A Business Model for Church Music?

Are we in the business of marketing the worship and music of the church?  On one hand the answer must be “yes” in response to the Great Commission: we are to make disciples.  On the other hand, what implication does borrowing language from business have for leaders of worship and music?

I recently had a conversation with Jack Bethards, president of the Schoenstein & Co. organ builders. As a former employee of Procter and Gamble, business management consultant, consultant to arts organizations and now owner of Schoenstein & Co., he had interesting insights about the difference between a marketing company and a product company. I will summarize too briefly what he had to say, with apologies to Jack.

A successful marketing company finds out what people want and makes it with quality and high standards. At its heart is marketing. A product company is focused on producing a fine product that does not change to match the market needs, but believes in that product and helps people to know its value enough to buy it. While interested in marketing (necessary to stay in business!), the product company is most interested in producing the finest quality product. Schoenstein & Co. is, of course, a product company.

I think, along with Jack, a parallel can be made with the church and its liturgy and music. The theology, liturgy and music of the church have developed over hundreds of years. The words of hymns, anthems, psalms and the music that express them contain the accumulated wisdom of these hundreds of years of people of faith. Newly created compositions can be informed by this long history and the eternal truths that have been passed from generation to generation. The church, in the language of business, is a product company.

Conversely, to adopt a marketing strategy, to ask people what they want the church to be, is to take the chance of making the church into something it is not, and to miss the eternal truths that are the foundation of what church is.

King David in stained glassAs participants in a church with eternal truths and accumulated history, our “marketing strategy” is one of education and engagement with a product that has stood the test of time. Our task is to take centuries-old truths and the best of musical vehicles that carry them and make them accessible to congregations today. That involves careful planning and reasoning on our part, pedagogy wisely implemented , and collaboration between musicians, clergy and congregations.

Beautiful music and theologically profound texts, no matter how simple or complex, when offered and understood by those offering and hearing, have stirred hearts and enlivened spirits for time immortal.