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Gebhard column: Peace love music, where is the church

Aug. 15-18 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Woodstock festival in upstate New York. Billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music” the concert dished out more than it promised with three days of traffic jams, lack of food (and toilets), and mud. Woodstock forever changed the way we think about popular music.
Due in part to the film about this culture-transforming concert, Woodstock’s mythological status in pop culture grips our attention to this day.
This concert and the changes in American pop music that followed transformed American culture. Pop music, and how it was perceived, radically changed as a result of Woodstock. Rock music became big business and rock concerts became the most important venue for seeing and experiencing music. Attending a rock concert became the new decoder ring. Admittance to “the club” was guaranteed. Baby boomers took center stage in the ethos of the culture ó for better and for worse. Bowing to the tastes of this demographic led media conglomerates to tailor what was seen, read and heard. It was not all good, to say the least.
But here’s what gets me: The church is still living in a pre-Woodstock era. The post-Woodstock age brought pop culture to the fore of society and new technologies exploited this interest. Smaller record players were developed, cassettes became the storage medium of choice, and new visual media (lighting for shows, projectors at concerts) emerged out of the desire to satisfy the tastes of the new “youth culture” aka “consumers.”
But how many churches in 2009 utilize technologies for presenting the gospel? There are those churches who use projectors for worship and whose services include so-called contemporary music. (So-called because most of it is now almost 20 years old.) What about the other bazillion congregations? Most congregations’ worship services and social networks look exactly like they did pre-Woodstock while the culture at-large has moved WAY beyond us. Most of us accept the prevalence of iPhones, iPods, notebook computers, and Facebook but the absence of these common-place devices in our churches tells me something is wrong.
Very, very wrong.
This Sunday, take a look around the sanctuary and do a quick inventory. (Non-denominational, fast-growing churches can sit this out.) What percentage of your congregation is under 50? 40? 30? 20? My assumption, based on national statistics, is that the answer will be very low in each category. Do you want to change things? Then change how you do church, change how you present the gospel, change for God’s sake!
If you had the chance to hold a festival that would reach out to younger people, and this festival was going to be “3 days of peace and music” of the Christian faith, and you wanted to attract as many people as humanly possible, would you hold this event in your sanctuary or would you find the most-appealing, coolest place and use the best technology available? See you in the mud.
The Rev. Doug Gebhard is interim pastor at John Calvin Presbyterian Church.

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