And the Grammy Goes to...God
The stage is glowing under red and purple lights. The man at the sound board in the back listens intently as he checks the sound levels. A strum of the base. Tune. Strum again. Anticipation fills the room as the band steps on the stage and the electronic countdown nears 0:00.
Welcome to church.
This is the Holy City. More churches per square mile than any other city of its size in the country. But if you’re thinking that means only humming politely along to grandma’s hymns, think again. Charleston is filled with churches with progressive music programs, putting contemporary music in the forefront.
Contemporary church music is simply relevant to today’s culture, in hopes that people will take more away from it. Just like the traditional hymnals were relevant to their time (several carry the tunes from popular pub songs from back then), so is this music relevant to today, although the message of the music remains constant.
Seacoast Church has one of the most contemporary music programs around, which no doubt has a lot to do with the hundreds of people clamoring for seats every Sunday. The main band, referred to as the Worship Team, is comprised of hugely talented musicians. With sounds similar to popular groups Muse and Radiohead, they turn church from obligatory-to-some to a real pleasure. After waiting in a line of people staked out to talk to the band members (like getting back stage at a rock concert), we sat down with the Worship Pastor, Martin Chalk. We were a little giddy to meet the Scottish guitarist and lead singer, who has the voice (truly) of an angel, not to mention that star quality. But he’s as humble and approachable as a person could be. He quickly erases the perception of “christian celebrity rockstar” as he explains that the music is not a performance, not a “hey, look at us;” rather, it’s about helping people experience God and worship through song. He’s sincere and inspiring in everything he says, acknowledging that the band considers it a privilege to use the talents they’ve been blessed with and that the music is just “an expression of love within.” Better still? They utilize local musicians, auditioning several new people each week who come to get involved. And if you’re not feeling the music in the main Worship Center, you can check out different bands in the church’s other venues, including a more traditional service with acoustic stylings in The Chapel, and a younger/louder appeal in The Warehouse. Producing more and more original songs (Martin writes several), Seacoast continues to raise its music bar, set very high in the sky indeed.
St. Andrews Church is another popular church-going spot with music that will keep you coming back. Set in a more traditional church setting, the band sits to the side of the alter, simply filling the room with music. This is a great spot for people who love a traditional setting but want more of a contemporary experience through music and message (like, “Who needs church when you have an iPod?”). Dwight, who heads up the Worship Band and provides the lead vocals, has a booming voice and will keep you singing “…nothing is impossible…” long after the service ends.
All of these churches, and many more, recognize the importance of music to a service because music is one of those universal things that all people can connect to. Music unites. Unites us with our feelings. With each other. And, for some, with the Big Man himself.