However, most mainline churches and many conservative denominations seem caught in the musical past. This is because we are so enamored with tradition. You see, tradition not only keeps the fiddler on the roof, according to church growth experts, it keeps most churches at least 15 years anachronistic to contemporary culture. It seems tradition is more often the skeleton of the church than are scripture, reason, or experience. For instance, though tradition teaches there were three magi who went to Bethlehem, the fact is, scripture never says how many magi there were. And though tradition tells us Adam and Eve ate an apple, the Bible never really says what kind of fruit they actually took their fateful bite from.
Jesus spent much of his ministry challenging traditions, especially traditions regarding the purity and Sabbath laws. And traditions have been in flux in the church from that time until now. The entrance of non-Jews into the community of faith challenged the earliest traditions of the church. In the 16th century, Luther challenged which books were "in" and "out" of the bible when he called into question certain works considered canonical by the church for the previous 1,300 years or so.
Musical traditions have also been challenged through the years. New hymns in the custom and style of the day have been added to church files regularly. Many hymns written by Wesley were set to tunes performed in the public arena (read that as theaters, saloons, etc.), and my guess is the outcry from the church was nearly as vehement as when D.C. Talk or Petra (wh?!?) gets air play in a church. The only problem is, as I wrote above, the church stays 15 years behind our culture--and generally it's at least 25 years behind the times musically: mostly because of tradition.
Less than 4 percent of recorded music sales are of classical-type music. The other 96 percent is what most of us listen to: rock and roll, pop, jazz, country, rap, grunge, etc. Churches that choose to limit their music to traditional hymnology, choose also to limit the potential audience for the whole gospel message, And in a nation with one of the largest unchurched population in the world, can the church afford to limit who can hear the gospel?
Traditions are easy to come by, but nearly impossible to shed. If a church does something once, you have innovation. If it's done twice, you have a custom. But if it's done three times or more, then it's become a tradition. With most church hymnals offering nearly 500 hymns written before 1940 (and most were written before 1900), new hymns and songs have little hope of getting into the worship service--there are just so many "oldies" that "need" to be sung because they are traditional, i.e., they've been sung at least three times in the past!
But in answer to the cry for musical help: churches are in desperate need to relate their message in a manner that can be heard. The media knows this, and they format their programming to meet the demands of their audience. Advertisers know this, and they produce ads that catch our eyes, our minds, and our wallets. And teachers know this, so they use multi-media and audio-visuals to help our children learn. And so too the church must learn. To reach the current generation (those younger than 45 or so) the church must do so in a language and with the tools that the audience can relate to, and if that means telling the old, old story with a new, new rhythm, then Let It Be.