Sep 182017

Garage Band Church

I was eleven years old.  Like most of the rest of America, I was parked in front of our black and white television.  It was February 9th, 1964.  Like visitors from another planet, The Beatles appeared on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show and life would never be the same.

I wanted it all – the hair, the boots, the attitude.  Most of all, I wanted to be in a band.


After months of not so subtle hints (read “continual badgering”) my birthday present was unveiled in the basement – a four piece drum set by Ludwig in black oyster pearl and a card for six months of drum lessons.  I was ecstatic.  Even better, my drum teacher was cool.  It says something about the the innocence of those times that somehow (I still don’t know how) my teacher later convinced my parents to allow me to accompany him to a night club to see James Brown and his Famous Flames.  I think the excuse was that it would help my playing to see a professional drummer! But, I digress…

So, I had my drums and my lessons.  All I needed now was a band.  Thankfully, my friend across the street had the same idea.  He had just been given an Epiphone Wiltshire electric guitar (sure wish I had that today) and a Fender  Deluxe amp (likewise). He had even mastered three chords!  Not only that, his older brother said he could sing.  Finally we found a friend in school whose parents agreed to buy him a bass (a nondescript Japanese model) and a Vox AC15 amp.  Our singer, however, did not have a microphone.  We saved our allowance money, put it all together and bought a second hand mic for $12.00.  No PA system, but we could plug the mic into the second channel of the Fender.  We had a band.

We got together for our first rehearsal.  We thought maybe we could play a Beatles song… we couldn’t.  So, someone suggested “Louie, Louie”.  We tried playing it.  We were terrible!  We kept trying.  In garages and basements around the neighborhood the noise was deafening.  We switched rehearsal venues according to the patience of parents and siblings. Eventually, we even added a couple more songs to our very limited repertoire but, to be honest, I’m not sure we improved all that much.  I think we played at least one birthday party in a basement – repeating our three songs twice! 

We were a garage band, the same as countless others across the country.  Most garage bands weren’t very good.  Most didn’t go anywhere. Some, however, kept at it.  They kept rehearsing, playing and improving.  People like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen come to mind.  They didn’t start off with a great deal of promise. Their equipment was pretty bad and they had a lot to learn, but they had to start somewhere.  That “somewhere” tended to be a less than flashy or professional garage band where, along with the bad music, there was also a good deal of joy and learning.  

The music industry has changed and music has changed with it.

We live in a day of professionalism and spectacle.  Artists with a modicum of ability and/or talent are often ushered into a recording studio, linked up with a team of writers, producers and publicists.  Stage designs are created, image makers are employed and, skipping the fabled 10,000 hours of paying dues, they are unleashed upon the public.  If they crack the charts, great.  If not, they will be set adrift as there are dozens waiting in the wings to take their place.  We no longer have the patience to see a garage band emerge, play terrible venues, write bad songs, then better ones and finally take their place on stage. We want it now…

Unfortunately, this modern model has all too often been applied to the church. 

My first church started with a Bible study with four people in attendance. I had seen Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and thought, we can do that. We met in the living room of the house I was renting.  I had a big Thompson Chain Reference Bible… and very little real theology.  I must confess, I’m glad there are no extant tapes of those Bible studies, because I wasn’t very good.  In fact, there were times when I must have been terrible. We went verse by verse, book by book, just as I was taught.  I ordered tapes from Costa Mesa and listened to them almost to the point of memorization.  I had a friend who played guitar and led the singing.  (A very new Christian, for special music he once introduced the Poco song, “She’s a Barmaid in the Honky Tonk Downstairs”, as an allegory of Christ and the Church!)  All this being said, we learned, we grew together and we loved each other as brothers and sisters.  In time a Christian coffeehouse was opened and, a bit later, we purchased a derelict UMC church which we filled with an active congregation.  Eventually, with a bit more theology and reading under our belts, we even became a eucharistic and liturgical faith community. 

Looking back, I guess that we were sort of a Garage Band church.  We made loads of mistakes, we weren’t very glamorous and, in the beginning, not very professional. I’ll have to say, however, there was a good deal of joy and learning all through the time that we grew together, as individuals and as a body of believers.

