Interview: Across the Globe, Contemporary Worship Music Is Bringing Believers Together

More and more, says scholar Monique Ingalls, it permeates nearly every sphere of evangelical life.

Contemporary worship music, as a distinct genre, has come into its own over the last 50 years. Monique M. Ingalls, assistant professor of music at Baylor University, studies this phenomenon as an ethnomusicologist, looking at the intersection of different social and musical trends. In Singing the Congregation: How Contemporary Worship Music Forms Evangelical Community, Ingalls identifies five distinct types of “congregations” that worship together in song. Constance Cherry, professor of worship and pastoral ministry at Indiana Wesleyan University, spoke with Ingalls about how contemporary worship music has reshaped our understanding of worship itself.

Can you describe the different “singing congregations” you studied?

Contemporary worship music has a global profile, but it’s performed in a variety of local contexts, which means that it permeates many different spheres of evangelical life. In the book, I mention five distinct “modes of congregating”: local congregations, concerts, conferences, praise marches, and worship on screen. I try to emphasize how these forms of worship are interconnected and influence each other. Contemporary worship music bridges public and private devotional practices. It connects online and offline communities. And it brings a variety of personal, institutional, and commercial interests into the same domain.

For many believers, this music and the experience of participating in it have come to define what worship is. This is the music they sing during a Sunday church service. It’s what they belt out in a crowd of thousands at traveling worship concerts. It’s what’s on their lips as they progress down the street in a Christian praise march. …

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