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Where are we headed as organists and churchmen? What is our future?

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  • #16
    So this is my take... I went to church as a young child because my mother took me. Every Sunday. It was a good sized church (500 families) and it became a social focus as well as a religious focus. One of my very best friends to this day grew up with me in that church. My first couple of girlfriends were from that church. Church was right behind school in the importance of things in life. Organ? What organ? The organ was an Odell. 10 ranks maybe. Hitch down Swell expression (broken). I knew nothing of that. We would have gone there even if there was no organ at all. I sang in the choir with my age peers, I played violin ins school and I had some piano training and music theory from a neighborhood teacher for a year. I played the organ for church because it was there and needed to be played by somebody, not because it was an inspiring instrument. The organ was loud, that was it's qualification. There was no piano there capable of supporting 400 adults in full cry (and people sang in those days!). I say this again, and again, and again, and I admit that I may have a bias, but I firmly believe that churches thrived and grew in the 1940's, 50's, 60's and even 70's because of two reasons only: a critical mass of like minded Christians that supported each other socially and spiritually, and/OR an outstanding musical presentation built around an outstanding pipe (or digital) instrument with supporting musical involvement of choir(s), handbells, other instruments and musicians. The VAST majority of pipe and digital instruments built by organ companies should function strictly as hymn accompaniment only. Of course they don't. They are pushed to be more than that, but most are not, in and of themselves capable, of furthering the mission of the Protestant Church to win and retain souls for Jesus Christ.

    There is no way that a church in possession of a multi-million dollar 80 rank instrument would consign it to irrelevance out of hand. Simply no way. Even if digital, a four manual organ, with all the trimmings would command more respect than to be dismissed to the support of a Praise Band Music Ministry. But those little (and large) two manual things... I used to live a mile from the Rodgers factory in Hillsboro, OR. Every organ west of the Hillsboro factory, right out to the Pacific Ocean is a Rodgers and every one of them is less than 26 stops. I won't even say ranks. It's even uglier when considered on a rank basis. Dozens of very forgettable instruments if you are not a die hard organ aficionado. There are only two exceptions I know of: a hybrid instrument in Beaverton, OR, and a newer all digital instrument, also in Beaverton, OR. Rodgers got these instruments built because they made arrangements with the churches to seriously lowball the sale price for the advertisement potential of having 'flagship' instruments in noteworthy religious institutions. These churches thrived because the Christians that attended them valued their community. They would thrive even with the small instruments they had, but having a much bigger instrument could not be a bad thing, in my opinion. As society fractures and people begin to pull apart over racial, ideological, class and other bifurcations, the churches that do not have the glue of a front line, truly front line, musical instrument (organ) to galvanize their focus look for other inspiration(s). Their organs are neglected, sold off... discarded... other instruments are elevated, that's where we are now. Sad.

    The social and economic changes that have led to the decline of church attendance might have happened anyway, but, and again I admit a bias, again I don't think the decline would be as steep and there would not be so many neglected and/or discarded pipe and digital organs around if so many of them weren't so... discardable. As organists we were indoctrinated to do more with less and I have become an absolute wizard with pistons to be able to play standard literature that assumes at least three manuals and 45 ranks on instruments with only two manuals and half the rank count. We did this for so long that it became the accepted norm and organists that urged their churches to invest in truly substantial instruments were just seen as greedy or entitled. You only have two arms, why do you want or need three manuals? <confused>

    I became a church musician to serve my church. Period. Our organist's health failed in my teens and she passed away not long after. I played organ and directed choirs (four) there for 15 years and never thought much about whether I was a good organist or not. I became as good as she was. I thought that was good enough. Well into my 20's I was not even playing at the 8 Little Preludes and Fugues level but I didn't know that. I left because the organ had become so neglected that I couldn't play it anymore and I started to look for other church work. That's when I found out how unprepared I was for the really interesting instruments. I still am but I am a lot further advanced in conception, if not in execution of more advanced repertoire. I have a number of young people at the church where I play who are studying piano. None are interested in taking up the organ. I play a really wide variety of organ repertoire and it isn't that these kids are into rock and roll or anything like that. They are very classical and I give them plenty of opportunity to play their recital pieces on the church's excellent baby grand piano. I could shake things up a bit (pun intended) with a couple of 32' digital extensions and I know they have the money, but they say they are not interested in putting any more money into the organ. They won't last.