Now, if we sought advice today about starting a church, I imagine it would begin with a demographic study of a particular town or city as an “ideal location”.  We might attend a Willow Creek conference.  We would have to think about a multi-use building (not too “churchy”) and then assemble a “ministry team”.  We would need a pastor, a teacher, a counselor, a Christian Ed director, a worship leader and a nursery care director.  Parking would need to be convenient.  Sound equipment and stage lighting with suspended screens at the side and overhead would be a priority in the auditorium (“sanctuary” being considered far to “churchy”).  A Public Relations person or agency would handle the roll-out of the new church.  A key member of the “team” would be in development, i.e. fund-raising.  We might even succeed in planting and growing a church.  We could be known for a great praise band (“some of them went to Berklee, you know”) and our dramatic Sunday morning events.  Maybe… 

Or maybe, just maybe, we need some more Garage Band churches.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

  43 Responses to “Garage Band Church: Dr. Duane W. H. Arnold PhD”

  1. Inspiration for this piece –
    Dan From Georgia
    Josh the Baptist
    David H
    Scooter Jones

  2. Demographics…

    My old Calvary Chapel thought they were the cutting edge church in town, if not the whole county. Then came to town a rich guy who wanted to start up a seeker-friendly church. He did a demographic study and concluded, to my CC pastor’s chagrin, that there were no cool churches in all of Monterey County and he was going to start one up. My poor CC pastor was going on a 1970’s model of the cutting edge of coolness and was upstaged by a 1990 model of coolness. Of course, in the 2000’s a new guy came to town, etc.

    Coolness is probably the most fleeting quality there is.

    In retrospect, my old CC was (probably still is) very faithful to Christ, as they understood Him. The pastor diligently went through the Scriptures best he knew how. Lots to disagree with there, but he was faithful. The rich guy upstart and his successor… I went there for a Christmas Eve service maybe ten years ago to keep a daughter company. It featured the worst sermon I have ever heard, all about the pastor and very little about Christ. Just terrible. I wanted to throw something at the stage.

  3. #3 Xenia

    “Just terrible. I wanted to throw something at the stage.”

    Been there, or a similar place… have not thrown anything at the stage… yet.

  4. Yes! We need some garage band churches for sure. DIY, making do with what you’ve got, family, all in this together…Yes. I’ve started a couple of these churches over the years.

  5. I don’t know if many of you will be familiar with this, but we have a local seeker sensitive, non-denom mega-church, which strives to be cool and relevant. What they have been using are things like this: Last year a program called, The Story. This year it’s Believe. These are integrated programs for sermons, small groups, mailers, communications, videos, etc. It appears that there is an industry sprouting to “boilerplate” seeker models.

  6. He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!
    With a love like that, you know you should be glad, yeah, yeah, yeah!

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist 😉

  7. #5 Jean
    Taking my mother to the doctor this morning, passed what was once a SBC. Now there’s a new sign outside – huge letters “NEW DIRECTION” with tiny letters below saying “church”.

  8. In Ortholandia, you can’t just start up a church in your garage. What you can have is mission parish, authorized by the local bishop, if he sees the need. There has to be an ordained priest assigned. There are plenty of examples of this kind of living-room church with collapsible icon screens, etc. If the mission is successful, it may become a regular Church.

    No DIY in Orthodoxy.

  9. The problem with this model is that most expect the garage band to become the Beatles ASAP…

  10. Duane,

    It would be fascinating, possibly horrifying, to read the marketing material or listen to the sales reps who pitch these cookie-cutter programs. But you could say, that is their liturgy, though devoid of history, tradition and theological depth.

  11. #9 Michael

    Without the 10,000 hours of paying your dues…

  12. Duane,
    <3, thanks for the shout-out.

    I'm in a season where I was honored to be asked by a dear friend to consider bringing live music to a very beautiful gathering he has been doing for a number of years. My first thought was, "What, and ruin it?" The depth of teaching, meditation and community was already tangible when ever anyone visits, I thought it could be a disaster if I "blew it", but my friend and I were in sync for his vision for returning to the simple musical roots of when many of us first met, back in the day before there was no "Christian Worship Music Industry", back when it was "Come To The Waters" with a quartet and nylon string guitar, with no concert lighting, no exhorting the crowd to "sing louder!", perhaps even the freedom to fold in "You've Got A Friend" or some other "secular song" because it speaks to the moment. We've been doing it for 3 months now and sometimes it's an improvised instrumental during meditation over a live digitally layered loop built from an open tuning, sometimes it's an Americana hymn from 1887, almost always just guitar, voices and NO PA system, PowerPoint projected lyrics over multimedia video. Simple has been good.

    Striped down to the "Two of More" paradigm from The Creator (MT18:20), two or more of us can, together sing in unison, sing harmony, do beatbox percussion, bring a couple instruments and make more variations than anyone imagined, we can entertain & enrich each other and others, weep, mourn, inspire, make a statement, make a stand, meditate…

    It only gets complex whenever someone with an agenda hijacks the moment.

    Again, thanks Duane.

