Tune into their hearts

June 2nd, 2015

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book, "Meet the Goodpeople."

My friend Lauren was skittish about faith. Every time the subject came up, she preferred to talk about other things. One day I suggested listening to the local Christian music station when she wasn’t doing anything else. She didn’t have to believe everything they were singing, but at least the messages would be positive in this often negative world. With nothing to lose, she gave it a try. As she was driving or doing things around the home, she frequently had the station playing in the background. She was quick to say she didn’t catch all the lyrics, but she enjoyed the music. Over time, her heart softened. She became more open to spiritual conversations. About a year later, Lauren became a Christian.

Music is one of the easiest ways to tune into a person’s heart. It often slips past the frontal lobe of rational control and touches an inner place of tenderness and need. It can calm, excite, inspire, and embolden. As it washes over us, music can lower our resistance and make us more receptive to a life-changing message. My friend Lauren isn’t the only one who’s had issues with faith. Tens of millions are just like her. Is there a way to harness this powerful force to lead pre-Christian people to faith in Christ and enfold them in his church?

Whether we are into church or not, when someone plays “our music,” something inside us springs to life. My 88-year-old neighbor is deeply devoted to his Lutheran Church. As a life-long member, he dearly loves singing the great hymns of the faith. But when he gets in his car, this dear churchman will be tapping his toes to a CD of the Glen Miller Band. That’s his heart language. Had he never set foot in a church, the best way to connect with his soul would be through the snappy tunes of big band music, not “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

What’s the music that connects with your soul? It’s often related to what was popular when you came of age or what you were exposed to on a regular basis. If you spent a lot of time in a traditional worship setting and associate it with warm memories of family and friends, chances are high you will connect with God through traditional church music. It soothes your soul, even if it’s not the music you would choose to listen to in your car. Naturally, pre-Christian people with no church background have not acquired that taste. When John Wesley stumbled upon this reality nearly three centuries ago, it changed his entire approach to music.

Although 18th century England was a churchy culture, the church had long since lost the English masses. To them, church was divorced from real life. The dress, language, customs, and music were all designed for the upper crust of society, not “commoners.”

As a priest in the Church of England, John Wesley had become part of that establishment. He was quite fond of the high church liturgy, the ancient hymns, and the formal services. But his heartwarming experience at Aldersgate and his insistence on salvation by faith led most clergy to ban him from their pulpits. Undaunted, he went straight to the people. He spoke outdoors to the masses in Kingswood and other places and soon realized the need for songs that would connect with his mostly “uncultured” listeners. That’s when he turned to his brother Charles, a budding poet. 

Although Charles was not a musician and never wrote a note of music, he intentionally set his poems to the popular tunes of the day.1 In most cases, they were songs written by contemporary composers and no doubt lustily sung in the English pubs. When Charles put gospel words to “Top 40” tunes, it caught the hearts of non-churched people like never before. For the first time, they didn’t have to become someone else to become Christian. It was church for them. Charles tuned into their heart language, and it helped these left-out people finally feel at home.

Our time is also filled with people who feel like church is for someone else.  In his book, Churchless, David Kinnaman shares recent research based on more than 23,000 interviews across the continental United States. The study found that “the younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is.” By that he means “essentially secular in belief and practice.”2

  • Millennials (born between 1984 and 2002) — 48 percent
  • Gen X-ers (born between 1965 and 1983) — 40 percent
  • Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) — 35 percent
  • Elders (born in 1945 or earlier) — 28 percent

What is the best way to connect these precious people with the forgiveness and love of Jesus Christ? Follow the approach of the Wesleys: pray for them, meet them on their turf and terms, and create indigenous forms of worship that tune into their hearts.

Jesus told his followers, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” 3 Nations are simply “people groups:” rich, poor, young, old, Hispanic, Asian, chocolate lovers and chocolate loathers (this is a small people group). These days many Christ-followers are finding “nations” that have been left out of church.

In rural areas of the American Midwest and ranching regions in the West and Southwest, churches are springing up with a distinctive mission: to reach people connected to country living. “Cowboy Church” invites people in blue jeans, boots, and cowboy hats to worship God in their heart language — Country and Western.

A church in the inner city of Minneapolis uses hip-hop to reach young people looking for hope that overcomes drugs and gangs.

Hillsong Church in Australia has spawned chart topping praise and worship songs for many years, drawing new generations to Christ. Now the Sydney megachurch is planting churches in major cities around the world. They’re using “rock concert” worship experiences to connect with urban young adults by the thousands. Hillsong has locations in London, Stockholm, South Africa, Barcelona, New York City, Los Angeles, and other global hotspots.4

It’s the same lesson the Wesleys learned. Churches that lead large numbers of pre-Christian people to Christ employ the music of the group they are trying to reach. They know people connect most easily with the Gospel when it comes through their native culture. It’s their heart language. One formerly non-churched person in our community described her experience this way:

Sunday worship for me is utter release. I am so caught up in the "world" all week, and I usually can't wait for church. Just walking into the building is exhilarating and I really look forward to the message.  Honestly though, what gets me more than anything is the music. I have always had a soulful connection with music, and now the relationship I have with the Lord has magnified the feelings I get from it.

There are times I am so moved by the Holy Spirit while singing, I can't even sing anymore. I am so overwhelmed with the words and feelings of gratitude all I can do is cry. I have a hard time putting these thoughts on paper, because I have NEVER felt like this before. I want nothing more than to thank this church for being so welcoming and loving. I wouldn't trade this in for all the money in the world! 

Maybe the Wesleys were on to something. Is there some group God is calling you to reach…single moms, retirees, addicts, young professionals, migrant workers? Find out what they listen to and include that in your worship experiences. If we want pre-Christian people to hear our words, we’ll have to tune into their hearts.


1. Richard P. Heitzenrater, Wesley and The People Called Methodists, 2nd Edition. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013. 259

2. David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today's Unchurched and How to Connect with Them, Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014. Retrieved from Ministry Matters, 10-24-14

3. Matthew 28:19 (NIV)

4. Nicola Menzie, “Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston Announces Australia Megachurch's Expansion to So. California,” Retrieved from The Christian Post, September 10, 2013. Accessed 11-1-14.

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