    The huge irony is that on YouTube you can now find just about every single major work of the organ repertoire played by a frontline organist and some passionate amateurs. Some good instruments too. On a site like Contrebomarde, players and builders of Virtual Pipe Organs are recording organ literature directly from the soundcards of their instruments to solid state hard drives for upload to the cloud and then streaming to your computer. High quality organ playing right to your ears without leaving home. Maybe we need Virtual Churches. VR goggles required I'm afraid.

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    • #17
      Admin,

      "Surely you jest."

      You took the words right out of my mouth.

      Tom

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      • #18
        Originally posted by Leisesturm View Post
        The VAST majority of pipe and digital instruments built by organ companies should function strictly as hymn accompaniment only.
        I'm flabbergasted and dismayed by such a proclamation! That's about as kind as I can be in this response to your statement. While you are entitled to your opinion, I doubt that it's shared by very many competent church organists and theologians. In addition to accompanying hymn singing at our church, our 86 rank 5 manual pipe organ is used for preludes and postludes for every regular worship service. Several times a year it is the solo instrument for concerts of classical religious works. Then it is also used in concert programs with full symphony orchestra several times a year with and without the choir. And of course it beautifully enhances the meditative interludes during communion services, weddings and funeral services... all within the spirit of the stated mission of the church. What a terrible thing it would be if its beautiful voices were confined to hymn accompaniment only. Fortunately, your narrow view in this regard seems to be less than generally accepted. I hope it remains so.
        Roger Memphis
        C-3 with O-M, 145, 122RV, 2 PR-40's, PSR-36
        CV with HR-40, 2 B-40's

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        • #19
          I feel you are barking up the wrong tree. The organ is going out with the coming generations because it continous to be associated with the organised religion. And organised religion is where the politics and money is driving it. Unless they are fanatics young people don't want anything to do with that. And fanatics don't care about the organ, they care about the politics. So unless we get the organ separated fron religion it is going the way of the dodo.

          So yes, I admit the great debt the organ has to religion to bring it where it is today but if we want it to prosper we have to cut those ties.

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          • #20
            Originally posted by Havoc View Post
            The organ is going out with the coming generations because it continous to be associated with the organised religion. And organised religion is where the politics and money is driving it. Unless they are fanatics young people don't want anything to do with that. And fanatics don't care about the organ, they care about the politics. So unless we get the organ separated fron religion it is going the way of the dodo.
            Cameron Carpenter has expressed a similar opinion and I totally agree.
            -Admin

            Allen 965
            Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
            Zuma Group DM Midi Stop Controller
            Hauptwerk 4.2

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            • #21
              Originally posted by Roger Memphis View Post
              I'm flabbergasted and dismayed by such a proclamation! That's about as kind as I can be in this response to your statement. While you are entitled to your opinion, I doubt that it's shared by very many competent church organists and theologians. In addition to accompanying hymn singing at our church, our 86 rank 5 manual pipe organ is used for preludes and postludes for every regular worship service. Several times a year it is the solo instrument for concerts of classical religious works. Then it is also used in concert programs with full symphony orchestra several times a year with and without the choir. And of course it beautifully enhances the meditative interludes during communion services, weddings and funeral services... all within the spirit of the stated mission of the church. What a terrible thing it would be if its beautiful voices were confined to hymn accompaniment only. Fortunately, your narrow view in this regard seems to be less than generally accepted. I hope it remains so.
              Roger Memphis
              I am very sorry. In the heat of the moment I left out a KEY qualifier to the statement you have taken such exception to. I meant to say the vast majority of organs under ~15 ranks in size should be limited mainly to hymn accompaniment. Such organs arguably are the majority of organs produced. There isn't any way I could credibly suggest that an organ such as yours should only accompany hymns! I find it discouraging when just about every collection of hymn preludes/offertories/postludes I own use registration, with very few exceptions, designed to be executed on a 3 manual organ. I've succeeded some very fine organists at some of the churches I've played and more than a few of them given an instrument with zero memory levels, two manuals, no mutations or mixtures... given instruments like that they play it safe and trot out Bach and other Baroque Masters week after week and leave English music like Vaughan Williams or Percy Whitlock alone as it is just not worth the hassle to try and adapt to two manuals. The congregation gets numbed, the organist gets numbed. When I have a Sunday free or I want to take in an afternoon recital I am more likely to go to the church with a 3 or 4 manual instrument, even though there are some fine smaller instruments made.

