Using music to cross religious barriers

  • Mark Gilbert
  • 30 October 2017

It’s an oversimplification, but there is some truth in the statement “evangelicalism is a thought religion and Roman Catholicism is a felt religion”. Evangelical theology rightly emphasizes knowing God through his word; Roman Catholicism emphasizes experiencing God through sacraments. (That is not to say that thought or experience aren’t parts of both faiths.)

Because the nature of mission is to meet people where they are and bring them into a saving relationship with God, when we try to share the gospel with Catholics—who are expecting to experience God more than understand God—engaging their feelings takes on more importance.

That’s where music can help. Music often engages the feelings before it engages the mind. We can all remember a great tune that moved us before we noticed the lyrics.

I don’t have any firm statistics on this yet, but anecdotally many Catholics I know end up in Pentecostal churches where music and other spiritual experiences feature prominently. It is worth thinking through how music functions in our services to engage people from a Roman Catholic background so that they can come to know Jesus through his word.

At the church I attend (which is not Pentecostal), every Sunday the loud, contemporary music coming from our traditional sandstone building with stained-glass windows is heard by hundreds passing by in the mall just outside. Each week we have dozens of visitors come in during our church services because of the music and the appearance of the church. Most will stay for 15-20 minutes while the music plays, appearing to enjoy the experience of people singing enthusiastically about Jesus. Some then stay for the sermon that follows. Over half of the people that come in indicate that they have a Roman Catholic background. Most weeks during this time I get the opportunity to share the gospel with one or two of them. We are also looking at proclaiming the gospel in a 90 second talk during the music each week, so that people who leave right after the music get to hear the gospel about Jesus before they go.

We are also trying another way to engage people from a Roman Catholic background with music, from the other end of the spectrum: organ music. We have a great organ at our church, and many Roman Catholics love organ music in atmospheric buildings like ours. By running organ recitals combined with a gospel talk, we are reaching out to Catholics in a way that appeals to them so that we can share what we know they need to hear: the gospel.

Are there any other stories of churches using music intentionally to reach out to Roman Catholics? If so, I’d love to hear more ideas, and I’m sure others would too, so leave a comment on our Facebook page.