Why is music so poor in conservative evangelical churches in the UK?

Here are just a few thoughts/observations from a recent conversation I had with Dr Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York (sorry to name drop).  After nervously leading the music at a service he was preaching at recently we had lunch together with a number of others and in my 10 minutes with him we managed to get around to the subject of music in conservative evangelical churches in the UK. His main observation/question was…why is music so poor in conservative evangelical churches in the UK?

Having been at the London Men’s Convention and many churches over a number years Dr Keller’s observations were not really that astute, because I think we all know the truth though it is rarely articulated.

The following observations are a summary of a conversation and are not direct quotes of Tim Keller, in fact some portions of the following are my thoughts in response to our conversation.


1. The charismatic evangelical churches seem to have far more quality musicians to play contemporary church music.

2. The conservative evangelicals seem to be 20 years behind (and some even further!) in the quality and production of music (i.e. no CD’s of conservative evangelicals musicians).

3. Conservative evangelicals seem to value music far less in the worship service, perhaps not doctrinally, but how that is worked out shows; in the number of songs sung, the value attributed to the ministry in the employment of staff and the quality of the music played.

4. The charismatic and conservative evangelical churches are far more divided in the UK than in the USA, as a result have the conservatives chosen to be ‘distinct’ by not engaging and investing in music ministry?

5. Given the ‘Double conservativeness’ (doctrinally and culturally) of UK conservative evangelicals – are they missing out on appropriate emotional expressions of their love for the Lord Jesus in song – or was Jonathan Edwards wrong in Religious Affections?

I think I’ll leave these observations to stew and make some further comments on these topics over the next few weeks, along with some reflections on my recent attendance of New Word Alive, the flagship conservative evangelical conference over Easter 09.

Would love to hear some of your comments?



  1. Interesting post! I think in my experience charismatic churches do not necessarily always have more or better quality musicians than conservative evangelical churches. What I’ve found is that charismatic churches place a greater emphasis on music and it’s value which results in more time spent practising and nurturing musicians. This practically means better quality music (to put it bluntly!), however often this is down to a band simply being greater than the sum of its parts, and that is primarily due to rehearsing and perhaps individually a greater amount of commitment to music ministry.

  2. The observations are fair and accurate. I look forward to hearing more.

    In reference to point 5. I have heard it said as a concern that we don’t want to offend the outsider. But today people are used to others showing emotion and using their bodies at sports events and music gigs. So I am not convinced by the argument that the outsider can be put off by emotional expressions of love whilst singing together at church.
    Another observation I have is Conservative Evangelicals are dismissive of body position in our church meetings. You could argue we are not that comfortable with how to use our bodies. For example we never kneel. I went to a countryside village church over Easter it was an excellent service from the prayer book and a good sermon. The cushions for kneeling reminded me how appropriate it is to kneel when praying and taking communion.

    Whilst singing we can use our bodies to show we mean what we sing. Body language is important when communicating with our fellow human beings yet we don’t act like it when singing to our God about what he has done for us in Christ.

    So what ends up happening we keep our arms defensively resolutely crossed.

    oh and on point 4 I would suggest reformed theology has united the charismatics and conservative evangelicals in the US. Although the New Frontiers churches in the UK are doing their bit for rejoicing in the gospel whilst singing.

  3. Thanks, Andy, for this posting and your good, fair and (I would say) accurate critique of our dilemma. I think your ministry and this site are very, very important.

    One of the brickbats often thrown at me (but only because I ask for questions) is the claim that Protestantism is anti-artistic. I think this is probably a flawed question because it isn’t based on *entirely* correct history. Still, it is a fair point in so far as our current conservative evangelical groups are concerned. So, your points of conversation with Keller “ring true”.

    I’m hoping you and others will encourage and help the rest of us think better (theologically and historically I guess) about human expressions, emotions and creativity. I’m also hoping you’ll help us develop a grace-shaped freedom to come up with not only new songs but also with a willingness to experiment with different genres and styles of music.

    So… go for it!


  4. … very intersting post.

    I would agreee with musobass on the fact that there is probbably more emphasis on music in more charismatic churches, but I think the big thing is the support, encouragement and training they give to their musicians.

    I would suspect that the churches that are really struggling don’t have any people to support, encourage and train their musicians, so how do they expect the music to develop?

  5. I just stumbled across this blog!
    I think Tim Keller is right, but he isn’t the first and won’t be the last to say it, and if we “know it”, why does nothing change? I think the same conversation may be happening in 30 years!

    Lets get it in perspective, charismatic churches aren’t some holy grail of good music – their music may not be dead, but it’s hardly cutting edge or particularly creative. Congregational worship across all churches (whatever the theology) is generally not as good as secular music, because the majority of it has to be corporately sung, but that shouldn’t let us of the hook.

    It’s similar to point 5, the demographic that dominate conservative churches, seems to be posh and academic. Yet this isn’t the demographic that dominate the music industry – I guess academic types don’t make the most creative musicians! I wonder if the roots of the problem is that we speak in a language only accessible to a small social group resulting in mono-cultural churches.

    I also wonder if we have a tendency analyse rather than appreciate. We defend substitutionary atonement and dissect it, but I bet we would see real change if people emotionally connected with the depth of their sin and rejoice of what Christ has done!

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