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              • #22
                Originally posted by Havoc View Post
                I feel you are barking up the wrong tree. The organ is going out with the coming generations because it continous to be associated with the organised religion. And organised religion is where the politics and money is driving it. Unless they are fanatics young people don't want anything to do with that. And fanatics don't care about the organ, they care about the politics. So unless we get the organ separated fron religion it is going the way of the dodo.

                So yes, I admit the great debt the organ has to religion to bring it where it is today but if we want it to prosper we have to cut those ties.
                One thing and one thing only will ensure the continuance of the organ, pipe or digital, as a viable musical instrument: their value has got to come more into line with the scale of 21st Century economics. The budget for the new organ at St. Thomas 5th Ave. was $10M and last I knew that hadn't changed. New large instruments by front line builders routinely top $5M. That is not sustainable. To get an instrument ~$50K a church would have to forgo a pipe instrument... or should. But pipe organ companies hard sell churches to consider a pipe instrument as the better choice and then accept a 9 rank instrument vs the possible 40+ rank instrument they might get from a digital organ company. I don't know how they are going to do it, 3D printing maybe, but future organbuilders are going to have to figure out how to make a LOT of organ available at fantastically low prices and actually make a profit doing it. If they cannot, or will not do that... the organ will go the way of the harpsichord.

                Tastes change but there is still a HUGE installed base of organ music lovers that ain't dead yet. The association with religious institutions, in America at least, is actually a good thing! I go to hear jazz and six musicians have to split the take from 50 people. An organist playing for a struggling church still has 3x that number of people coming to his or her 'gig' and s/he gets paid a flat fee and only has to share it with substitutes and maybe not even then. But I think the job of the working church musician would be a lot easier if s/he had a couple of 32' digital extensions to shake some salvation into the faithful now and then.
                Last edited by Leisesturm; 07-27-2017, 02:21 PM.

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                • #23
                  Originally posted by Leisesturm View Post
                  One thing and one thing only will ensure the continuance of the organ, pipe or digital, as a viable musical instrument: their value has got to come more into line with the scale of 21st Century economics.
                  My take on this is that at the moment the future of pipe organs in churches is looking very bleak, as has already been expressed in this thread. I write as a retired Anglican minister in Sydney, but one who is deeply conscious of the way beauty in sight and sound can enhance the worship experience. Once a month I choose to go to a very High Church service in a fairly local church, as respite from what I experience the rest of the month in my home church (yes, I grew up there many years ago), and where I play the organ twice a month. At least the organ is still used for the early Holy Communion service, but our numbers there are dwindling badly. Not so for later on the Sunday. That organ (an analogue, electronic) replaced a small, unsatisfactory pipe organ in 1980. In fact, I designed and made it, for Electrical Engineering was my background before studying for the ministry and proceeding to ordination. 18 months ago I brought it into the 21st Century by MIDIfying it and it is now a VPO using jOrgan to deliver sounds of what was one of Sydney's finest pipe organs until it was destroyed along with its church 10 years ago in a fire.

                  I am deeply committed to making samples sets of the highest quality for jOrgan using 6 seconds dry recordings, with excellent, adjustable reverberation provided using software. I am very fussy as to what sounds I hear from a pipe organ substitute, having learnt to play years ago on that old tracker pipe organ which my instrument replaced. For the first time after playing pipe organ substitutes for 60 years, I am at last satisfied with what I am hearing. I am convinced that good VPO's hold the key for increasing and maintaining interest in the pipe organ, for they make possible the playing of high quality organ sounds in one's own home and at minimal cost.