  13. #10 Jean

    Yes, it is a “liturgy” of sorts, but not real liturgy – i.e. the work of the people. It is a “show” that has some some small bit of meaning contained within it. Moreover, it is stage and personality driven.

    In my thinking these days, it is the difference between a store bought sympathy card (that provides an appropriate comforting message with no mention of loss or death) and writing a personal note that actually says why this death is a true loss. One is simply an anodyne while the other speaks personally to the situation at hand.

  14. #12 GMan

    “It only gets complex whenever someone with an agenda hijacks the moment.”

    Isn’t that what always seems to happen?

  15. Duane,
    “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot…”

  16. Duane…thanks for the shout-out also! Looking forward to reading this later when I get home from work.

  17. I’m quite the curmudgeon this morning,so I may as well let it roll.

    I don’t think the majority of Christians have the ability anymore to discern authentic worship from the false.

    This is the performance age …a tight band, a sermon series crafted by skilled writers delivered by a skilled speaker, and the aesthetics and accoutrements of the local shopping mall are what is expected.

    Much work goes into tailoring an “experience”.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with having skilled musicians and well crafted messages…unless the objective is performance instead of worship.

    When people leave the assembly more impressed with the performers than with Jesus, we have a problem.

    I think we have a problem.

  18. 1
    That’s us. Started with half a dozen.

    I had to learn and instrument for our startup. Sold homes and left friends and family to move.

    Haven’t I read on here people who resent new church plants? Universally, not just a church plant in the Lilly white suburbs. Or do I remember incorrectly?

    I’ve heard (old numbers) that the median church size is 63 people. Anybody know?

    Having been raised in a mega church (before megachurches were much of a thing), because those who brought me there liked hiding in a crowd, when I finally became a Christian in college through a ministry teaching my campus, I felt like the cafeteria inhabited “garage band” church was WEIRD.

    It took a Saul-Damascus Road experience to get me to join.

    This article is great. But how many of us really celebrate a “garage band” church or join one?

    Or choose not to denigrate the startup?

  19. #17 Michael

    It’s interesting – back in the day, people I knew (mainly evangelicals) always used to speak of a formal liturgy (EO, RC, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.) being a “performance”, almost aligning it with theater. Today if you want a “big show” in terms of performance, you wouldn’t even think of going to a liturgical church, but you might hit the mega-church down the street…

  20. As soon as someone says “you really need to come and hear my pastor” they missed the mark.
    No need to look into new marketing materials. Spend 10 bucks and buy The Purpose Driven Church.

  21. “Coolness is probably the most fleeting quality there is.”


    If we treated restaurants the way so many treat churches, as a taste preference thing, the industry would almost die.

    I’ve been totally guilty of the same.

    A critical spirit is soooo damaging.

    Having been part of the new church startup, I KNOW what our problems were and are. But I’m absolutely committed to seeing them fixed.

  22. #18 Jtk

    According to the Hartford Institute, the median church size (this was a few years back) is 75 regular participants.

    I can’t speak for the distant past on this blog, but the only criticism I’ve encountered concerning church planting has to do with the preprogrammed variety described in my article. Michael might have something to add on this point…

  23. Life is worship.

    We only cease when we are distracted from the unceasing presence of Jesus,
    so be it a greeting, a reading, a’cappella, silent meditation, these thing merely recenter us to Jesus’ presence.

    …so does a glorious sunrise, a sunset, a walk at the beach or in the woods
    …so does watching silly children be themselves
    …so does looking into someone else’s eyes and smiling

  24. Garage bands are cool and authentic and all that. I have seen some talented musicians cover “Run to the Hills” and “Am I Evil” back in the day and do a good job.

    Problem is, there is a reason why garage bands perform cover tunes – generally because they don’t have any original material.

    Duane’s listening to PC tapes reminded me of going to SOM. Some guys who are CC got their start by parroting PC. And when I listen to some… I have that lingering sense of “I have heard this before….”

    Repeated listens are only effective if the imitator gets it close to the original or gets it better with their own flavor or nuance.

  25. JTK,

    I do have some criticisms of church planting at times.

    I don’t believe setting up a video screen is a church plant.
    I rarely hear of the new work starting in North Dakota.
    I do hear of the church plant coming into small communities where there are already struggling church plants, but they don’t have video screens from the mother church like we do…
    I could go on…but I’m working on a new church plant myself…

  26. these are the posts that remind me of the generation gap… 🙂
    that said, maybe instead of the Beatles model what works best is a Monkeys model?

