Music use in churches has increasingly become a descent to the lowest common denominator. The intentions may be good: the overriding goal is to make public worship accessible to "outsiders" or non-Christian visitors. The consequence has been a turning to "pop music" as the appropriate musical idiom for the public worship of the Living God. This is a short-sighted mistake.
Pop music is like pop psychology--superficial, bland, inconsequential. Music which is popular is that which can be played as background music in shopping malls. It is soporific, calming, pleasing, entertaining--without demanding concentration, work, or undivided attention. As T. David Gordon puts it:
For commercial reasons . . . pop culture and pop music cannot be either beautiful or ugly; pop music must be easy and therefore it must be fairly inconsequential. [Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), p. 67.]But--and here is the problem--how does such music (which has its own place and utility) fit appropriately into public worship of the Almighty God? The music and lyrics employed in worship must be fit for purpose. They ought to reflect what worship is. If worship were fairly inconsequential, pop music idioms would be entirely appropriate. But it is not; and pop idioms are not.
But now, is worship inconsequential, trivial, or insignificant? Is meeting with God a casual, inconsequential activity, or a significant one? Is religious faith itself insignificant? If the music or lyrics of our hymns are insignificant or inconsequential, do they not send the wrong meta-message? . . . The lyrics of a hymn might say, "Holy, holy, holy," but the music might say, "Ho-hum, ho-hum, ho-hum." In such a case, the meta-message competes with and contradicts the message.To be sure, pop music can be thoroughly enjoyable, as can a racy detective novel. Both have the quality of escapist relaxation--entirely appropriate at the right time and place. Public worship is not one of those times or places.
Neil Postman rightly said: "I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether." So what is at stake is the kind of religion presented in music that is easy, trivial, light, inconsequential, mundane, or everyday.
The very existence of the expression sacred music once conveyed the notion that some music was different from other music, intentionally different, different precisely because it was devoted to a sacred (not common) cause. (Gordon, ibid., p. 68)