                  John Reimer

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                  • #24
                    Originally posted by Leisesturm View Post
                    . . . I meant to say the vast majority of organs under ~15 ranks in size should be limited mainly to hymn accompaniment. Such organs arguably are the majority of organs produced.
                    My former parish had a II/9 Moller - 4 general pistons, no reversibles, but it had one mixture and good reeds. I was able to play the Mendelssohn Sonata I on this organ in concert as well as the Franck Chorale No 3 in E Minor. Requires judicious use of the crescendo pedal and careful choreography of adding or subtracting stops while playing on the manuals.

                    I was the organist in that church for 34 years - Vaughan Williams, Whitlock, Fletcher ... you name it, I was able to adapt to that organ. I never wanted to snub my congregation from getting to appreciate the finer pieces of organ literature.

                    I moved on last year to a much larger church and organ . . . albeit still 2 manuals, I have not yet found that any hindrance to the music I select for preludes, offertories and postludes.

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                    • #25
                      Awesome discussion going on here! My rant was rather impromptu, and sprang from a conversation I'd recently had with someone in a church where I am scheduled to work on the organ. He rather innocently asked me, since there is currently a problem with the organ's audio system, if I could give him a mono mix signal to run into the sound board and eliminate the need for the organ's own speakers. I gave him the customary answer -- that it can be done, but that it is wrong on many levels. Removes the organist's ability to control his own instrument. Makes a monophonic instrument out of one that's supposed to have numerous discrete channels projected independently. Stuffs the organ sound into the house system, which is unsuited for properly dispersing it. And so on down the list.

                      All part of the growing trend of dumbing-down the music in the church. The folks who are forcing the organ to serve simply as a background pad for the band, who evidently regard the ungodly howls of electric guitar "solos" as more reverent than a moving tune on the organ's beautiful strings and solo stops -- well, I just don't know what to say. I assume that folks like this have never actually heard a real organ. If their only experience with the organ is what they hear on the radio, as a background instrument in a rock band, then that's what they think the organ is for. But this is nuts. Totally crazy.

                      Perhaps I shouldn't have used the term "authentic" in reference to "traditional" music (though even the definition of "traditional" is up for grabs). Perhaps I should've just honestly said "music that I like." No doubt the music I like and think is appropriate at church may not exactly line up with what someone else would want. But at least there was a more general agreement before this nonsense all got started. In the Baptist churches I grew up attending, we at least held a common body of traditional hymns -- basically the contents of the Baptist Hymnal -- that you could count on hearing in any Baptist church anywhere you went. There were always the outliers, the Stamps-Baxter churches, the Southern Gospel Quartet churches, but they were the exceptions. Nowadays, the exception is to find a church where they still sing any hymns at all, where they still have a choir, where they have an organ.

                      Thus my sense of despair. Partly over the loss of the organ as a real instrument, but generally the loss of respect for our history, our heritage, our ancient roots. Like the current disdain for science in some quarters, there is a disdain for "real" music in favor of any kind of noise that anyone can make without the bother of musical training.
                      John
                      ----------
                      *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

                      https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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                      • #26
                        John, have you ever considered writing a book? I'm serious! You so eloquently express yourself in every post that you make here on the forum. I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

                        What a tempestuous issue we have here! So many opinions and so much good information and food for thought in everyone's posts. I can't really add much to what has been said except that in my own heart, I love to worship my Lord, and I'll use whatever method available to do that, as long as it draws me closer to Him. That being said, we must consider those around us in ALL age groups - young through old. We know that many young people will probably never relate to a pipe organ, but at the same time we cannot ignore the reality of the generation of those of us who grew up with this wonderful instrument in our churches. As I've always said, we need a balance of both in our worship services, and all of it needs to be in line with the Word of God so that the gospel message is not distorted but rather magnified. Our ultimate goal is grow in our walk with Christ through the solid preaching and teaching of the Word, and then we must also reach our communities with the gospel message. If we can use organ to do that, then may it be so! If we need to use some contemporary music to reach our young people, then may it be so. "Everything in moderation" as my father used to say.
                        Craig

