People regularly ask me some version of this question: "Why would we do a secular song during the services on Sunday mornings?" This is a great question and deserves great answer.
- Secular music meets people where they are. In Tim Stevens' book Pop Goes the Church, he specifically talks about this subject. He argues that Jesus and Paul both used popular, secular culture - including philosophy and music - to bridge the distance with people and form some common basis for a conversation. In this way, people would know that they weren't a project or a trophy, but that Jesus (and Paul) really cared about them. One of the best examples of this is in Acts 17. While in Athens, instead of condemning the people, he actually honors their secular culture and then uses it as a basis for helping them to see God.
- Secular music helps ease the tension. When people who don't go to church decide to come to church, they are usually apprehensive about it. They wonder if they will be judged or embraced. They don't know the customs, the music, the rituals. By having a secular tune early in the service - one that is popular and well known - it helps them relax because it's familiar. "Here is at least one thing I have in common with these people" is the sentiment. We once did Breaking Free from High School Musical. The people who had seen that movie (especially the younger folks) really connected with it. It helped set them at ease.
- Some secular songs really speak to the topic of the day. We loosely call these 'set up' songs. They 'set up' the message. The ask the question. "How Far is Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys does this. So does "Where is the Love" by the Black Eyed Peas. Both of these songs pose the question. Then the message and the Biblical perspective is supposed to offer some kind of resolution.
- Some secular songs are about God, even if the song's writer doesn't know it. "How Far is Heaven" or the Clapton tune "Tears in Heaven" are two examples of this. Just because the writer is not a professing Christian does not mean that we should ignore their work. In fact, a spiritually searching person often writes about God in a very authentic way.
We've done "Calling All Angels" and "Just Another Day In Paradise" and "Who Are You" and a whole list of songs that were popular, helped people connect and relax. Then they were more open to hear the truth from Scripture. And they were more likely to return.
I have little regard for the spiritual state of the author. The only rule I generally employ has to do with profanity. We don't use it, and we'll change the words to the song if profanity is in it.
Hope this helps explain my position and our church's use of secular music. I'd love to hear from you on what you think.