An organ…in CHURCH??????

In an earlier blog is a great article by Mike Harland, Director of LifeWay Worship.  He poses the question, “Does the church organ need to go?” This is a real question that I hear time and again.  With the multiple conversations and recent articles on the subject, I think  I’ll write a few words on the subject.  I STILL BELIEVE THE ORGAN HAS A MAJOR ROLE IN THE CHURCH, regardless of musical style.

Over the past ten years or so I have received a number of emails and seen advertisements, ORGAN FREE FOR THE TAKING.  When we were looking for a new organ  a few years ago we learned of numbers of disassembled pipe organs that we could have bought for “a song.”  True, pipe organs are expensive to maintain, yet the maintenance cost for the most part has not been the reason churches are getting rid of them.

For some reason there are  churches who seem to think that an organ has no place in twenty-first century worship and that the organ is the reason young people don’t come to church.  This is silly.  The organ is a TOTALLY CONTEMPORARY INSTRUMENT!!!!  Regardless of the style of music the congregation is singing, the organ strengthens and encourages the crowd to SING.  One of the most traditional and liturgical churches in the Southeast is filled with young adults each Sunday and yes, the music is organ driven.    Time and again over the years, brides from ultra worship band driven churches look for a place for their weddings that have huge organs.  It seems when the really “important” things in life surface, we want to go back to our roots, to our “traditions”……  hmmmmm.

I don’t get it other than the music leaders lack knowledge or just don’t want to do the work it takes to include the organ.  Hear me out.  For the sake of discussion, consider the fact that an organ creates the sounds of the orchestra. Most of us don’t have full orchestras in our churches.    The modern digital organ is like a stack of digital keyboards and has the capability of creating countless sounds, far more than a single or even several keyboards. Organs can blow the plaster off the front of the balcony, yet can play the softest sweetest sounds this side of heaven.  Talk about versatile.  I know the organ console looks ‘old,’ and I accept the fact that the  church digital organ doesn’t fit in the back of a Toyota, but why throw out an instrument that can do so many things. (That’s like throwing grandma out because she has grey hair.)

Every band wants “more bass! ”  (It’s all about that….. that was too easy.)   The organ has at least a 16′ pipe, often a 32′ that will out bass the biggest bass guitar and amp on the planet. There are more percussion sounds on the new digital organs than the biggest acoustic trap set in the country.  Need flutes, clarinets, sax, strings?  Traditional or pure sample sounds are a “stop” away and when you want to really fatten the sound with some brass, you can add as much as the room can handle with the touch of one finger or toe.  Rock and pop bands have figured this out and have included organ sounds on stage and on their recordings, but the church fears that “young people won’t come if they see, much less hear, the organ.”  (As I re-read the previous sentence, I was shaking my head. Are these folks that clueless?)

This might be a good spot for me to get into trouble.  Through observation,  much of the contemporary movement in established or traditional churches has been pastor driven.  Well intended Pastors are “afraid we’ll lose the young people” and by pushing their music ministers to attempt to change the DNA of  a congregation by throwing out the choir and organ.  In so doing they often lose their base and to be honest, have driven some great musicians to guys like me who still believe in the choir and organ. People want to use their God given gifts that they have honed to a skill.  They don’t want to sit idle. (I guess I should say, “Thank you.”)  I have led music in at least forty states in the US and in ten or more countries and I have never met a person who actually left the church because there was an organ in the room.

NO, I’m not a dead in the water, closer to seventy than I’ve ever been, out of touch bitter old music man.  I love what I do, probably more than most. I hope I am still at it at ninety.  I love all the marvelous musical languages.   I do, however, LOVE THE GREAT HYMNS AND ANTHEMS OF THE FAITH AND SOME OF THEM SCREAM FOR THE ORGAN.  Still, I often lead my singers to sing/play far newer music than some of the praise bands sing and play.  I love much of the newest praise and worship music. I love praise teams.  I love drums, guitars, brass, winds, keyboard, piano, AND the ORGAN. These all can work together, but it does take work.  (Where I presently serve in North Georgia it is quite common for me to ask our young adult organist to “Play like we are in church!” “If I don’t have at least one person telling me the organ is too loud, I’m disappointed…” I want blue wigs stuck to the back wall and sleeping old men sitting on the edge of their pews.  Our Lord wants and expects His children to praise Him with great energy and volume.  “Let EVERYTHING that has breath PRAISE THE LORD.  The organ has “breath.”)

My comments have mostly been directed to existing and more traditional/blended churches that already have an organ.  There are many extremely effective “new” churches that are in newer contemporary style buildings and to purchase an organ isn’t realistic nor the best stewardship for them. This is a totally different issue and situation.  I will say, however, these new churches shouldn’t just automatically blow off the idea of the organ.  A new style digital organ creates some great sounds and might be just the accompaniment needed when the band “gets a better gig.”    However,  my primary comments are for those churches who have an organ; dust it off and discover the  wonderful instrument that God has used over the centuries.


“Praise Him with the timbrel, the dance, the harp……praise Him with LOUD sounding cymbals, praise Him with stringed instruments and ORGANS.”  (If it makes noise, use it to glorify God! from the Coenian version…)




Great article by Mike Harland

Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship.

Does the Church organ need to go?

It’s a fair question.

With the onset of rhythm-driven worship in many of our churches, many call the use of the organ into question these days. Often the renovation of worship space includes this question.

Some might say, “We don’t use it anymore. Why don’t we just take it out and put the drum cage over there?”

Wait just a second! You might want to rethink the role of the organ.

The organ is one of the oldest instruments ever invented… dating back to 250 BC. It found it’s way into the worship services of Christians in the 1400’s. And for centuries, it was the dominant instrument of the composers of sacred music. In the Baptist tradition, organists and the organ helped develop the rich tradition of hymn singing and defined the splendor of the congregational song.

In the modern era, some would say the organ has been replaced in many churches by a band or even an orchestra. But, personally, I don’t think those instruments have replaced the organ. I think the small vocal team enhancing the choir or congregation has replaced the organ.

How many articles have you read bemoaning the fact that church congregations don’t sing like they used to sing? I’ve read quite a few and written a couple myself. Most would blame it on the newness of the songs or the decline of church choirs. I agree those points are valid, but I would add, for this discussion, that the reduced role of the organ has also contributed to this reality.

Historically, the organ underscored congregational singing back when congregations really sang. I always thought of it as the “voice” of the people, giving the average congregant a place where their voice could “hide” in the awesome sound of resounding hymns. The organ sound is a safe place to put your voice no matter how you sing.

So try this… instead of shutting the organ down in your worship, use a few less singers on microphones and allow the organ to undergird the congregational song – no matter what style of music you sing. You might just rediscover the power of this instrument.

And every once in a while, let your organist lead your congregation is a transcendent worship experience using an instrument that has the range of power unmatched by any other instrument.

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is coming soon. You could mark it early with an awesome organ version of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Somehow, the guitar can’t touch that one.