                        Hammond L143 with Leslie 760

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                        • #27
                          I may tend to be on the side of the underdog. But my experiences the past few years have revealed that a LOT of people are not finding the change of worship style in their own churches to be helpful. If I could believe that the change will result in making the church more appealing to the folks who need reaching, or that God will be more beautifully glorified by the new music, I would be all for it. But on the whole, I don't see that happening, at least not everywhere. In fact, I'm quite sure that the majority of churches where I've seen "the change" done, attendance has continued to dwindle and there has been little or no increase in incoming members. Changing the worship in order to "bring in some young people" doesn't seem to be working out.

                          My own kids are 30-ish now, but when they were teenagers they found the occasional introduction of contemporary pop and rock-style music into our church services appalling. And not just because I was the organist. They thought that seeing a group of people up front trying to mimic a rock band singing Christian-ish lyrics completely unappealing. A big turn-off, in fact.

                          Though you don't have to look far to find mega-churches that are booming and bursting at the seams, filled with young families and kids who seem to be eating the contemporary music up like candy, the data still shows that overall church attendance is declining everywhere and in almost every denomination. These booming mega-churches are doing no better at retaining young people once they leave high school than anyone else. In fact, some studies show that young people are MORE likely to drop out after high school when they have been raised going to a contemporary mega-church. So I remain unconvinced.

                          I recently visited a smallish church where there is actually a very talented organist who has spent decades playing for churches while also teaching music. A highly qualified musician who understands the organ and plays very well. But someone or some group in the church are determined to bring the church into the 21st century kicking and screaming if they must. Small steps are being taken, but it's very obvious that the end game is the elimination of the organ and the elevation of the drums and guitars to full prominence and leadership of the music in their worship service. And to what end? As I see it, the church as a whole has been led down a primrose path by music publishing companies selling their wares, and by folks who mis-read the 70's worship revolution. We boomers who "rebelled" against the dull and boring worship we may have endured in our childhood years we not necessarily wanting this outcome. It just went off on a totally unexpected tangent, and now there seems to be no way to rein it in.
                          John
                          ----------
                          *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

                          https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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                          • #28
                            All of us have the inclination to follow what feels good to the senses. We are designed that way, but we have a brain to control ourselves with. Too many people lack self discipline and control, so instead of acting on logic and rationality, they act on what feels best to their senses as it is an easier thing to do. We want to worship God and make everyone feel good, that's good right, so let's sing because it feels better than just talking or praying silently. We want music, so we'll just bang on some drums cuz they make a lot of noise you can hear and feel, and strum guitars since those are pretty modern, but we don't have a logical mind to compose and play masterpieces. If we all would study God with the effort scientists study all of their subjects of biology, electricity, quantum mechanics, we would KNOW with certainty what exactly to do, how to worship, what matters, what kind of music if any best fits with what we do in church, and we might realize a pipe organ is the king of instruments and is pretty cool if not cooler than a rock band. Then we could also use logic to carefully compose great music every time.

                            Self esteem and such go a long way too, and usually leads to some kind of unintentional corruption. With singing and performing, there's lots of pride and self esteem being affected one way or another to some extent. And we know how stupidly weak and flexible we become under the slightest pressure on our pride.
                            Allen 530A

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                            • #29
                              Without going into a heavy theological analysis of the topic I am of the humble opinion that the changes in musical worship tastes and styles we are witnessing are but the little ears of the hippo... For the individual to attend a church service it should be the culmination of a process (while simultaneously being the beginning of another...) and not the beginning. Churches and church services more specifically, are basically the venue where the individual expresses his/her faith in obedience to that faith. This has its origin elsewhere, be it via some evangelical crusade, witness programs, personal encounters or whatever.

                              My point is that if a church service with all its components and processes is regarded to be the place where an individual is supposed to meet faith the issue becomes rather unbalanced - faith should come first and the expression thereof follows, be it with whatever is appropriate to the new believer's makeup. I am not saying that it is not possible to believe through attending a church service, this has happened often, but is such faith in the expressional methodology or in the God who made everything? I am perhaps old fashioned but to my way of thinking the place where children should meet their faith is in the safety of their home. There are many "evangelicals" and such who actively target broken homes in order to grow their members. This phenomenon is called: Fields of endeavor. It strives to grow membership regardless and often music is used (abused) to achieve this goal. Perhaps humanism is behind many of these and like campaigns.

