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June 1, 2003
Vol. III, No. 17

"Have You Driven a Ford Lately?"
Lately I haven't felt much like Rampaging but that changed after I received the June issue of The American Organist. Inside was an article entitled "Contemporary Worship or What We Can Learn from Ford," claiming that Contemporary Worship is becoming more popular at the expense of Traditional Worship. I thought it was a load of hooey.

To begin with, I found the whole comparison of worship institutions to the Ford Motor Company utterly offensive. What we can learn from Ford? The same Ford that was accused of deceiving consumers and knowingly endangering their lives? I hardly think this is a company that anyone should be emulating, let alone modeling worship institutions after but OK, I'll play along.

The article uses Ford discontinuing its Lincoln Continental due to low sales as a rationale for worship institutions ditching Traditional Worship in favor of what the author claims is the more popular Contemporary Worship model. However, the article does not mention that the Continental failed to sell well largely due to poor design decisions made by Ford that alienated the core demographic upon which they traditionally relied for sales.

Just so you know, this kind of thing has happened before at Ford. The company recently admitted that they made a mistake in over-branding one of their greatest success stories, the Taurus, as a rental car. At the same time, it was the only way they could keep the model alive after a poor redesign caused sales to slump with their target audience: middle America, family-oriented consumers.

So we see that when cars fail to sell, it's not necessarily the fault of the car. By extension, shouldn't we consider that if churches aren't doing well that it may not be a problem with the music program. Embracing the Contemporary Worship model may seem like a good short-term solution but it won't make fundamental problems go away.

Sure, the pipe organ is out of style with the mainstream but the fact is that not everybody has to like classical music or traditional worship. There is still, and always will be, a core audience for the pipe organ, as well as traditional worship. As far as I can see, there's no shortage of traditional church jobs and certainly no shortage of organists.

It's always dangerous to make generalizations but especially so when you have limited information on which to base your assumptions. The article under discussion did not contain broad-based research and should never have appeared in The American Organist. The fact that it did was irresponsible. However, I'm not surprised given the amount of ad revenue the magazine accepts from companies that make electronic organs. What kind of message does that send?

The Contemporary Worship model will always be with us just as it always has been but its current super-popularity will pass the way of the secular music that it has hitched its wagon to. Think about it. In our society, blockbuster movies now retain their popularity for only one weekend. Pop music stars today fare only a little better enjoying somewhat less than their fifteen minutes of fame. As conglomerates provide rock stars like clockwork, audiences chew them up and spit them out assembly-line style. Now that's something we learned from Ford!

The music of Bach has been with us for ages and is growing strong. Good music and good worship aren't going anywhere and don't let the AGO leadership or anyone else tell you otherwise.
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Have a great week!

Dan Long

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