despite all the changes to church services, men still prefer to sing ‘proper macho hymns’.

Nearly 60 per cent of those who took part in a survey said they enjoyed singing – but added comments showing they preferred anthemic songs and ‘proclamational’ hymns as opposed to more emotional love songs. (Read the whole article)

While I wouldn’t want to draw too many conclusions from a single survey, I think there are some interesting missional angles to this. One of the arguments that is often given for singing modern songs is that they are more likely to be attractive to visitors, especially those who are not believers. However, I think there is a flaw in this argument. It is undoubtedly true that most men prefer to listen to modern music, but I’m less convinced that this is what they prefer to sing. Communal singing is not a common feature in the life of most English males. However, there is one context in which Englishmen do spontaneously join together to sing – sport’s grounds. It is noticeable that even though music styles have changed over the years, the songs that get blokes singing at football and rugby grounds are big anthemic tunes such as You’ll never walk alone and Guide me oh thou great Jehovah. With this bit of background information, it does make sense that men would find a lot of current worship music to be hard going – it’s not the style they choose to sing.

When we train people to take the Gospel into new cultures we encourage them to study the local culture and to express the message in appropriate linguistic and cultural forms. One of the problems we have in the UK is that this simple lesson is one that we sometimes don’t remember in our home culture. Our intuitive thoughts about what is appropriate in British culture is sometimes not matched by research or experience. This survey is a good example of this – I wonder if any church leaders will take it seriously.

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4 replies on “Men and Church”

Eddie, do I detect a presupposition here that worship in music is about what people prefer to sing, rather than about what pleases and glorifies God, or even what edifies the believer? I know you have tried to bring in a missional note here, and in an evangelistic context it is appropriate to take note of personal preferences. But the survey was of what Christians like to sing, which is not the same as what they ought to be singing.

Anyway, I would want to look closely at thus survey’s methodology before concluding that men prefer to sing old hymns rather than modern worship songs. Could it be that the sheer variety of the latter has skewed the results? If 500 votes for old hymns were spread among 10 hymns but 1000 votes for modern songs were spread among 50 songs, then those 10 old hymns would very likely come top of the poll.

I’d agree about wanting to look at the survey’s methodology, Peter. Indeed that’s why I put a caveat in the piece. However, I think you are setting up straw man in suggesting that I am interested in what people want to sing and not what pleases God or edifies people. I didn’t set out to give a full theology of worship. Of course, we should seek to glorify God and edify one another, but we should also do so in ways which are appropriate to the prevailing culture and that our assumptions about culture may not always be accurate.

“Why should the devil have all the good music?”, as someone said once. Why can’t we sing songs with words that glorify God with music that sounds like it was written this millennium rather than an 80s power ballad? On the other hand, some very modern songs are very hard to sing if you’re not a professional singer, with the complicated rhythms and melodies. A very hard balance to achieve.

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