                              The personal question I always ask myself when confronted with issues concerning these "expressions" of faith is: Does this activity really glorify God or does it glorify the "performers"?

                              Nico
                              "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

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                              • #30
                                Originally posted by Organfella View Post
                                Without going into a heavy theological analysis of the topic I am of the humble opinion that the changes in musical worship tastes and styles we are witnessing are but the little ears of the hippo... For the individual to attend a church service it should be the culmination of a process (while simultaneously being the beginning of another...) and not the beginning. Churches and church services more specifically, are basically the venue where the individual expresses his/her faith in obedience to that faith. This has its origin elsewhere, be it via some evangelical crusade, witness programs, personal encounters or whatever.

                                My point is that if a church service with all its components and processes is regarded to be the place where an individual is supposed to meet faith the issue becomes rather unbalanced - faith should come first and the expression thereof follows, be it with whatever is appropriate to the new believer's makeup. I am not saying that it is not possible to believe through attending a church service, this has happened often, but is such faith in the expressional methodology or in the God who made everything? I am perhaps old fashioned but to my way of thinking the place where children should meet their faith is in the safety of their home. There are many "evangelicals" and such who actively target broken homes in order to grow their members. This phenomenon is called: Fields of endeavor. It strives to grow membership regardless and often music is used (abused) to achieve this goal. Perhaps humanism is behind many of these and like campaigns.

                                The personal question I always ask myself when confronted with issues concerning these "expressions" of faith is: Does this activity really glorify God or does it glorify the "performers"?

                                Nico
                                Well said! That leads me to my next thought. We have placed so much emphasis on "worship" being related to music - thus we have our "worship wars" in our churches where there are endless battles for which style of music is most appropriate. The problem is that worship is so much more than music. Music is only one facet of it. Worship is simply declaring the worth of God in our lives. We can do that in numerous ways besides with music. I mentioned this in another thread, but how do you think a deaf person has a meaningful worship experience in church? They hear nothing in the way of music. Still, they can have just as much of a positive experience worshiping the Lord as a hearing person. Music is only tip of the iceburg. Our faith goes much deeper than just music - although music is a powerful medium that God has created to enhance our time with Him. Still, we are witnessing an overall "decline" in our church culture where people are basically coming to church for different reasons- not necessarily to grow deeper in their faith. Many are coming with a self-centered focus on what they can get to make them feel good. As a result, if music and liturgy don't appeal to their senses, they will simply stop coming or go elsewhere to find whatever it is they are looking for to give them that "spiritual buzz". The problem is that so many churches now are not preaching the gospel, or they are giving a watered down version of it. Neither are they teaching the whole concept of the need for forgiveness of sins and the need of a Savior. No one wants to preach about sin because no one wants to be told that they are morally corrupt and headed for Hell unless they repent - not a popular message in this day and age! Our current culture does not encourage this, nor does it want anyone telling them that they are this way. We have a generation of people that have been raised with an evolutionary mindset - that you are nothing more than a product of random chance, that your value is no more than plant or an animal, that you don't really have purpose. Life is not valuable but rather disposable at any time. Unless they hear a different message, their whole perspective on spiritual things is going to be quite skewed and not the perspective which the scriptures teach - that we are made in the image of God and that we DO have purpose, that we were created for relationship with God the Creator of the universe. If churches don't teach these basic scriptural principles, we will continue to see decline. The mega churches almost always preach a prosperity gospel- health and wealth and that God wants your life to be happy and enriched with lots of material things. This is why they are so huge - because people are getting their ears tickled with a feel-good message that is all about THEM. This is what we are dealing with right now, and this is why so many worship issues exist in the church - because we are dealing with a whole new self-centered, self-serving mindset in this culture. Until people focus otherwise, we will see decline.
                                Craig

                                Hammond L143 with Leslie 760

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