One of my first clues that I am not a Baby Boomer was that I like music on a pipe organ. Sometime during my first couple of years in ministry I went to a workshop on â€œReaching Baby Boomersâ€ where I learned that they identify organ music with ballparks and funeral parlors. The conclusion to which the workshop leaders jumped, then, was that a church that wants to reach baby boomers needs music that is not played by an organist.
I grew up in churches with organs. All through college I sang in the chapel choir which was usually accompanied by the organ. According to the experts I was the right age to be a Boomer, but according to the experts I didnâ€™t like organ music.
It wasnâ€™t until a couple of years later that I began to understand the problem. The leaders of the workshop had set up the wrong categories for understanding the preferences of â€œpeople my age.â€ It took Pat Boone and Little Richard to help me understand the real problem with reaching Boomers, and, for that matter, anyone who is unchurched.
In the 1950â€™s Pat Boone sold more records than any other artist or group. Yes, he even sold more than Elvis. Booneâ€™s success can be attributed to the fact that he did cover versions of other peopleâ€™s songs; and the songs he covered where by black musicians. In the 1950â€™s very few white folk would buy music performed by black musicians, but would buy it if it was performed by a white person.
So, in the early 90â€™s, at a youth ministry seminar, I saw video clips of Pat Boone performing one of his biggest sellers, â€œTooty Fruity.â€ Immediately following his version, I saw a video clip of Little Richard, the author of the song, performing the same song.
Now, I didnâ€™t grow up in the racially tense and divided time of the 1950â€™s, but I immediately asked myself, â€œWhy would anyone want to listen to Pat Boone when they could hear this from Little Richard?â€ There was life in the song when its author sung it; for Boone it seemed to be simply words.
The problem Baby Boomers have (if any) with pipe organs was not the instrument, but that many of them had grown up in churches where it was played with no life or feeling. Many learned to associate the sound of a pipe organ with cold, passionless worship, or â€œgoing through the motions of church.â€
Are we doing better than going through the motions of church?