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Using Secular Music In Worship

From Craig Hedrick serving in Belmont, NC

Question: I wanted to ask if you use much secular music in your seeker services, do you change lyrics and things like that? We have been doing some of that with a fair amount of success but I just wanted your opinion and experiences.


Yes! For last year’s Easter services we included a Sister Hazel song, “Change Your Mind”, and in this week’s service we’ll be including a Celine Dion song. ANY song that lyrically and musically fits the theme of the message and your target audience(s) is an effective tool. Secular songs can often be excellent choices, particularly for seeker audiences because the tune may be recognized by the audience to a higher degree than a great song from Steven Curtis Chapman or Twila Paris.

WATCH OUT! Sometimes we change lyrics of secular songs, but to do so you need the express approval of the copyright holder. They must approve any lyric changes you might want to make for performance or recording. In some cases they may not approve your change.

My pastor, Rick Warren, says there is no such thing as Christian music. I agree. The music of a particular tune can not be secular or sacred. The lyrics of a song are what make a particular song sacred. It has nothing to do with the tune.

In our lifetimes, before the 1970s there was no major distinction between sacred and secular popular music. There really wasn’t any sacred pop music. Sacred music was basically hymns in the gospel or classical format, and secular music was everything else. With the advent of the Jesus Music movement as part of the 70s revival, Christian churches again reached back into pop culture and reclaimed a corner of popular music through such artists as Larry Norman, Andre Crouch, Sweet Comfort Band and many others.

Using secular music in church isn’t however something particularly new as of the 1970s. Other historical examples include the song Amazing Grace which took the song’s lyrics and put them to a very popular song sung in the pubs and taverns of the day. Another great example is the song Oh Happy Day by Edwin Hawkins, which is perhaps the 1st true “crossover” song.

The main point is to choose appropriate music that will effectively communicate your theme to your target audience, whether you find that song on a CD at your local Christian Bookstore or Tower Records!

There are more and more secular market artists, such as Creed, U2, Mariah Carey, Moby, numerous Country Music artists, who are including songs that fall into this category on their projects. Great arrangements can be found for songs done by secular market artists doing Christian songs.

Here is a short list of just some of the songs I have used at Saddleback:

Maybe I’m Amazed Paul McCartney
I Can’t Wait To Meet You Macy Gray
The Living Years Mike & The Mechanics
Where Were You Alan Jackson
God Bless The USA Lee Greenwood
Long As I Live John Michael Montgomery
The Love He Found in Me Gary Morris
Love Remains T Douglas, J D’addario
Your Love Amazes Me John Berry
Love Can Build A Bridge Wynonna Judd
When You Believe Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey (Prince of Egypt Soundtrack)
Lean On Me classic!
Operator another classic!
My Father’s Eyes Eric Clapton
Do Not Pass Me By M.C. Hammer
Unanswered Prayer Garth Brooks
On Eagles Wings Michael Crawford
Biggest Part of Me Take 6 (who did it first? Chicago?)
Count on Me Whitney Houston (Waiting to Exhale Soundtrack)

Saddleback’s Youth Groups are also using songs targeted for their audience. Some of the artists whose songs are being used from time to time include Creed, Lifehouse, and many of the Christian artists such as Audio Adrenaline, DC Talk, P.O.D. and others.

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