Intercultural worship Songs2Serve

The beauty of praise that will come to the Lord from the diversity of the nations is greater than the beauty that would come to Him if the chorus of the redeemed were culturaly uniform*.

Songs2Serve originated in 2014, in order to compile all experiences the ICP network has gained in the area of worshipping God in an intercultural church since the year 2000.

At Songs2Serve we encourage developing a musical repertoire (which continues to evolve) that is appropriate for the target group/church, in order for the church to worship God together.

We base ourselves on the Lutheran ‘Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture’ from 1996:

  1. Worship is transcultural. (Worship has certain dynamics that are beyond culture.)
  2. Worship is contextual. (Worship reflects local patterns of speech, dress, and other cultural characteristics.)
  3. Worship is counter-cultural. (Worship resists the idolatries of a given culture.)
  4. Worship is cross-cultural. (Worship reflects the fact that the body of Christ transcends time and space.)

1) Worship is transcultural. Worship is first and foremost a lifestyle of magnifying God and meeting Him. We are aware that we are one with the worldwide body of Jesus.

2) Worship is contextual. We want to bring our message across in a culturally relevant way. Our missionary question is: which music is most fitting to the city/context we are called to?

Mission organizations such as WEC Resonance Arts and Heart Sounds International studied this subject and concluded that city people, especially the educated people, often enjoy a mix of styles, ideas and instruments from the ‘global community’.

We find ourselves in a ‘fruit salad’ of music, where one culture touches the other one and influences its taste. We have contacts with different people for whom music has different functions; the one culture (Western) is focused on language in music, the other wants to hear complicated rhythms, the other one melodies and another one harmonies.

In some cultures it is about the shared experience of singing in simple accords together in a group; singing, clapping and dancing unites people to one another and to God; others are focused on what music does emotionally and whether it helps people in their daily lives. For some cultures singing and believing are synonymous, and meeting God means singing and dancing. That is the diversity of the context in which we work!

3) Worship is counter-cultural. Worship is critical of its culture, it distances itself from the idolatry of any given culture – this means that we want to be very much aware about the culture of our target group or church members, but we will continue to submit each aspect of it to the Bible. When we meet God and lead a church in this, we adhere to His principles. For instance, in a culture it may be custom that a worship leader always has the final say ‘over’ the singers and musicians. In the culture of the Kingdom we do not find this and there will have respect for the input of each one. Whereas we at the same time hold leadership in high esteem, for that too is a Biblical given; this can be tricky in a Western setting.

4) Worship is cross-cultural. Worship shows that the church of Jesus is worldwide, is centuries old, and very much alive (=renewing). It shows that we can celebrate our differences and that God is glorified in a special way through that. Especially when we learn to worship Him together!

The musicians in the church possess a key factor. Musicians often are good teachers of the culture, also of the identity of the ‘culture in the church’. The musicians are missionaries in an intercultural church!

Practical: Each church needs its own repertoire of songs in which they can express their faith. It is important in this that members/visitors can identify with the music. It really needs to become mutual worship. Not that first one group is worshipping and the other group is watching. And then the other way around… God’s glory is being magnified more when the church is doing it TOGETHER.

In the case of an intercultural church this will have to be a repertoire with an intercultural sound to it.

Each song always has cultural characteristics. The challenge is to compile a repertoire that is accessible to many and in which several cultural elements can be found.

In addition to that, it is important to look for songs specific to one given culture; songs that are not meant to be very accessible, but that have the distinct flavor of that specific culture. And let us not forget the ecclesiastical culture; the old songs and hymns, the solemn chorales of orthodox churches. It is important to involve the actual cultural groups in this; we can never make their music as well as they can. Practically speaking most will happen when you involve people around you to the max. Often musicians have more capabilities than they let on.

Intercultural worship requires that you:

  1. check out the cultural makeup of your target group (for instance in your area) and the music styles that are popular among the people (ask around in your shopping center)
  2. check out the cultural makeup of your current church and the music styles that are popular among them
  3. develop a vision as to what would be the ideal situation for your church (not just that which is popular); do so together with the leadership of the church
  4. check out the current possibilities
  5. make a strategic course of steps to be taken
  6. get to work!


If so desired, we could coach this process. Ask here for more information.

Usually using songs from the cultures of your church members is much appreciated. An important branch of the work of Songs2Serve is that we have these songs translated in English (or Dutch) in a singable format, so that we can bring worshipping together a step closer again. For instance, the whole church now sings the song in Arabic and English! At first this takes some getting used to, but after some time the songs become more familiar and then we can really all worship together out of our hearts.

These songs do have the flavor of that other culture, because we use their music and melodic structures. They are identifiably different than the songs usually sung in churches. We do that on purpose, because intercultural music is important in an intercultural church. It reduces the ‘us/them’ culture of the ‘host and the guest’. The identity of the church will feel more intercultural. The ‘guests’ will not feel guests anymore, but fully respected participants. Visitors will be pleasantly surprised to recognize their language; seekers will become extra curious, why would a Dutch church make so much effort for them.

At Songs2Serve we steadily build up a database of songs that we are translating from the different cultures.

We also offer trainings and workshops and sometimes organize intercultural worship meetings.

All for the glory of God!

(* Source, Let the nations be glad, page 222, John Piper, published by Baker Books)