    “As soon as someone says “you really need to come and hear my pastor” they missed the mark.” not so sure this is always true… lately i’ve been catching the late Adrian Rogers weekly and i’m pretty sure that if he’d been my pastor, i could tell any Believer that “you really need to come and hear my pastor…” but their good old boys quartet? not so sure…

  27. #24 Papias

    I think the key word here is “growth”… You don’t stay where you started. You learn and grow.

  28. Wherever two or three of us are gathered together in Jesus’s name there is a church. The liturgy is in Acts ch.2 and first and second Corinthians.

  29. JTK – I don’t have a problem with church plants. In NC, we have WAY overplanted and now the new plants can’t survive and the older congregations are weakened too. I’d just like to see more strategic planning and cooperation among the churches and plants.

  30. Just to add another layer to this discussion…

    The big box stores do similar planning for where they place themselves. Usually (at least in my area) they are also attracted by cities that offer tax incentives on a 10, 15 or 20 year basis. The result has been that more often than not, when the tax abatement has reached its end, or the population has changed (moving to a further suburb) the store closes. The same thing has happened with strip malls across the country. Economically it is the equivalent of “slash and burn” agricultural methods.

    I am now wondering if this same pattern will hold true for the large pre-packaged church planting operations as they react to population shifts, financial issues, etc.

  31. Rich,
    “Wherever two or three of us are gathered together in Jesus’s name there is a church”
    Is that the context of that verse?

  32. Very nice, Duane. Those were indeed the days!

  33. #32 David

    Many thanks!
    BTW, say hello to my wife for me (that will get the rumor mill running on PxP!!)

  34. Ha! That’s right. I look forward to meeting her at the cafe/wine bar!

  35. #34 David

    Oh my, now you’ll really get the rumor mill going!!!

  36. Dr. Arnold, Thanks for the reference.

  37. #36 David

    Credit where credit is due!

  38. Duane you brought back a lot of memories for me. I still use my Thompson chain reference Bible to this day. Spent many an hour in grages back when trash cans were steel. We would turn one or two of the trash cans upside down for drums. Scott Clucas got pretty good on the guitar and Jim Trapp was not to bad on plucking the bass Strings. He eventually went on to be Walter Trouts bass player. Had a few home fellowships and assisted in one church. All of which was a lot of fun. I could really relate to your story. Now here we all are, much older and hopefully much wiser. I am so glad you have the time to share with us here bro! Your a true blessing to the Body of Christ.

  39. #38 Surfer51

    Many thanks… We’ve all traveled some miles together.

  40. I liked garage band church. We were in one, it was refreshing, and good community of Christians. However, as it grew and it lost it’s freshness. It’s funny, I was thinking, for me it lost it’s luster, it’s life, and it’s shine. However, for the rest of the folks it became more shiny, more polished, and more inviting. Now it’s one of the largest churches in our town.

    Ironically, we attend one of the other large churches in our town. It’s a good place, but it’s not home for me. My son has flourished there, which is great, but it’s not home. There are some people that I like, really good people, but it’s not home.

    I’m not bitter about where I am with my Christianity. I still believe the God, and the Gospels, but I’m not going back to where I was. Sad that the first church I mentioned essentially threw us out of the village. And, that has been my experience. It’s all fine and dandy as long as you go with the flow, and rightly behave.

    After my 59th birthday this year, I was reflecting, and came to the realization – “I’m to old to let some under educated self anointed person tell me what to do.” It was a soul baring experience, and actually quite refreshing. I got rid of a bunch of Pop Evangelical tripe books, gave away several (useless for me) study bibles (I’ve only kept a reference Bible, and an NIV, KNJV, ESV, and NLT). It was really a mind cleansing experience.

    BTW, just for Duane, I’m spending my guitar time learning a bunch of Led Zeppelin music. I’m none to fond of the “Christian Pop” that passes for worship music right now.

  41. #40 David

    Can’t do much better than Mr. Page…

  42. Looks like many of us in the same boat here, none of us seem to be suffering from non-rock-a-boat-us.
    My first band was in the 5th grade and called The Assassins (after Robert Kennedy was assassinated in LA). We set up in my neighbor’s garage and played surf tunes and such for the kids walking home from school.
    Our parents made us change the name. We played at Jr. High dances for punch sales money and got $1.25 apiece.

  43. After a couple of years I got into a really good cover band, and honed my skills. During college I played a lot of seedy places in So Cal. I knew a drummer who would call me for pick up lead guitar gigs. “Sure. 50 bucks? I’ll be there.” Played a lot of country music doing that. I got to do an original music demo with a really good songwriter in the late 80s. I did play in a band briefly back in 2010. I quit because I didn’t want to get pulled back into the “dive bar” circuit. I told the leader, “I’m not playing in a place, I won’t visit.”

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



%d bloggers like this: