Make a Beautiful Noise/Holy Rock n' Rollers Grace Community Church

by Shawn Street

The lights grow dim and the amplifiers start to hum. A moment later, the thunder of drums and the crunch and shrill of electric guitars fill the auditorium. Those in attendance leap to their feet, begin clapping their hands and singing along.
No, it is not the beginning of a rock concert. It is the beginning of worship at Grace Community Church in Winchester, Virginia.
Using a style of ministry known as ‘seeker-targeted,’ GCC structures the Sunday morning service to communicate to those who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with more traditional worship.
Pointing out that it is the message of Jesus Christ that is sacred, not the method of sharing it, Pastor Mike Woods explained, “One of our core values is that the church should be culturally relevant while remaining doctrinally pure.” This includes the concept of sensitively relating to the culture through the facility, printed materials and the use of arts, including music.
While most churches shy away from the secular entertainment industry, GCC uses it to share the Gospel. “What we play really crosses the board,” Woods explained when asked what one could expect to hear from the band on any given Sunday. Examples shared included songs by The Eagles, Smashmouth, Lynard Skynard and even Metallica among others.
But don’t get the wrong idea about GCC. Most of the musical selections you will hear are uplifting Christian songs with a rock edge and when a secular song is played, it always ties in with the message Woods will share later in the service. For example, when doing a teaching on parenting teenage children, the band performed Alice Cooper’s rock anthem Eighteen.
Woods said the band modeled this practice on the example of a very successful church in the Midwest. “Willow Creek in Chicago has been doing this for at least 25 years,” he said.
So, does it work? According to one member of the band the answer is a resounding “yes.”
“When I was a seeker myself, one of the things that drew me here was the music,” explained Ed Schrank. “They were not so refined and that was something I could really relate to and it opened the eyes of my heart.”
By hearing the Christian message played in the style of music he was accustomed to Schrank said GCC made a major impact on him. “They were playing the style of music that I wanted to hear and now I really enjoy sharing that.”
GCC’s goal of being culturally relevant while remaining doctrinally pure is being assisted greatly in the changing climate of secular music and the rise in popularity in Contemporary Christian music. “There are so many secular songs on the radio now that have a spiritual edge to them,” said band member Suzanne Briggs. “I think that is helping people relate to us.”
When watching the GCC band, it is easy to see by the amount of energy they put into each performance that they take their faith very seriously.
“I’ve listened to this type of music pretty much all of my life,” stated Jonathan Woods. “Actually performing it is an honor and privilege.”
Mike Woods said the band takes to heart the lesson of Chicago blues performer, turned Christian musician Glenn Kiser. “Glenn said ‘when I was playing secular music I would give a six. Now that I’m playing for God, I can’t give Jesus a three, I have to give him a ten.’” Woods said.
He added, “We play what we know to be true and I think that energizes everyone.”